Mar 012010

Olives straight from the tree need to be experienced once in your lifetime, to show you how incredibly bitter they are! The process of curing – or pickling – olives is needed to draw the bitterness away from the olive flesh and make it edible.

The process is different for green and black olives as the black ones are on their way to becoming more mature than the green. Note that all olives start green and ripen to black or purple. Click here to read about how to cure green olives.


Make a slit in the black olives. Place olives in a plastic tub, add cooking salt to cover generously. Toss through to coat the olives. Cover with a heavy weight.

Every day, repeat the tossing and weighting until the olives are shrivelled. Rinse one off to taste for bitterness. If still bitter, continue to soak in the brine that has developed.

Once de-bittered, place the olives in a plastic colander, and put the weight back over the olives. The brine collected should drain from this.

Rinse briefly when they are ready.

Dry excess moisture off the olives in a cooling oven, dehydrator or spread outside in the sun.

When dried, lightly toss with olive oil and store them in either vacuum sealed bags or zip lock bags in the freezer.

Serve dressed in oil, and add other condiments. (Olives done this way have a very intense salty flavour, and are good added to a meat dish or gently warmed and served as part of an antipasto platter).

Kalamata style

I call it Kalamata style because of the vinegar notes when you eat the olives, which is how the commercial Kalamata olives are cured.

Cut two slits in each olive and then place these into a tub filled with water to cover. Keep the olives submerged and change the water every day, for 6 days.

On the next day, instead of re-filling with water, pour over some plain white vinegar (the cheap no-name brands will do) and leave overnight.

On this final day, drain off the vinegar and place the olives in clean glass jars. Measure how much brine is needed to be made and make up a 10% (by weight) solution of non-iodised salt to water.

Fill the jars of olives with the brine solution and then pour in a layer of olive oil to cover the top of the jar. Seal tightly and store in a cool, dry, dark place until all the bitterness has gone. This may take anything from 6-24 months, depending on the size of the olive and how ripe it was at the time of picking.


Maria Ciavarella

  24 Responses to “Curing black olives”

  1. I have a question.

    I have a potted olive tree which made quite a few olives this year.

    I just started to picked the olives as they turn black (they do turn black at different times, on a day to day basis).

    I intend to use a longer process method, and first step is to keep them submerged in water for 2 weeks, changing the water every two days (second step will be the salt brine, after all olives have been picked and soaked in fresh water).

    I made one slit on each olive lengthwise.

    To my surprise, while the olives I picked were black, after being submerged in fresh water for a couple of days their outer skin turned…green…!

    When changing the water, the water was clear, and no sign of anything coming off the olives.

    I know that the long salt brine will turn them black, but I am wondering is that how it goes? Even if picked black, when submerged in water their skin fades color and then when in brine it turns black again?

    Thanks for any answers to this peculiarity 🙂

    It is my first time doing this, I studied brine methods and I follow a method for Greek style black olives.

    • Hi Maria, I am surprised that no colour came off the olives when they were soaked. I find that a lot of the black/purple comes off in the first few changes so that the olives are still dark but not jet black.

      I’d be curious to see what happens with the olives once they are in brine. They will probably darken but not to the original colour. As it happens, the black olives that you see in jars for sale often have colourants added to make them darker!

      Just on another note, if you intend soaking them for so long before brining them, I would add some lemon halves to the water to stop bacteria coming in and softening the olives to a mushy state.

      All the best – Maria

      • Hi Maria, thank you so much for your reply.

        This was so peculiar. Yes, the water was very clear, with no signs of any coloring.
        Are olives when picked black actually meant to be black all the way through? Because when I made the slit, there were not black inside.

        Could it be a possibility that since I picked them just as they turned black, they were not actually yet black pigmented through while still on the tree, and during the process when submerged in water (the breaking of oleuropein) the outer skin black pigment faded and revealed the green?

        Another thing that occurred to me (the worse scenario), I have searched about interactive materials. The little plate I placed on top of the olives in the jar to keep the olives submerged (which was the only one that fit to go in the jar) was one with handmade Japanese elegant decorative pattern on (a piece we received about 39 years ago as a gift).

        I found that in the old days at least, some paints used for ceramic decorations have lead… Could it be that while oleuropein breaks down (and with what is being released in gas form in the process) an interaction with the ceramic paint occurred?
        The turning from black to green occurred just in 2 days…too soon for that to occur or possible…?

        I know these questions are extraordinarily specific, but I was so puzzled by it I tried to find an answer.

        When I was a child my parents would pick olives, and I know how black olives freshly picked look like. The ones I picked looked just like those, but lo and behold, they turned…green…! 🙂

        Thanks again so much,


  2. Will it make a big difference if I dont make the slits in the olives?

    • Hi Celeste, the more ‘work’ you put into the olives prior to soaking or bottling means a faster turn around time for eventual eating. So if you put slits in the olives, it allows the bitter component, oleopurein, to leach out much more quickly than keeping them intact.


  3. Hi, I’m having trouble Finding no iodised salt. What will happen if I use iodised?

  4. I did this but now am unsure how to store them. Fridge? Freezer? I am worried about botulism if they are only in oil or light brine and left in the pantry.

    • Hi Gisele,

      If you’re talking about the dried olives, you can store under oil as long as they’re dried sufficiently. Don’t add garlic to the oil as that’s where the issue with botulism will arise.

      I coat them in oil and then store in the freezer, just taking out as many as I need at a time, gently heating before serving. Then you can dress with some crushed garlic, chill etc before you eat.

      • Hi Maria,

        I have been soaking some very ripe kalamata olives in just water refreshing it every day for the last 2 weeks. I’m not sure if they could be going a bit soft now. Would dehydrating them a bit help with the softness? And would it be ok after that to put them in a brine to store?

        Thank you

        • Hi Melissa,

          Black olives will naturally be softer than green ones but shouldn’t be squishy. I soak and change water for a week and then soak them overnight in white vinegar, discarding this the next year to bottle them into jars into a brine solution. You’ll find full directions on my website.

          Hope this helps.

  5. Do you have a video? I dont know where to put the slits. I made a patch of black-purple olives off my tree. Let them set in the brine for over a year. I cracked it open. the aroma was heavenly! I bit one – yuk bitter as H#$l! What did I do wrong? I am ready to try again. I have the olives picked and in water.

    • It shouldn’t really matter where the slits are. I make two slits lengthways opposite each other and down to the stone.

  6. Hi team, very new to this and have an olive tree in the back yard, when I pick them they give off a purple juice. Is this ok?

  7. Hello Maria,
    Where you suggest placing the olives in zip locked bags and freezing them – can I put them in jars with olive marinade instead?

  8. Thanks great information. I will be definitely giving a go. We have a very large olive tree growing in our backyard. Cheers Denise Granger.

  9. Thanks, Maria. That was very informative.

    I just need to get hold of some olives. I left behind my 50 year old olive tree in the back yard which provided bountiful amounts of olives.

    Kind regards.


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