15 Common Types of Olives Explained

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Olives are certainly not for everyone, but my appreciation for this high-fat fruit has grown to a point where I try to eat them almost on a daily basis.

Over the years, I’ve slowly acquired a taste for olives, so much so that I often even eat them as a quick snack in the afternoon. Yum!

Having learned more about the health benefits of the different types of olives that exist, I really do try to regularly add olives to my meals and salads whenever it suits.

15 Common Olive Varieties
1. Niçoise9. Arbequina
2. Castelvetrano10. Kalamata
3. Cerignola11. Beldi
4. Gaeta12. Amfissa
5. Ligurian13. Nyon
6. Picholine14. Gordal
7. Alfonso15. Manzanilla
8. Mission

15 Common Olive Varieties

This may come as a surprise to many, but did you know that there are literally hundreds of different varieties of olives and olive trees around the world?

Don’t worry, I’m not going to list them all, instead I am going through 15 of the most common types of olives. These are also the ones I try to eat regularly!

1. Niçoise

The French Niçoise olive is a tasty, dark brown or black olive, often used in salads or served as an aperitif in the southern France region.

This type of olive is picked when the fruit is at a ripe stage, giving it a dark color. After harvesting, they are cured in brine before being packed and sold for consumption.

2. Castelvetrano

Native to a town in Sicily in southern Italy that goes by the same name, the Castelvetrano olive has a recognizable green color.

With their somewhat mild flavors, Castelvetrano olives are one of the more popular type of olives and is surprisingly pleasant to eat as a snack by itself.

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Firm on the outside but smooth and soft on the inside, the round and medium-sized Castelvetrano olive is often served on cheese platters, in Italian antipasti dishes and in Mediterranean-style salads.

As tasty as they are, an important reason why Castelvetrano olives are cultivated is because of the production of olive oil.

3. Cerignola

Native to a town in the province of Foggia in the Puglia region of Italy that goes by the same name, the Cerignola olive is a large sized olive available in both green and black color.

Because of their size, Cerignola olives are often stuffed with other ingredients, and they do well on cheese platters or as an appetizer. They have a somewhat fruity and buttery taste.

4. Gaeta

Named after a coastal city in central Italy between Rome and Naples, the Gaeta olive is a ripe, dark colored type of olive with mild yet pleasant flavors.

Gaeta olives are typically dry-cured or brine-cured, and work amazingly well in combination with cheese, in salads, or as snacks by themselves.

5. Ligurian

Also called Taggiasca olives, the Ligurian olive originates from the Liguria region in north west Italy, close to the border with France.

It’s a small, brine-cured and usually dark brown colored olive with a rather strong flavor, often enhanced with herbs that are added during the curing process.

Different types of olives in bowl

6. Picholine

The Picholine is a salt-brine cured French olive, produced for consumption as well as for olive oil.

It’s a rather pretty looking, green colored olive with a full and somewhat salty flavor that can easily be consumed as a savory snack by itself or in cheese and antipasto platters.

While the Picholine olive is native to France, it has outgrown its home country and expanded to other parts of the world.

7. Alfonso

The Alfonso olive is a bit unique in this list of (mostly European) olive varieties in the sense that it originates in Chile.

They are rather large in size with a bright purple color and have a soft and somewhat juicy texture.

What’s more, Alfonso olive are brine cured mixed with a bit of red wine, giving it a distinguishable flavor.

8. Mission

Did you know that the USA also produces olives?

The Mission olive is grown in California, brought there by missionaries in the 18th and 19th century, which explains the name.

It’s a small, green olive with a rather firm texture, produced for human consumption as well as for the oil.

9. Arbequina

Originally grown in the Catalonia region in Spain, the Arbequina olive is one of the most cultivated olives in the world.

Arbequina olives are now grown in many other parts of the world, such as South America, northern Africa, and even Australia.

It’s a small and firm, usually brown colored olive with a mild flavor, but mostly used for olive oil production.

10. Kalamata

Native to Greece, Kalamata olives are another popular variety of olives. And while they may not be for everyone, I personally love eating Kalamata olives as a little snack occasionally.

Also spelled Calamata and often referred to as “Greek olives”, Kalamata olives originate from a Greek city that goes by the same name.

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Kalamata olives have been grown and eaten since many centuries in the Kalamata region, the second largest city of the Greek peninsula of Peloponnese.

