Smart Fuel: Olives

OlivesIn that Mediterranean world which begat Western civilization, the olive enjoyed special prominence beyond its culinary properties. Roman aristocracy thought good health depended on two things: wine within, and (olive) oil without. The olive branch was the symbol of peace, and the fruit itself an emblem of wealth and prosperity. Today, the oil extracted from olives is the main draw for many – it figures crucially in Italian, Greek, and Northern African cooking, and it’s the basis for many marinades, dressings, and sauces. As Primal Blueprinters, olive oil is one of the best fats we can use, but let’s not forget about the source. Whether as snack, spread, or salad ingredient, we need to start recognizing the power and versatility of the olive itself.

Black or Green?

Black Olive

The color of the olive corresponds to the ripeness of the fruit when picked. That’s it. Green olives are picked before ripening, and black olives are picked while ripe. And because raw olives are mostly inedible, both varieties normally undergo some form of curing process, either by being packed in salt, brined, pickled, or soaked in oil (or even just water) before being eaten. Generally, green olives are denser, firmer, and more bitter than black olives. The taste and texture of any olive, however, ultimately depend on the method and duration of curation. Any olive – even a green one – will grow softer in a brine. I suppose you could think about it like this: green olives are often used as stand-alone snacks, while black olives are commonly used in cooking, on pizzas, and in salads. Of course, olives can be used in a number of ways (please share your faves!), whatever the color, but those are the usual respective uses for green and black olives.


Jar of Olives

As you might imagine, the health benefits of the olive are pretty much identical to its oil. You already know about the fantastic amounts of monounsaturated fat, but what about the nutrients? Olives are packed with iron and copper, and they’re a Primal friendly source of dietary fiber. They’re also rich in vitamin E – a noted antioxidant – and anti-inflammatory polyphenols and flavonoids. And really, you can’t get much more virgin than the delicate flesh of the whole, unpressed olive in all its purity. As for the green versus black question, there are no nutritional differences between the two.

Oh, and cured olives are pretty salty, so be aware of sodium content.


The thing about olives is that they’re versatile. They pair well with martinis, wine, and cheese. They are used in Greek, Italian, Mexican, and even Chinese (as a restorative soup) cuisine. They can be blended with spices to form dips, or chopped finely to adorn salads and pizzas.

Olive Tapenade

Olive Tapenade

This can be as basic or as complex as you want. Tapenade is the perfect recipe for parties: it’s easy to make large batches and it’s hard to mess up. People will marvel at your culinary skills, when all you did was throw some stuff in a food processor and hit “On.” The basic recipe is as follows:

1 cup cured black olives, pitted
3 canned anchovy fillets
2 tablespoons drained capers
2 garlic cloves, peeled
extra virgin olive oil

To do it old school, mash up the garlic, olives, anchovy, and capers with a mortar and pestle, salt and pepper to taste, and drizzle in olive oil until the desired creaminess is achieved. Serve with vegetables for dipping (or crusty bread for your non-Primal friends).

Or, you could toss everything in a food processor and blend away. Feel free to add extra ingredients. Fresh herbs, like basil, parsley, and thyme, are frequently added to tapenades, and you can experiment with adding lemon juice, hot peppers, nuts, or even figs to your custom recipe.

Steak With Olives


Any steak works with this recipe. I like the grass-fed ribeye, personally, but you can use any piece of meat. The real star is the olive sauce. Before you make that, though, cook your steak to the desired doneness and set aside.

1/2 cup cured black olives, pitted
4 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

Heat the pepper flakes and garlic in the oil over medium heat, using the same pan you used to cook the steak. Stir until golden. Add the olives and cook for 2 minutes. Remove and add the parsley. Serve over the steak.

Or, if you’re feeling lazy, just grab a jar of assorted olives and feast away.

Darwin Bell, funadium, Dan Shouse, Another Pint Please…, bloggyboulga Flickr Photos (CC)

Further Reading:

Olive Oil Does It Again

Natural Alternatives to OTC Painkillers

Mmmmmmmmmmmmm… Fat.

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64 thoughts on “Smart Fuel: Olives”

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  1. You know, I honestly thought that green olives and black olives were two different types of olives!

    Thanks for the recipes, I look forward to trying them out!

  2. Kalamata olives all the way. My two-year-old can’t get enough of them!

  3. You know what? This is one of my favorites that has fallen out of my diet. Sure I use plenty of olive oil but I miss my green olives. I love green olives. Just added them to the shopping list for this week!

  4. I love olives. For holidays my mom would always make this big tray of olives, ham pieces, and cheese on a toothpick as a snack for everybody that dropped in for holiday visit, it was pretty good..mmmm!

    1. Hi Donna…
      I love having olives. If u could kindly help in suggesting few good recipes. ….
      Best regards

  5. I was in the same boat as Benjamin. Always thought green olives grew from green olive branches, and black olives grew from black ones, or something of the sort. The more you know…!

