A Beginner’s Guide to the Olive: 14 Types That You Should Try

Long before olive tapenade and martinis were fashionable at parties, the little salty bites that we call olives have been considered the perfect partner to many dishes. Just ask the Romans. However, until a few decades ago, Americans were only (sadly) aware of a few varieties. We had black olives, green olives, and pimento stuffed olives. And that was it. No shriveled Beldis, no plump purple Gaetas.

Thankfully, that is now no longer the case.

While the American pallet for olives has certainly expanded, there are many varieties out there that remain relatively unknown. However, the time has come for these delicious, lesser-known varieties to become a staple in the home cook’s ingredient arsenal. It is time for olives to gain appreciation for their sweetness, their saltiness, their bitterness, and their pungency.

There are so many more than black olives, which ones haven’t you tried?

1. Kalamata Olives

Kalamata olives are the essential Greek salad topping and the king of Mediterranean olives. These almond-shaped olives have a deep purple hue that hides a rather large pit.

Typically they are cured in red wine, red wine vinegar, and/or olive oil. This gives them a particularly deeply smokey and fruity flavor composition.

2. Castelvetrano

These olives’ Leprechaun-green skin is not reflective of their subtle, buttery taste. Castelvetranos are considered a common snack olive in Italy where they are severed at bars and bistros.

In fact, these Sicilian olives are often considered to be dolce by the Italians. If you’re ready to try these, the best way to indulge in the sweetness of these olives is with a softly flavored cheese or a bright, crisp white wine.

3. Cerignola

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These olives are also distinctly Italian. Coming from the southern Italy region of Puglia, they are crisp and smooth and perfect for stuffing.

Fill them with feta, garlic, capers, or pimentos. The variety you can indulge in with these olives is endless.

4. Nyon

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These crinkly French olives are dry-cured before they are aged in brine. This double processing that they receive gives them a heart-stoppingly aromatic flavor.

If you like flavor, dress these meaty olives in olive oil infused with provençal herbs and your taste buds will telling you merci.

5. Niçoise

Niçoise olives are an understated, but essential ingredient in many dishes from Provence, including the famous salade niçoise. Their powerful herbal fragrance blends nicely with fresh Mediterranean ingredients.

However, they are also lovely to nibble on if you are looking for something with a little more body to compliment your martini.

6. Liguria

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Produced in Italy a few miles south of where Niçoise olives are grown, Liguria olives are the niçoise olives’ more aromatic cousin.

Although they are naturally similar, Liguria olives are normally cured in a mixture of thyme, bay leaves, and rosemary which packs these little olives to bursting with all the flavors of the Mediterranean.

7. Gaeta

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These Italian olives can either be dry-cured so they are shriveled and chewy or brine cured leaving them plump and juicy.

Either way you choose to enjoy them, their purple-brown flesh and citrusy taste will leave your dishes colorful and bright.

8. Gordal

These olives are the ultimate olive for tapas eaters. Grown in the Andalusian region of Spain, these little guys are meaty like their name implies as gorda means fat in Spanish.

Their flesh is firm and their flavor is mild, and they will pair perfectly with a light beer and a few slices of jamon.

9. Picholine

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These olives are elegantly shaped like an ellipsis making them perfect to serve as a simple snack or an addition to a salad or risotto.

Their flavor is wonderfully bright, tart, and nutty with a hint of licorice. Take one bight and you’ll see why they are such a delight.

10. Mission

Say hello to Mission olives, the USA’s homegrown variety from California. These olives have flourished in the semi-arid west coast climate since the 1700s and have been a popular table olive in America ever since.

Most of these olives are turned into olive oil, but many are also cured in oil or a green brine to give them a mild, green flavor that is pleasantly easy to eat.

11. Manzanilla

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These olives are almost as familiar as mission olives. They are brine-cured giving them a subtly smokey flavor that is perfect for stuffing.

Try them with garlic, feta, or fire-roasted peppers for an elegant accompaniment to your hors d’oeuvre platter.

12. Alfonso

Alfonso olives originated in South America and have a beautiful purple hue that comes from their second brining in red wine.

Their juicy flesh has only a hint of bitterness making them delightful to enjoy with a full-bodied glass of red wine and a charcuterie board.

13. Amfissa

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The oracle of Delphi likely indulged in these slow-brined olives. In Greece, these olives are hand harvested at the peak of their ripeness and then slowly brined to encourage their fruity undertones to blossom.

The result is an olive that melts in your mouth and needs no accompaniment.

14. Beldi

One of the few varieties of olives that is exported from Morocco, if you are lucky enough to find these at your local supermarket then make sure to share with your friends.

Dry-cured, these olives are wildly flavorful. Don’t let them overwhelm you, though. Chop them up and add them to any dish where you fancy olives. You’ll find yourself pleasantly surprised.

Read More: Meet the Quince, Your New Favorite Fruit + 3 Recipes