Black olives are olives which have been allowed to
fully ripen on the tree before harvesting. They tend
to have a different flavor from more immature green
olives, and they can be cured in a variety of ways
for different uses and flavor profiles. Like other
products of the olive tree, black olives play an
integral role in the cuisine of many Mediterranean
nations, and they are popular in some other
countries as well. Most grocery stores sell several
forms of black olives.
All olives come from the olive tree, a Mediterranean
tree which has been cultivated for thousands of
years. The fruits can be pressed to produce olive
oil, or cured to make olives. The wood has
traditionally been used for some regional crafts,
while the trees themselves are symbols of peace and
goodwill. If well cared for, an olive tree can live
for hundreds of years.
Unlike many fruits, an olive cannot be eaten right
of the tree. Olives are naturally intensely bitter.
Therefore, they must be cured in things like salt,
water, oil, or lye. The fruits are also dry cured in
some parts of the Mediterranean. The cure makes the
olive palatable, adds a unique flavor and texture to
the fruit, and often allows it to be stored for
prolonged periods of time. Olives fall into two
basic categories: green olives, which are picked
before they are ripe, and black olives, which are
riped fully before curing.
Many consumers are familiar with California or
Mission olives, which are traditionally cured in
lye. These giant olives have a fairly neutral flavor
and a meaty texture, and they are commonly used as a
pizza topping and in some Latin American cuisine.
Mission olives can also be made from green olives,
which turn naturally black during the lye curing
Other common varieties of black olives include
Kalamata olives, traditionally brined olives from
Greece. The Italian equivalent is the Gaeta.
Kalamatas have a salty, slightly acidic flavor, and
come in pitted and unpitted forms. Small wrinkly
salt cured black olives from Morocco are another
favorite variety. Nicoise and nyon black olives from
France are often cured with herbs, and they have a
delicate, complex flavor. In Europe, some varieties
of black olives are protected by an Appellation of
Controlled Origin, in order to preserve regional
history and culinary heritage.