10 Olive Varieties You Love To Eat

Barnea, suri, kalamata? Your supermarket or farmer’s market usually offers a good variety of olives. Juicy green, black, brown or purple olives glistening in their own oil. Olives seasoned with chilies, lemons and herbs; olives pitted and left empty; olives stuffed with red pimentos; olives in brine or in wine marinade – enough olives to make your senses reel.

And like grape varieties for wine, there are more kinds of olives in the world than you’ll ever know. Every region where olives are grown yields a particular variety, each with its unique shape, size, and flavor.

It gets confusing to list the names of the olives grown even in a relatively small area, because one variety may be known by different local names, or different olives may go by the same name. To add to the confusion, some olives are grown for oil, some for the table, and some are sold to be consumed either way.  An attempt is being made to sort out olive varieties via DNA identification.

Black olives are those that were allowed to ripen before harvest. In other words, all olives start out green, and grow darker as they ripen. Different varieties will mature into blue, red, brown, purple, or black. The flavor of the same olive will change the longer it stays on the tree. How it’s fermented and seasoned after the harvest changes its flavor too, and there are infinite ways to treat an olive, subject only to the imagination and local resources of the producer.

But buyer beware: all that’s olive is not gold. Canned black California olives are green olives that have been cured in a lye solution then treated with oxygen and ferrous gluconate to fix the black color. Harmless, but bland. Olives treated with lye cure quickly but have lost much of their original flavor.

Here are a few of the best-known olives, and one or two particularly popular in the Middle East.

Kalamata

Kalamata-olives

A distinctive flavor from the kalamata region. Tastes like wine.

Kalamatas are the best-known Greek olive. Its color is deep purple and is often preserved in red wine. Sometimes you can find black or red Kalamatas.

Castelvetrano Olives

Castelvetrano, an Italian olive, said to be the country’s favorite snacking olive. It’s light green, meaty, and mild. 

Manzanilla

Manzanilla stuffed olive

Manzanilla or  in Spanish “little apple.” Eaten green or black. One of Spain’s most popular varieties and often with a pimento inside. Since Spain is still the world’s largest olive exporter, it’s likely you’ve eaten Manzanilla olives, and can find them easily in the supermarket.

Beldi

Intense. Yummy. Chewy.

Beldi is the Moroccan olive dry-cured in salt. Black, shriveled, chewy, and with an intense flavor. The texture is comparable to that of sun-dried tomatoes. Salty, salty, salty! Pair Beldi olives with mild cheeses, fruit, and white or rose wines. Very good on pizza, although a pain to pit.

Gordal

gordal olive or the giant olive

The Gordal olive is the Queen of all olives.

Gordal often called “jumbo olives.” Gordals come from Sevillia, Spain, and are cured while green. They’re handy for stuffing with cheese, almonds, cured meat, capers… anything you think will taste well inside these huge olives.

Picholine.

Small, nutty picholine olives from France.

Picholine. Small, green, and with a nutty flavor, picholine olives originated in France but are now grown all over the world.

Suri olives

Suri olive from Lebanon. A favorite in the Levant region.

Suri olives originated in Lebanon and considered to be one of the oldest varieties. It’s harvested green and produces a peppery oil.

Barnea

barnea olive

Barnea olives are a favorite in Israel

Barnea is an olive variety claimed by Israel. Nowadays the Barnea is grown in Argentina and Australia too. Grown mostly for its mild, fruity oil.

Gaeta

Gaeta olives come from Italy. They’re small and oval-shaped. Black Gaetas are salt-cured, which gives them a wrinkled texture. Brine-cured Gaetas are smooth and dark violet color. After curing, Gaetas are stored in olive oil.

Leccino

leccino olive tree

Leccino olive tree, drought tolerant

olives came from Tuscany, although today Leccinos are cultivated around the world. They have a light brown skin and a unique sweet/spicy flavor.

Mission Olives

MIssion olives

Mission olives are the only American variety recognized by the International Olive Council. Tradition has it that Franciscan missionaries from Spain brought the trees to California in the late 1700s. The fruit is small, harvested while green, and considered an endangered heritage variety by the Slow Food movement.

Make your own olive marinade

olive marinade

Make your own tasty marinade, no matter what olives you have at home.

Want to make your own marinated olives, like the ones pictured above? Here’s a recipe.

Marinated Olives

Ingredients:

2 cups olives, either one variety or an assortment of different colors and sizes

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Peel of 1 large lemon

2 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 large bay leaf, broken up, or 2 small whole bay leaves

1/2 teaspoon crushed, dried thyme, or rosemary, or oregano, or za’atar

1 tablespoon coriander seeds

2 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Optional: 1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon chili pepper flakes, or to taste

If using black olives, rinse them separately to prevent discoloring the rest of the olives.
 
Drain all olives; place them in a large bowl.
 
Smash the coriander seeds in a mortar once or twice. Don’t pulverize them. If you don’t have a mortar and pestle, wrap the seeds in a kitchen towel and bang them with the bottom of an empty bottle or jar a few times.
 
Toast the coriander seeds in a dry pan for 2 minutes, or until the fragrance rises. Remove from the heat.
 
Combine the oil,  coriander seeds and the rest of the seasonings, except for the vinegar, in the pan. Heat this seasoned oil over low heat for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and allow it to cool.
 
Pour the marinade over the olives. Drizzle the vinegar in. Mix gently.
Kalamata-olives
 
Cover the olives and allow them to marinate at least a couple of hours at room temperature, turning them over twice. But they’ll taste better after a week in the refrigerator, and will keep for up to a month there, the flavors improving as they mature. Take the olives out of the fridge an hour before serving, to let the solidified olive oil thaw.
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3 thoughts on “10 Olive Varieties You Love To Eat”

  1. Miriam Kresh says:

    That was a copy & paste from the instructions on Pea Pod Wine.

  2. Emma says:

    Sterilize a one-gallon bucket – wash it with very hot water and soap, rinse extremely well, then use a Campden tablet rinse as per instructions. Also clean and sterilize a strainer and a long-handled spoon. No wooden spoons! It’s impossible to get rid of vinegar-making bacteria from a wooden spoon. You can sterilize the strainer and spoon in the bucket at the same time.

    1. Great ideas! Thanks for sharing. And What is your favorite type of olive?

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