Whether simmered in sauces, grounded into tapenades, plopped into a martini or tossed through salads, olives are delicious and versatile. But when it comes to choosing from the two most popular types of olives, is green or black better?
Olives have been featured in the human diet for thousands of years. Featuring a range of salty, sweet, bitter and sour flavours (and many health benefits), olives are extremely popular and can be found in many household kitchens throughout Australia. But when it comes to cooking a meal that requires using organic olives, do you reach for green olives or black olives?
But first, how exactly did olives become such a staple to the human diet?
Eating straight from olive trees, also known as ‘Olea europaea’, is not the best idea. Even though olives are delicious, when eaten straight from the branch you will be greeted with an incredibly bitter taste. This is because they contain a phenolic compound called oleuropein. This substance is to protect the olives from threats such as animals and microorganisms.
So, why did humans continue to incorporate olives into their diet? Well, the main theory is that the Romans were the first to come up with the most efficient technique for processing olives and making them much more palatable.
People before the Romans had previously discovered methods of soaking olives in repeated changes of water to make them less bitter. However, it was a painstakingly long process that could take months. Over the years, the process was slightly improved by having the olives fermented in brine.
However, it was the Romans who would make the whole process much quicker. They discovered that replacing the brine with lye used from wood ashes drastically reduced the time needed to produce an olive that was debittered and editable, without requiring months of soaking.
What is the difference between green and black olives?
With over 2,000 different varieties of olives, green and black olives are typically the most popular variety. But how exactly are they different from each other?
When it comes to the colour of an olive, it simply indicates how ripe they were when they were picked and the type of curing process they underwent. Black organic olives are picked when they are ripe, whereas a green colour indicates the olive was picked before ripening.
Which is healthier?
When it comes to black and green olives, there is no nutritional difference. Olives contain healthy fats such as saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. They are also full of healthy vitamins and minerals such as sodium, copper, vitamin E, calcium and iron.
In addition to this, olives also contain many antioxidants and plant compounds including oleanolic acid, hydroxytyrosol, quercetin, oleuropein and tyrosol. These plant compounds are attributed to many health benefits such as helping to regulate blood fats, lower blood pressure and reduce inflammation.
Which is the most mild-tasting type of olive?
If you are not particularly a fan of olives but are wanting to give them a try, organic olives are going to be packed with flavour. For a truly mild (and bland) taste, choosing to start with oxidised black olives is the best bet.
Unlike olives that are organic, oxidised black olives are canned and are not naturally ripe. The typical industrial oxidisation process involves taking green olives and exposing them to iron salts, subjecting them to strong alkaline treatments, and then treated with oxygen. This results in canned olives resembling an intensely black colour with a shiny and leathery skin.
The olives are then processed and packed into specific tins such as A12 or A10 cans, and then put into an autoclave to be sterilized. The end result is an olive with a flavour that can’t be distinguished from other varieties of olives.
What are the best ways to eat them?
When it comes to the best ways of eating green and black olives, the taste ultimately comes down to the method of how they were cured and for how long they were cured for.
As black olives have been picked when they were ripe, they are mainly used as an ingredient in cooking. Black olives are used in a variety of Mediterranean dishes such as spaghetti alla puttanesca, to make olive bread, a topping on pizza, to create tapenades and many more.
Green olives, on the other hand, are mainly used as ‘stand-alone’ snacks. They can be plopped into a martini, placed on an antipasto platter with cheese and crackers oreaten straight from the packet. Green olives, also known as ‘Spanish olives’, can also be used in many dishes such as salads, in pasta dishes and fougasse, which is a Southern France dish of crusty bread topped with a mixture of fresh herbs and green olives.
Additional recipe ideas
Looking for some inspiration in the kitchen? Then try out these quick ideas to enhance your next meal using organic olives!
- Finely chop up some olives and add them into a hummus dip to take it to the next level.
- Use flavoured olives such as fennel and lemon as an extra layer of filling in your sandwich.
- Enhance the flavour of your next potato salad by chopping up some olives and sprinkling them through before serving.
- Before serving your pasta dish, top it off with some chopped or slithered olives for an extra boost of flavour!