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Preserving Olives

Preserving olives

preserving olives
Equipment to preserve olives

Preserving olives is as much of an art as it is a science because many factors must be considered when making olives. You must consider the variety of olive, its ripeness or maturity, your available resources, time required, and if you want to use olive brine or lye. But before we begin a quick note:

In this article I digress from trekking and climbing to homesteading. Though still focused on Nepal, this article marks the beginning of a segment on homesteading in the Himalayas and DIY projects to try to get a feel for life in Nepal. If this is something you are interested in, let me know in the comments or send me an email. Thank you, I hope you enjoy the article.

You may be thinking “preserving olives in Nepal?” I know Nepal does not have olives but they do have a lot of other fruits and vegetables that they preserve. In the next article I cover preserving lapsi fruit. You can read that article here.

Why you need to preserve olives before eating them

Olives contain a very bitter compound called oleuropein. The processing or curing process removes the oleuropeins from the olives making them taste delicious!

Olive preserving methods

The bitter flavor of uncured olives can be removed through different processes. Each process is appropriate for different olive varieties and at different olive ripeness. In short, the curing processes use:

  • Brine
  • Dry salt
  • Water
  • lye

and combinations of them

Varieties of olives

processing olives
From left to right: Kalamata, Manzanillo and Mission olives

There are 5 commercially important olive varieties. They include:

  • Manzanillo
  • Mission
  • Sevillano
  • Ascolano
  • Barouni

Other varieties include

  • Kalamata
  • Hojiblanca
  • Picholine

Selecting the best olive for processing

You want to only use freshly harvested olives for processing. Some other sources also say use un-bruised olives for processing however I am hesitant to include that because you must bruise the olives in some curing processes. Bruised olives will be softer after curing than non-bruised olives.

When to harvest

There are several stages of olive ripeness that are perfect for different processing techniques. The stages include:

  • Green ripe
  • Yellow green to straw
  • Rose to red brown
  • Black

The riper the olive is at harvest, the greater its oil content will be. Each variety and each of the stages require a different processing technique.

  • Manzanillo olives are best when lye cured and Spanish-style green olive style
  • Mission olives are best with a dry salt cure and ripe style or California black ripe style
  • Sevillano olives are best for Sicilian style fermented olives
  • Kalamata olives are best for kalamata style water-cured

Water cured olives

processing olives
Taking olives out of water

Water curing your olives does not remove all the bitter flavors in the olive, but it is a simple process.

  1. Crack or cut your olives
  2. Fill a bucket with cracked/ cut olives
  3. Fill the bucket with water
  4. Change the water 1x per day for a week or longer depending on the desired flavor
  5. Create a finishing solution with water, salt, and vinegar
    1. 1 lb. or 1 ½ cups of salt
    2. 1-gallon water
    3. 1-quart (4 cups) vinegar

This will cure 10 lbs. of olives. You can also add herbs and spices to the finishing solution for a stylized taste. Please note: DO NOT ADD garlic in this phase because of an increased risk pathogen contamination.

Brine cured olives

Brine is a salt water solution that preserves the olives. The olives go through a natural fermentation process that changes the olives’ flavor. This process can take up to 6 months however experience has shown it to not last longer than 3 months. Green ripe olives will take longer to cure than black olives.

  1. Place olives in a container that can be caped
  2. Fill the container with your brine solution
    1. add enough salt to water so that an egg will float on the surface or 1 lb. salt per gallon
  3. fasten lid on top of the container
  4. change brine solution once a week until finished

You can also add herbs and spices to the brine solution to stylize your olives, but do not add garlic because it can introduce pathogens to the solution.

Dry salt cured olives

processing olives
Salt cured olives

You need full ripe black olives to use this method of curing because this method is not as efficient at extracting the bittering compounds. It is easier for the oleuropeins to extracted from the full ripe black olives than the less ripe ones.

You will also want a smaller olive because this process will soften the flesh, dry it out, and make it wrinkled like a resin. Mission olives are commonly used for this olive processing procedure.

This process can be done in a few different ways, but the one described below was taught to me by a Greek woman, who learned it from a man nicknamed grandfather.

  1. Get a pillow case you do not want anymore
  2. Weigh out your olives
  3. Weigh 1 pound of salt for every 2 pounds of olives
  4. Add the olives and salt in the pillow case in layers.
  5. suspend the pillowcase with olives and salt
  6. place tub or bucket under the pillow case to catch the olive juice (the juice will stain so be careful). Discard the juice.
  7. 1x per week stir the olives by transferring them out of the pillow case then back again. Add enough salt to cover the top layer of olives
  8. When the olives are finished sieve the salt off and let dry for 24 hours.

The process takes about 5 to 6 weeks to finish. These olives will keep for 1 month if left out of the refrigerator, or 6 months if refrigerated.

Lye Cured olives

processing olives
Lye cured olives

Preserving olives with lye is the fastest way to cure olives. It leaves the olives with neutral “buttery” flavor that will absorb the flavors of any herbs or spices you store the olives with. There texture is firm and smooth.

Please note: be sure you understand the requirements of preserving food with lye before trying this. Also make sure your lye is 100% pure! If it is not, it might poison you! Extreme caution is warranted when processing olives with lye.

This method can be used to produce black or green olives. The only difference is an additional step to add oxygen to the olives. The method outlined below makes black olives.

  1. Sort all your olives to same size. Otherwise you will have different olives curing at different rates.
  2. Put the olives in a plastic or glass container. (do not use aluminum because the lye will eat though it.)
  3. Add 1 ½ ounces (42.5 g) of lye to every 1 gallon of water. Do not add the water to the lye, because it increases the risk of lye exposure and the lye will “cake up” and not dissolve. Make sure you do this step outside or in a well-ventilated area.
  4. Let the water cool to 65 to 70 degrees F
  5. Add the lye solution to the olives and let sit for about 3 hours or until you can see a discoloration underneath the olive skin. (you must open the olive to see this.)
  6. After the lye solution penetrated the skin of the olives, pour out the solution (but save, you can use it again later) and let the olives breathe.
  7. Stir the olives 3x at evenly spaced intervals throughout the day
  8. Pour the lye solution back into the container with the olives and let it penetrate the olives 1/8 inch into the flesh.
  9. After the lye solution penetrated deeper into the olive, pour out the lye and expose the olives to air again. Stir 3x as described before.
  10. Make a new lye solution by adding 2 ounces (85 g) of lye to every gallon of water. Let this solution penetrate the olives to the core.
  11. After the lye solution has reached the core, pour the solution out (it makes a great drain cleaner) and let the olives breath for another day.
  12. Soak the olives in clean fresh water.
  13. Replace the water 2x per day for 3 days or until you can no longer taste the lye. This may take up to 8 days. (lye tastes soapy)

These olives can be stored for up to 2 months in a brine solution. They can be kept longer if refrigerated or frozen.

Preserving olives

That’s pretty much it to preserving olives. If you still want to read more about olives, I wrote a couple of segments about the history of cultivation, where they are cultivated in the US, there uses, and nutritional benefits. Thanks for reading!!!


Olives have been grown in Mediterranean climates since 3,000 BCE. One part or another is used in almost every single facet of life in these regions. From babes’ baptisms to their last supper, you can be sure the olive has an important place at the table.

Where are olives grown in the United States

For the most part, olives are grown in the central valley of California.


Food, medicine, cooking, salve, lamp fuel, and soap. After all, how do you think palm and olive got its name?

Nutritional benefits of olives

Olives and olive oil contain over 70% monounsaturated natural fat. They also contain antioxidants including flavonoids and phenolic compounds



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