In season early winter: Olives

In season early winter: Olives

Olives are typically green or black — the colour relates to their ripeness. Fresh olives are usually extremely bitter and inedible due to the phenolic content (in particular a compound called oleuropein). To offset the bitter taste, olives are cured or pickled.


Use only freshly picked olives, free of bruises or blemishes.


Ideally, olives should be processed within one to two days of picking and if not processed immediately should be refrigerated. Black olives deteriorate more rapidly than green. Once cured, unopened jars of olives can be stored at room temperature for over a year but once opened keep in the fridge.


Although olives have a relatively high fat content most of this fat is in the form of monounsaturated fat, the main reason for the good press about olive oil. A serving of five to 10 olives is a healthy addition to the diet. The phenolic compounds in olives have been studied for their antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. Both green and black olives require some form of curing (eg. dry packing in salt, brining, pickling and soaking in oil or water) before being eaten. Note that olives processed in salt or brine are high in sodium with around 320mg in five olives.


Once processed there are many ways to use olives:

  • Instead of serving olives from the jar, bake and serve warm with pre-dinner drinks. Flavour olives with any combination of the following: herbs (eg. thyme, rosemary), garlic, chilli, lemon/orange zest and wine.
  • Tuna and olives are complementary flavours: toss through spaghetti.
  • Serve green beans with black olives, garlic and lemon zest.
  • Make an olive tapenade: blend olives, capers, anchovies and oil to a coarse hummus-like texture then flavour with garlic and thyme.
  • Roast chicken pieces with olives, garlic and lemon.
  • Try a tomato and olive stuffing for portabello mushrooms.

Did you know? ‘Extra-virgin’ olive oils are the highest quality, made from the first pressing of the olives so the most flavour and goodness is retained.

First published: Jun 2013

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