  6. As far as I’m concerned, the only good use of black olives is sticking them on your fingers. Can’t stand the flavor!

    Trader Joe’s green olives stuffed with garlic are killer. (Both figuratively, and literally when you breathe on people after eating them.)

  7. Make sure you are NOT getting US olives! Greek olives are normally great. Once in a while you can find olives from other countries that are great (but not all). I have never had a good California olive, and see no reason to believe I ever will.

    If you (like dragonmamma) don’t like black olives I’ll bet it because you have only had the garbage that passes for an olive in the US, and not a real olive. There is a big difference. I could never stand olives either, and if forced would eat one green olive. Then I went to Spain and discovered how olives should be. (Actually I discovered how good should be in general)

    1. We just came back from Spain and FELL IN LOVE with all the amazingly delicious olives over there!!!! We must have eaten a bushel of them! In the market in Barcelona, we met a couple who run an olive store and they really educated us on the differences in variety, ripeness and curing techniques. The variety of tastes was incredible! We are sooooooo lacking in quality olives here in the States…

  8. You’re probably right, Henry. My sole experience with black olives is from a can; I think the brand is Oberti? that you see in most of the chain stores.

  9. I’ve never been a big fan of olives, but hey, I’m gonna try them in my salad because my pallet has definitely changed over the years.

    Thanks for the post!

    All the Best,

    Andrew R

  10. If you are from a city with a good international food store you can probably get some pretty awesome olives.

    There is an international food store in Columbia, MO that always has out free samples of the various olives they are selling.

    Que delicioso!

  11. I just went to a new market close by that had a great looking olive bar. I love olives, especially with garlic. The recipe for the steak sounds great.

  12. I too had no idea that black olives were a riper version of green olives. Unfortunately I’m not the greatest fan of them but some of these rceipes might help me to get them into my diet. In particular the steak with olives recipe looks scrumptious.

  13. I love all kinds of olives and am happy to have broke free of the culturally instilled erroneous fear that they are too fatty to eat very many of them. Now that I purposely include high fat foods in my diet, olives and their oil are a staple.

    I love the looks and questions I get from co-workers when I break out my salad loaded with olives, feta, and avocado and then I drown it all in olive oil dressing. One ’round’ lady told me that I’m gonna get fat eating like that. I wasn’t sure how to tactfully answer her. When I realized she was eating a bagel smothered in cheez whiz I decided it wasn’t worth my effort to try.

    So, go ahead and indulge in the olives! They are lovely! Primal! Nourishing! Exotic! Full of flavor! And they make others wonder how you can eat like that and stay so fit!

    Mmmmmm I’m getting hungry! That picture of the steak is incredibly mouth watering!

    I agree that the canned variety barely qualifies as an olive. The ones sold at the deli are the best.

  14. Don’t we worry about high amounts of sodium in our diets?

    I soak the olives in water for a few days to get some of the sodium out of it.

  15. i am just wondering as i’m having a disagreement with my boyfriend if there is any difference between a green olive and a kalamata olive? I know there is a ripening process involved but i think i’m right when saying they are not related whatsoever!!!! Can someone tell me if they are all grown on the same tree? i won’t sleep till i have an answer just to prove him wrong….Thankyou!!!


    1. No, not correct. If you go back and read the article, you will see black olives are RIPE and the green are not ripe.

  17. I love green olives, but I am swelling up something terrible. Can one be allegic to them or is it the sodium? What is a reasonable serving per day?

  18. Thanks for the info! I’m normally not a big fan of olives but now I got to make sure that I’m asking for them at Subway and getting them on pizza.

  19. Thanks for the recipe! By the way actually olives tree by its own have a life span of 2000 years. So its a power tree, its fruit definitely is good for health. 😉

  20. do black olives contain a lot of salt?
    my daughter in law said that both black, green olives and dill pickels were constipating. is that tru?

    1. Actually, olives are not just NOT constipating..they can, er, “loosen things up”… if you do not normally consume olives, start out with a few and build up. There’s LOTS of fiber in that delicious little nibble 🙂

  21. Avoid the brands with “ferrous gluconate” listed as an ingredient:

    “In 1910, discovery of a method of canning black olives made commercial processing possible. Until that time, processing had been unsuccessful because the olives tended to discolor. The canning method consists of air ripening or lye-curing green olives in an oxygenated solution until they turn black, and treating them with ferrous gluconate. The iron additive fixes the black color, but the whole process removes most of the nutritional value of the olive. The olives are then packed in mild brine and processed in canners using pressure and heat.”

  22. Here in Spain they use olives in a lot of recipes too. And the Spanish have long lifespans so they must be doing something right…

    olive oil has a high content of monounsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants. Studies have shown that olive oil protects against heart disease by controlling LDL (“bad” cholesterol) while raising your HDL (“good” cholesterol).
    No other naturally produced oil has as much monounsaturated fats as olive oil – mainly oleic acid.

