Cured olives are some of the most delicious foods from ancient and modern times.
Salty and tart, they can be enjoyed in almost any dish. That is, when they are
cured. Uncured, olives are extremely bitter and sour tasting, not pleasant at
all. While most people simply buy their olives pre-cured, some people still grow
their own. With a supply of uncured olives, of course, there is a demand for the
ability to cure olives. While it takes quite a long time, curing is actually
Water Curing: Best for Larger Green Olives
- Inspect the olives. Make sure that they are as un-bruised as possible, and
that nothing has eaten out of them. If you use chemicals on your olive trees,
gently wash them before beginning.
- Break the fruit. You can do this with a wooden mallet or, more commonly, a
rolling pin. Just smack the little things, don't be afraid, but, of course,
you want to keep the olives as whole as possible. You want the flesh torn, you
don't want it to get mashed or to rip into several different pieces, or for
the pit to get damaged.
- Place the olives in cold water. Completely cover all of the olives, make
sure none are poking out. This can be done in a pan. You may need to weigh
them down with something. At least once a day, change out the water with
fresh, cold water. Make sure you don't forget, otherwise bacteria could build
up in the water.
- Wait. This will be the hardest part of the curing process. For about a
month, switch out the water daily, and don't touch the olives again. After the
first week of the waiting process, you will probably want to taste one. The
bitterness could already be gone by this time, but it is unlikely. Just keep
waiting until the olives don't taste bitter any longer.
Brine Curing: Best for Red or Black Olives
- Cut the olives. Make a vertical cut down the olive using a sharp knife;
make sure not to cut the pit.
- Place the olives in a brine. Brine is made of salt and water. One-fourth
of a cup of salt to one quart of water is fine, but it varies depending on who
you ask. Make sure the pan they are in is deep enough so that no olives are
- Cover the pan.
- Wait. Once again, this will be the hardest part of the curing process.
This time, though, only shake the pan daily. Don't change out the brine that
often; once a week is fine. This can take up to six weeks or more depending on
what type of olive you are using; somewhere around three weeks is a good time
to start tasting the olives for bitterness.
- Jar the olives. Once they taste good, remove the olives from the old
brine. Make a new batch of brine, and fill jars with it. Put the olives in the
jars, and top off the jars with four tablespoons red wine vinegar, and a
tablespoon or so of olive oil. They should keep for a very long time if
Dry Curing: Best for Mission, Kalamata, Ascolano, or Smaller Olives with
- Locate a wooden fruit crate, or the newer Styrofoam grape crate. Make sure
if you use the Styrofoam grape crates that the crates have drains and air
slots These crates should be about six inches deep. The wooden crates are
normally with just two slats on each side, with a gap of about an inch between
the slats. Whichever type of crate used, line the entire crate with burlap,
including the sides, and staple/nail/tack it to the top. Alternately you can
line the crate with cheesecloth, old sheets or cloth napkins as long as there
is enough fabric to keep the salt contained and to absorb any liquids which
may drip from the crate. Place the crate outside, preferably on cement that
you don't care much about. Prepare a second crate identical to this one.
- Wash the olives. Simple enough; just a light wash to remove anything that
might have stuck to the fruit. Lay them out to dry.
- Weigh the olives (optional). For every two pounds of olives that you have,
you will need one pound of salt (make sure the salt is not iodised, and that
it is a fine-grain salt - kosher salt is great). Obviously, that will probably
be a lot of salt. Mix the two together, and dump the mixture into your fruit
crate. Alternately put a layer of salt in the crate followed by a layer of
olives and covered with a layer of salt - repeat until all olives are covered.
- Wait a week.
- Dump the contents of the crate into the second crate. Shake well, and pour
back into the original box. This should ensure an even coating of salt, and
allow you to see any damaged or rotten olives. Remove these, they'll not be
good to eat later. Any olives with white circular patches (probably a fungus)
should be removed. The fungus often starts at the stem end of the olive. Check
the olives to make sure that they are beginning to cure evenly. If an olive
has shrivelled areas and plump areas, you may want to dampen the olive prior
to repacking in salt - this will encourage the plump area to start shrivelling
- Repeat every three days to a week. The olives should take about a month to
six weeks to become cured depending on the size of the olive. When cured, they
will be shrivelled and smaller, not much like the jarred olives you buy at the
- Strain the mixture. You can just pick the olives out of the salt, wiping
it off before you eat them. Otherwise, get a colander to sift out the salt.
- Boil some water.
- Dunk the strained olives into the water for just a few seconds (up to 30
seconds - this melts the natural waxy covering on the olives and seals the
- Dry the olives overnight (on paper towels or cloth napkins). Put them out
of reach of animals or little children, though; a month's work can go to waste
if an idle bump sends them scattering.
- Add salt (optional step). About a pound of salt for every ten pounds of
olives should be fine. This is the last step; now all you have to do is store
the olives in a cool, dry place. They should last for about a month this way-
put them in the refrigerator if you want them for longer than that. You can
also mix the olives with extra-virgin olive oil and spice to taste.
Refrigerate the olives. Dry (salt) cured olives are great for tapenades!
Lye Curing: Best for Large Olives, such as Sevillano
- Take precautions when working with lye. Lye can cause burns. Wear
chemical-resistant gloves and safety glasses whenever you're working with lye,
and don't use an olive vat made of plastic (Nalgene vats are acceptable) or
anything made out of metal (even lids - the lye dissolves metal, especially
aluminium, and this affects the taste of the olives, and may be toxic). See
Tips and Warnings.
