The difference between black and green olives

Just as with milk or dark chocolate people, there are probably green or black olive people. But to what extent has that preference been influenced by fashion? And what’s the difference between the two?

In the 60s pimento-stuffed green olives were in fashion, then black in the 70s. In the 90s, “proper olives” still meant black. The benchmark was plump, juicy burgundy-black Kalamatas from Greece. Black olives were sophisticated and Mediterranean. You put them in spaghetti puttanesca or made them into a tapenade.

But not all “black” olives are really black. Many lack the Kalamata depth of flavour. The reason is that almost all of the cheaper “black olives” sold in cans or jars are green olives that have been coloured black, not with dye, but by processing unripe olives.

In the early 2000s green olives made a comeback as part of a Spanish food revival. Oily little Arbequinas, giant Gordals from near Seville and pale-green Manzanillas – the classic Martini olive. Nibbling on green “queen” olives on a summer evening with salted almonds and a chilled fino sherry became a holiday thing. And many black olive die hards quietly converted to green.

Today olive aficionados appreciate the value of the many varieties of both green and black olives – each in its proper place.

Whether you primarily eat them with martinis or sprinkle them on your pizza, olives make just about everything taste better.

But while you might consider that tapenade a savory treat, the flavorful Mediterranean delicacies have another hidden side: They’re technically fruits. Just (carefully) pop any unpitted olive into your mouth for proof.

The stones inside act as the seeds for the Olea europaea tree. In any botanist’s book that means they’re technically classified as fruits – specifically a kind called drupes, a.k.a. stone fruits.

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, a fruit is “the fleshy or dry ripened ovary of a flowering plant, enclosing the seed or seed.” Plant an olive pit in the ground and what’ll you get? A slow-growing but surprisingly hardy tree.

For the record, any other edible part of the plant – like the roots (carrots) or leaves (lettuce) – count as true vegetables, but other seed-filled “veggies” like cucumbers, tomatoes, pumpkins, avocados, and even pimento peppers also belong to the fruit family.

  • Green olives are unripe when they are picked and black olives are ripened on the tree before they’re picked when their colour has turned from green to black.
  • Both green and ripe black olives are cured by being packed in salt, brine or water before they can be eaten. The taste and texture of an olive depends on the method and duration of the curing process they have undergone.
  • Black and green olives are usually soaked in lye, which is an alkaline byproduct of wood ash, and then cured in brine to reduce bitterness. The longer the olive is soaked in the solution, the less bitter it becomes.
  • Black olives usually contain more oil and less salt than green olives which is the result of the difference in preparation and packing.
  • As far as nutrition is concerned there are no major differences between black and green olives. They contain healthy fats and minerals, including copper and iron and are rich in vitamin E and other antioxidants. The biggest nutritional difference is in the salt content – green olives contain about twice as much salt as black olives.
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