Ripe Kalamata olives are deep purple in color and cannot be picked when they are still green. They are also bigger in size and have a more rectangular shape than other common olives. They have a somewhat salty and tangy taste, and a smooth and pleasing texture.

11. Beldi

The small sized Beldi olive originates from Morocco in northern Africa. It’s a dark colored, dry-cured type of olive with a potent and somewhat fruity flavor.

The chewy texture in combination with the pleasant flavor make the Beldi a great table olive, served in salads or as appetizer snacks.

12. Amfissa

Harvested as both green and black, the Amfissa olive is a rather popular Greek olive grown exclusively in regions of Central Greece.

The young green Amfissa olive is small and round in shape with a firm texture and a buttery, citrus like flavor.

Green olives

13. Nyon

The Nyon is an authentic French olive originally grown in the Provence region in south east France.

This small, dark colored type of olive is dry or oil cured, and has a pleasantly bitter taste with a gentle texture. In short, they Nyon olive has all the characteristic of the perfect appetizer!

14. Gordal

Often served as tapas, the full-rounded, green Gordal olive is another Spanish olive, mostly grown in Andalusia in the south of Spain.

Gordal means “fat one”, which seems like a really fitting name for this proud, firm, rich and tasty olive!

15. Manzanilla

Similar to the Gordal, the Manzanilla olive is also a Spanish green olive that is first lye cured (see below) and then packed in brine.

The Manzanilla is one of the most common types of green olives, used both as a fruity table olive as well as for oil production.

More About Olives

Let’s go through some interesting facts and misconceptions about olives.

Where Are Olives Most Popular?

Unsurprisingly, olives are an important part of the Mediterranean diet, especially in countries such as Turkey, Greece, Italy and Spain.

Countries in North Africa that border the Mediterranean Sea also produce large amounts of olives, such as Morocco and Egypt.

Not only do these countries produce olives for the national market, they also export large portions to other parts of the world.

Argentina in South America also produces large amounts of olives, and to a lesser extent Mexico and California also have olive trees.

Fruit or Vegetable?

Olives are a fruit! They contain a seed and they come from the flower of the olive tree, which classifies them as a fruit. Even though they don’t taste anything like any other fruit, without the typical sweetness.

To be more specific, in botany terms, olives are a type of drupe, or stone fruit, with an outer fleshy part and a single shell inside.

Green, Brown or Black Olives?

Olives are typically green or black. The color is essentially determined by the ripeness or maturity of the olive. Young, unripe olives are green, whereas ripe olives are darker colored.

Olives in different colors

The average olive actually goes through various stages of ripeness with different colors. They go from green to light brown, and then from red or purple to black.

Green olives typically have a firm texture with a nutty flavor, whereas the ripe, dark olives are softer and have a meatier taste. It’s all about personal preferences!

How to Store Olives?

Olives are super resilient! Unopened olives can literally maintain their freshness and flavors for up to two years at normal room temperature.

Opened olives can be kept in a refrigerator for up to one month before they start losing some of their freshness.

It’s best to store them in a glass container, and in their own original liquid as opposed to water.

How Are Olives Produced?

Freshly picked olives are not edible due to their high oleuropein content, a polyphenolic compound that makes them taste super bitter.

So to make olives ready for consumption, they need to be processed. This curing process can happen in various ways:

1. Lye Curing
Lye is a type of alkaline solution that can be used to “wash” olives so they lose their bitterness. Once that’s done, the olives are then washed with water to remove the lye.

This is a perfectly safe curing process, although it can often leave a slight chemical taste.

2. Brine Curing
Brine curing involves storing the olives in jars filled with a potent saltwater solution.

It’s a pretty standard food processing method, not just for olives, but also for other foods such as meat and fish.

3. Salt/Dry Curing
Dry curing is typically done with ripe olives to turn them into salty tasting, dry olives.

It’s a rather lengthy process and involves covering olives with salt for several weeks before washing them with water and then leaving them to dry for some time.

4. Water Curing
This is a simple process of curing olives. It involves soaking olives in water (and/or weak brine) and leaving them submerged for a long period of time.

Note that olive farmers often use a combination of the above curing processes before making them available for consumption.

 

Different varieties of olives

 
Donna Harrison

I created Healthy Food Tribe because I am passionate about health, nutrition and green living, and I want to share my journey towards a better health with you.

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