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Between olives I've been served at restaurants as a starter and various brands of olives I bought in supermarkets I have found that the ones in restaurants often taste much better. In particular they are often less salty, less bitter and more buttery in taste.

Is this a bias on my part, maybe because I tend to be more hungry when I go to a restaurant or are they actually better. Are there particular varieties of olives (eg. specific region or method of preservation or preparation) that taste like the ones in restaurants? Is it that they are fresher at a restaurant?

EDIT: I'm referring to plain olives here, not a processed. The kind you get as a starter, sometimes with some bread on the side. In particular mediterranean or middle eastern restaurants serve them that way.

  • Not certain what you mean by olives served in a restaurant. Are you talking about any particular type or preparation of olive or just simple black olives? Where is it that you are being served these olives - what country/what type of restaurant? – Catija Apr 5 '16 at 18:55
  • Thanks, I added some information to clarify. Hope this helps. – Markus Schanta Apr 5 '16 at 19:04
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    Black, green, oil cured, in herbs? There are hundreds of different varieties of olives and dozens of ways to prepare them. Americans often consume pitted black olives out of cans... I grew up on them and love them but I'm weird... but they're not the same as the brine cured olives like the Kalamata. What sorts of olives are you buying in stores? – Catija Apr 5 '16 at 19:08
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    Most of the olives you get at a restaurant or in stores in the UK are green ones. The last brand I bought at a shop are Crespo Green Olives, they were quite bitter/briney. Are the oil-/vinegar-cured ones less bitter than brined olives? Is that what makes the difference? – Markus Schanta Apr 5 '16 at 19:16
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    Going by the pic in your question, and this Serious Eats article on olive varieties, brine-cured Manzanillas look similar – millimoose Apr 5 '16 at 19:58
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In comments you note that you last bought a jar of green, pitted olives in brine. Those tend to be much saltier than the versions served as a mezze in Mediterranean and Middle Eastern restaurants, in part because the restaurant versions are usually whole and thus have less surface contact with the storage brine. They're also fresher; restaurants that go through larger quantities of olive can afford to purchase higher-quality olives that haven't been sitting in their brine on a shelf somewhere for months (or years).

Olive variety may also be a factor. The picture you've provided looks closest to me to a Castelvetrano olive, which have a very mild, almost buttery flavor. This mildness comes from its processing, which is close to the preparation of the black California olives familiar to Americans. They're washed in a lye solution, which flushes the bitterness of the fresh olive, and are then rinsed to remove any traces of lye; they can then be brined for a short period of time, but they're typically much fresher and less salty than other olives. I know a few chefs who like serving them as a starting course specifically because they're not overwhelmingly salty.

As others have suggested, you can seek out similar higher-quality olives in bulk at boutique grocery stores. You'll have to pay a bit more for the privilege, but the other advantage is that such stores are usually happy to let you try some of the varieties before you buy.

  • I suspected that it had to do with the variety and processing rather than the brand of olives, but wasn't entirely sure either. Thanks for confirming this. Particularly helpful to know that there's quite a difference between pitted and whole olives. Sounds kind of logical, but I had not thought of it. – Markus Schanta Apr 6 '16 at 11:59
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Assuming that you are buying from supermarket shelves,(and not, say, from olive bars that some supermarkets have) there is a quality difference between shelf-stable canned and jarred olives vs. olives available in olive bars like Whole foods or in a Mediterranean deli. These come oil cured or submerged in water, and cannot be stored for long term, and they taste much better.

  • I'll give the ones from the olive bar a try. – Markus Schanta Apr 6 '16 at 12:02
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I will relate my personal process as it relates to the "less salty" comment, though it may or may not reflect the actual process at your restaurants...

I buy Kalamata olives (pitted) in 2 kg "kegs" since it seems to be the only way to get them at a reasonable price. They are packed in brine, and are quite salty - they keep fine unopened at room temperature, and once opened I put them in the fridge where they keep for a long time (need for refrigeration at all in the original brine is a subject of debate, but I do.)

I will remove a few cups of olives for short-term consumption and place them in fresh water, in the fridge. I drain and replace the water every 12-24 hours, and start tasting them (now that this is established practice) after 3-4 water changes (initially, I checked with every water change) until I get in the realm of a salt level I like, and then drain the water and don't refill, letting them sit typically another 24 hours to redistribute the remaining salt evenly. Based on the color of the water draining off, I'd have thought all the flavor would be gone with it, but this is not actually the case, and I do manage to achieve less-salty kalamatas that I enjoy far more than the very salty ones straight out of the keg.

Your restaurants may be processing/marinating their olives in a similar manner (and possibly also doing things like adding some flavors, wine, etc.) - or it may be the different sourcing of olives (or indeed, that they are kalamatas and not the typically far blander green or black olives; though your picture is definitely green olives.) I do find a number of search results when I search "marinated green olives" so you might follow that path if the green ones are your goal/ideal. I can in any case recommend fresh water soaking as a viable means for reducing salt level.

  • That sounds interesting, I'll give it a try! – Markus Schanta Apr 6 '16 at 12:01
  • That sounds like a great solution. One question thought - do you filet the onions before you marinate in fresh waster, or is it possible to marinate in fresh water before they are cut and pitted? – Bar Akiva Jan 9 '17 at 9:15
  • It's possible, but I'm pretty sure it will take much longer. I buy pitted ones, as mentioned in the answer. – Ecnerwal Jan 9 '17 at 13:13
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European olives are not salty. I hardly was able to find any salty olives in europe. Only americans and asian countries who doesnt know how to eat olives eat salty olives. That is the only difference. Salty olives exist everywhere but in europe, non salty olives are very easy to find and tastes so much better and does not ruin ur taste when eating with pasta and other stuffs.

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    I disagree here. There are plenty of salty olives in Europe. The worst are those dry Turkish black olives, stafidaki style, but others also pack lots of salt. Also, just because somebody likes eating a food in a way different from yours, it doesn't mean that they don't know how to eat it. – rumtscho Jul 1 '18 at 6:11

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