What’s the Difference Between Green and Black Olives
Whether it’s in a salad, a Mediterranean or pasta dish, in a warming stew, as a pre-meal nibble or even your Martini, the olive is a delicious addition to any kitchen, but we often tend to have our favorite. So, are you a green olive lover or do you err on the dark (olive) side?
Whichever color you prefer, it does raise another question – what is the difference between green and black olives? We take a dip into the world of the olive to find out more.
The Rise of the Olive
One of the world’s oldest trees to be cultivated for their fruit, it’s believed the olive tree was first harvested over 6,000 years ago in Asia Minor, a geographic region in south-western Asia comprising mostly of what is present-day Turkey. As the harvesting of olives became more widespread, the small fruit grew as a staple of the Mediterranean diet before their popularity traveled around the world. There are now hundreds of varieties and types of olives grown, from the succulent kalamata to the firm and creamy queen olive, but they ultimately fall in one of two categories – green or black.
Green Versus Black
As a basic guide, the color of an olive is based on how ripe the fruit was when it was picked and how it was preserved during harvest – this is the fundamental difference between green and black olives. Here’s the lowdown on each:
The Green Olive
The green olive is harvested when it’s still unripe at the start of the summer and before they get the chance to start turning a darker color. As soon as they are picked, the green olive is soaked in a lye solution (which contains sodium hydroxide) and then fermented in a brine solution for between six and 12 months. This brining makes the green olive edible, but they have a slightly bitter taste, and are moist due to the lye solution, which means they retain a lot of oil. As they were unripe when harvested, the green olive will also have a denser texture, making them perfect to eat on their own as they still retain a ‘bite’. And due to the brine fermentation, green olives will also taste a lot saltier than their darker counterparts.
Green olives are usually pitted and then stuffed with a range of tasty fillings, such as pimientos, garlic, almonds, cheese or onion and are great to eat solo as well as a garnish for other dishes. Popular green olive varieties include the Manzanilla, Arauco, Halkidiki and the large, juicy Gordal. The best green olives are used for extra-virgin olive oil and it’s a Spanish Queen green olive that is seen in the vodka martini glass of 007 – James Bond.
The Black Olive
Unlike the immature green olive, the black olive is allowed to ripen on the tree, soaked all summer in the gorgeous Mediterranean sun. By being left on the tree, the flesh of the olive is more mature when picked and is softer than the green variety. The black olive also comes in a range of shades, from reddish brown to a glossier black. After harvesting, the black olive still needs to be treated and will be soaked in lye to take out the natural bitterness before being brine-cured.
The flesh of the black olive can be a little drier than the green but will be less salty and will have a deep and long-lasting flavor. The flavor and softer texture of black olives make them a fantastic olive to cook with, whether that’s in freshly baked bread, added to meats when curing or in pasta and hearty stews. Well-known varieties of black olives include the Greek Kalamata, Castelvetrano, Gaeta and the Niçoise.
Are They Both as Nutritious?
When it comes to the olive’s nutrition, there’s no major differences between the green and black olive. Both varieties are rich in ‘good’ monosaturated fats and minerals such as copper and iron. Olives and olive oil are also a great source of vitamins A and E as well as antioxidants such as flavonoids and polyphenols, both of which have anti-inflammatory benefits. Olives are, however, quite high in calories for their size – with black olives slightly higher than green – although they don’t contain any cholesterol or trans fats, AKA the bad ones.
The only nutritional variation between green and black olives is the salt content. By the nature of their preservation after their early harvesting, green olives can contain twice as much as black olives although even black olives have a marked sodium content.
When storing both black and green olives, keep them at room temperature if unopened and they can be stored for up to two years. Always refrigerate fresh olives from the deli or opened jars or packs within their own liquid and they should keep for a couple of weeks.
So, there you have it, whatever the differences between green and black olives, they both share one thing in common – they are absolutely delicious!