24 May

Olives in the Cook’s Thesaurus

A staple of Mediterranean cuisines, olives are most often eaten out of hand, though cooks also use them to flavor everything from pizzas to martinis. Raw olives must be cured before they can be eaten, and the curing medium–usually lye, brine, or salt–affects their flavor and texture. So too does the olive’s degree of ripeness when it’s picked. Green olives are picked while unripe, which makes them denser and more bitter than brown or black olives, which stay on the tree until fully ripened. Olives become bitter if they’re cooked too long, so always add them to hot dishes at the last minute. Opened cans or jars of olives should be refrigerated, but some olives can be stored at room temperature if they’re submerged in brine or olive oil.

Substitutes: caper berries (as a garnish for martinis) OR cocktail onions (this turns a martini into a Gibson) OR chopped sun-dried tomatoes OR capers


Agrinion olive Notes: This is a large, green Greek olive with very tender flesh.

Aleppo olive Notes: This is a black, dry-cured Middle Eastern olive that’s hard to find in the United States. Substitutes:

Alphonso olive Notes: This large Chilean olive is cured in a wine or wine vinegar solution, which gives it a beautiful dark purple color and tart flavor. Its flesh is very tender and slightly bitter. Substitutes: Kalamata olives OR Gaeta olives

Amphissa olive = Amfisa olive Notes: These are dark purple Greek olives that are hard to find in the U.S. They’re great for snacking. Substitutes: Kalamata olives OR Gaeta olives

Arauco olive Notes: These are large green Spanish olives flavored with rosemary. Substitutes: Manzanilla olives

Arbequina olive Notes: These are tiny green Spanish olives with a mild, smoky flavor. They’re hard to find in the U.S. Substitutes: Manzanilla olives (much larger)

Atalanta olive = Atalanti olive Notes: This is a muddy-green Greek olive with soft flesh. Substitutes: Royal olive

Bella di Cerignola

black olives = ripe olives Notes: These are olives that have been allowed to ripen on the tree. American recipes that call for black olives are probably referring to the Mission olive. Other varieties of black olives are the Aleppo, Alphonso, Amphissa, black Cerignola, Gaeta, black Greek, Kalamata, Ligurian, Lugano, Moroccan dry-cured, Niçoise, Nyons, Ponentine, and Royal.

Calamata olive

Cerignola = Bella di Cerignola Notes: These Italian olives are very large and have a sweet flavor. Black Cerignolas are softer than green Cerignolas.

cracked Provencal = cracked Provençal Pronunciation: proh-vahn-SAL Notes: These aromatic green olives are marinated in a solution with herbes de Provence.

empeltre olive Notes: These Spanish black olives are soaked in sherry.

Gaeta olive = Gyeta olive Notes: These are small, black Italian olives are either dry-cured (making them black and wrinkled) or brine-cured (making them dark purple and smooth-skinned). Substitutes: Kalamata olives (as a substitute for brine-cured Gaetas)

Greek black olives Notes: A generic black Greek olive is large, dark purple and brine-cured. Popular varieties include Kalamata, Amphissa, and Royal.

Greek green olives Notes: Napfilion and Ionian olives are the most common types of green Greek olives.

green olives Notes: Green olives are picked from the tree before they’re completely ripened. The most common variety is the Manzanilla olive, which is often pitted and stuffed. Other green olives varieties include the Agrinion, Arauco, Arbequina, Atalanta, green Cerignola, cracked Provençal, Kura, Lucque, Nafplion, Picholine, Sevillano, and Sicilian. Substitutes: black olives (usually softer in texture) OR caper berries (as a garnish for martinis) OR cocktail onions (This turns a martini into a Gibson.)

Greek royal olive

Gyeta olive

Hondroelia olive Notes: This is a juicy, meaty olive.

Kalamata olive = Calamata olive Notes: You can find these popular Greek black olives in most large supermarkets. They’re salty and very flavorful. Substitutes: Gaeta olive (This is smaller than a Kalamata.) OR Amphissa

Kura olive Notes: This Middle Eastern cracked green olive is hard to find in the U.S. Substitutes: Nafplion olives (not as bitter)

Ligurian olive Notes: These small Italian black olives are brine-cured. Substitutes: Niçoise olives (very similar)

Lucque olive Notes: These green olives are brine-cured.

Lugano olive Notes: These are salty Italian black olives.

Manzanilla olive = Spanish olive Notes: These green olives are available in most supermarkets. They’re often pitted and stuffed with pimento or garlic. These are the olives that are often put into martinis. Substitutes: caper berries (These are also used to garnish martinis.)

Marche olive

Mission olive Notes: These are the common black ones that are ubiquitous in supermarkets, pizza parlors, and salad bars. They don’t have as much character as European black olives. Substitutes: Kalamatas (more flavorful)

Moroccan dry-cured olive = Moroccan oil-cured olive = Moroccan salt-cured olive Notes: These are shriveled black olives that are somewhat bitter. They’re best used for cooking rather than snacking.

Moroccan green olive Substitutes: green olives (rinse off the vinegar brine first)

Nafplion green olive = Nafphlion = Nafpelion = Naphlion Notes: These are green, brine-cured Greek olives. They’re somewhat salty. Substitutes: Greek green olives

Nicoise olive = Niçoise olive Pronunciation: nee-SWAHZ Notes: A key ingredient in Salade Niçoise, these small purplish-black olives have a distinctive sour flavor. Substitutes: Kalamata (This works well in a tapenade) OR Gaeta (This also works well in a tapenade)

Nyons olive Notes: These black, slightly wrinkled olives from France are salt-cured.

Picholine olive Notes: Picholines are green, torpedo-shaped olives that are brine-cured. Those made in Provence are marinated with coriander and herbes de Provence, while American picholines are soaked in citric acid. They’re great martini olives. Substitutes: green olives OR caper berries (as a garnish for martinis) OR cocktail onions (This turns a martini into a Gibson.)

Ponentine olive Notes: These are mild Italian brine-cured black olives.

raw green olive Notes: These are for the rare cook who’s intrepid enough to cure olives from scratch.

ripe olives

Royal olive = Victoria olive = Royal Victoria olive = Greek royal olive Notes: This is large brown Greek olive is brine-cured. Substitutes: Atalanta olive OR Kalamata olive

Seracena olive

Sevillano olive = Queen olive Notes: This is a large, green, brine-cured olive. Substitutes: Manzanillas (not as large and easier to pit than Sevillanos)

Sicilian olive Notes: These are large, green, sour olives that are usually marinated with herbs. They sometimes pitted and stuffed with pimento, garlic, or jalapeño pepper. Substitutes: Manzanillas

Spanish pitted olive

Toscanelle olive

Victoria olive

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