- Immerse cleaned olives in a solution of food-grade lye (2 tablespoons
flake lye in 1 qt water) for 12 hours. Leave the largest olives near the top,
so you can access them easily later.
- Replace the lye solution and repeat. Some people prefer to use a weaker
lye solution for the second immersion.
- Check for lye penetration. While wearing chemical-resistant gloves, pick a
few of the largest olives. If they are easy to cut to the pit, with soft,
yellowish green flesh, the olives are ready.
- Soak the olives in water for 3 days. Change the water at least 4 times a
- Taste test on the fourth day. If it's sweet and fatty, with no bitterness,
proceed to the next step.
- Immerse in a light brine for a week. A good solution for this purpose is 6
tbsp. salt in a gallon of water.
- For brine, the mixture should be about right when you can place a raw egg
in the shell into the brine and it will float.
- The brine solution can be saturated by boiling the water and salt mixture
and letting it cool before adding the olives.
- Shrivelled olives will regain some plumpness if marinated in olive oil for
a few days.
- Be sure to use only food-grade lye to cure olives. Never use drain openers
or oven cleaners to cure olives (as a source of lye, that is).
- Lye burns should be treated by running them under fresh tap water for 15
minutes and then consulting a physician. Never try to neutralized a lye burn
with lemon juice or vinegar; mixing acids and bases can be dangerous.
- Scum may form at the surface of the brine. It isn't harmful as long as the
olives are fully submerged, but it should be removed when it forms.
- Do not use the lye curing method if children might come anywhere near the
olives or the solution.
- Do not taste the olives while they are soaking in lye, wait until the 3
day period with water is up before testing.
Things You'll Need
- Certified food-grade lye, chemical-resistant gloves, and safety glasses
- Two wooden or Styrofoam crates
- Un-torn burlap, cheesecloth, sheets, or cloth napkins
- Red wine vinegar
- Olive oil
Recipe for home curing
There are numerous methods for curing fresh olives. Here is one you may want to try:
Quick Method for Curing Black Olives
- For best results use completely black olives.
- Rinse the black olives well and leave in clean water for 24 hours.
- Place in a 4% salt (40g/L) solution for 2 weeks.
- Keep the olives submerged and covered.
- Replace with a 6% salt (60g/L) solution for 2 weeks.
- Keep the olives submerged.
- Make up fresh 6% salt solution and flavour to taste with vinegar, herbs, spices, etc.
- Place the olives in jars.
- Bring the flavoured brine to the boil and add hot to the olives in the jars.
- Fill the jars completely and close tightly.
- Let stand for a week or two.
- Serve splashed with EVOO.
By Nancy Gaifyllia
With the exception of Throubes (an olive from the island of Thassos that’s picked when fully mature), olives straight off the tree are hard and bitter. Curing is what removes the bitterness. Once cured, olives can be stored with flavourings
(lemon, oregano, garlic, and others), but the first step is the curing.
Ancient Greeks cured olives by “dry curing” with salt, and over the
centuries, other methods were developed.
If you have olive trees and are interested in home-curing, there are several
methods used in Greek homes that you can try. There is a method using lye, but
it’s not recommended for home use. I asked four friends for different methods,
and I got five suggestions:
Water Curing “Smashed” or “Cracked” Olives (recommended for large green
Wash olives. With stone or mallet, crack the meat of the olive, taking care
not to bruise the pit. Put the olives in a pan and cover with cold water for 6-8
days, changing the water twice a day, morning and evening, until the bitterness
is gone (taste to test). When ready, fill the pan with brine * (about 1 part sea
salt to 10 parts water) and lemon juice (about 1 part lemon juice to 10 parts
water), transfer to jars if desired, and refrigerate for several hours before
Brine Curing (recommended for black olives)
Wash olives. With a sharp knife, make a cut in the meat of the olive (top to
bottom) without cutting the pit. In a pan, soak the olives in brine (1 part salt
to 10 parts water). Make sure the olives are submerged (use something to weight
them down) and cover. Cure the olives for 3 weeks, shaking the pan each day and
changing the brine each week, then taste for bitterness (they could take up to
5-6 weeks depending on the olives). When they taste the way you want, place in
jars with brine (1 part sea salt to 10 parts water), add 4 tablespoons of red
wine vinegar and top with a layer of olive oil.
Dry (Salt) Curing (recommended for large black olives)
Outdoors, in a basket, burlap bag, or wooden box lined with burlap (that
allows air to circulate), layer olives with coarse sea salt (you’ll need about 1
pound of salt for every 2 pounds of olives). Leave the olives outside (with
plastic underneath to catch the juices that drain) for 3-4 weeks, shaking daily
and adding a little more salt every 2-3 days. Taste for bitterness (rinsing the
olive first). When no longer bitter, you can either shake off excess salt and
keep them that way, or shake off the excess salt and dip them quickly in boiling
water to get rid of the salt. They can be marinated for a few days in olive oil
to regain plumpness (this type of curing will shrivel them), or just coated well
with olive oil (using your hands) before eating.
Dry (Salt) Curing (recommended for small black olives)
In glass jars, alternate layers of olives with coarse salt. Every day for 3
weeks, shake well and add more salt to absorb the juices. Test for bitterness
(rinsing the olive first). Continue to cure if bitterness remains, otherwise,
add warm water to cover and 4 tablespoons of good quality red wine vinegar, and
top with a layer of olive oil. They will be ready to eat after 4-5 days.
Cover in olive oil and leave them alone for several months. Test for taste.
Tips About Brine:
* The water/salt ratio is perfect when a raw egg floats in it.
** For cracked
olives, when they’re ready to eat, transfer to a brine that’s less salty to keep
for long periods.