    In Italy I’ve often seen mothers give their children a table spoon of olive oil in the morning!

    1. Drinking water to lose weight?

      How about nixing the mega bolus of empty calories in the “sub” you’re eating? I’d start there.

  23. I LOVE black olives. I will eat them in or on anything. The more the better. When I goo to Subway, I get a tiny bit of lettuce, one tomato, one cumber, a tiny bit of green peppers and loads and loads and loads of black olives. They workers always say “Here comes the olive lady” when I walk into the place. . . ha ha.

  24. Like most ppl replied, I don’t care for black olives, the taste or lack thereof just isn’t pleasant. I love green olives, now that I’m trying to eat healthier, when I make a salad, I rinse and cut the green olives and drain and rinse a couple more times before adding to the salad. I also remove the pimentos. They aren’t awful, just not good tasting to me. I wish I could find good green olives without the pimentos. Seems almost impossible unless you find an olive bar at the grocery store. Thanks for the info!

  25. Hmm, I’m not sure which country contributors are living in, but there is something seriously amiss with the olives there if the black ones have less flavor than the green ones. On the contrary, if we are talking about standard, natural, unprocessed olives, the ripe (black) variety should have a more intense flavour than the young green ones – makes sense right? You need to get your hands on some Kalamata olives, served straight out of their brine/oil mixture as intended – not something in a selaed bag off the supermarket shelf…

  26. i want to know if we eat green olive can we loss our wait if yes then please tell me the way

  27. Why do green olives come in a glass jar and black olives come in a can????

  28. Pls, tell me more about black olives and the use of it


  29. eat ilives and enjoy a good taste that is healthy for you.Nevr knew about black olives until moved to calif and you may have them growing in your back yard there. I ate the black ones and yummy !!!

  30. My wife cuts green olives in half and puts them in “made from scratch” macaroni & cheese. It is awesome!

  31. I never liked the bitterness of the green olive. I LOVE black olives. I put them in my salads and on my pizza and subs. But, mostly, I dump a canful into a bowl and munch-a-bunch of black olives!!!
    I will definitely try the steak recipe!

  32. Olives are my favorite. I can (and have when I was a kid) eat a whole jar and still want more. My favorite way to eat olives:

    Ingredients: 10 olives.

    Instructions: Place one olive on each finger. Eat olive off fingers.

  33. Growing up in a Greek household we always had black Kalamata olives (imported from Greece) and extra virgin olive oil on hand. We used it in our cooking and salads and spreads. It is a staple in our diet.

    And the oil is great for the hair and skin.

    Remember, as with anything, moderation, even healthy foods, is key. A few olives a day (small handful of 8-10) and a couple tablespoons of oil should suffice.


  34. Mark, great site. As an olive grower in central CA I just wanted to clarify a few things. All olives going to table olive production are picked green. Black olives on the tree as shown in photo are bitter and past their prime for curing. The black olives used in the food service industry are ‘made’ black by adding oxygen during the curing process, which helps to mellow the bitterness. different curing processes combined with different varieties are how we get different types. Olive oil is usually made from completely different varieties. Historically olives were only used for oil until the early 1900’s, when Mrs.Freda Ehmann developed the ripe olive process we use today. For a real wealth of olive knowledge visit www.

  35. Anybody else get horny from olives? I have access to freshly packed green olives here in Lima Peru and after consuming around 16 with tomatoes topped with olive oil and balsamic vinegar I notice my libido increases a few hours after consumption every single time.

  36. I love olives, capers, anchovies,.. all that stuff!

    One night, while screwing around with the brine from black olives,
    I made a “muddy” martini.

    A dirty martini has green olive brine, vodka, vermouth (which I skip, don’t like it) and olives and depending where you order it, you’ll get some crushed olive in the drink (making it dirty).

    My muddy martini is made with black olives, the brine and vodka. I mash up a bit of the black olives to mix in the drink and the back olive brine, gives the muddy look. And because it was late at night and experimenting with vodka for a couple of hours (wink-wink) I also dipped the rim of the glass in the black olive brine and then made a quick dip in salt.

    It’s not for everybody 🙂 But I liked it. Olive you!

  37. in fact your comment regarding olives colors is inaccurate. there are types of olives that remain green and never change color no matter how mature they get.

  38. I literally just found out today that green olives are just unripened black olives. This reminds me of when I found out that the only ripe bell pepper are the red ones and the orange, yellow and green are all unripe.

  39. This article is misleading. There are actually 3 types of olives – green, “blackened” and black (which are not actually black, more like dark burgund). The green olives are just green, from start to end. The blackened olives are green olives (meaning, not so ripe) oxygenated and thus blackened in a special bath. The “true” black olives are gathered when they’re ripe and dark, though not actually black. The popular species for the those are Greek kalamata and Spanish aragon olives.

  40. I eat ripe pitted by the can for a snack. I just rinse very well. Go through 3-4 cans a week. I make an excellent tamponade too.