What is the Difference Between Black Olives and Green Olives?

If your recipe says green olives and you happened to have black ones, can you use them to substitute the former? Let's find out if they are the same, or is there a difference between black and green olives.
Tastessence Staff
It happened to me one day when my fiance's parents were coming over for dinner. I wanted to cook the perfect dinner for them and woo their hearts by tantalizing their taste buds with my gastronomical expertise. Sounds dreamy, right? Wait for it. For an Italian dish, I was supposed to use green olives, according to the recipe but I could only find black ones around. That is when my nightmare began - to use or not to use black olives? Did you know? There are at least 6 varieties of black olives most likely available in your supermarket aisle, as opposed to only 2 of the green variety. All I remember is me freaking out throughout the whole ordeal, scared out of my wits over the thought that one wrong ingredient could spoil the taste of the entire meal I had been working so hard on. Maybe I was overreacting but, then, my friend slapped some sense in to me and we decided to Google it. Take a look at what we found out.

Green Olives Vs. Black Olives
  • Ripeness: The first and major difference between green and black olives is the ripeness factor of the two. Green olives are picked a lot earlier than black ones, so they are immature. The black olives, also known as ripe olives, end up staying on the tree for a longer time. In fact, green and black olives grow on the same tree! The olives are green when unripe and then gradually turn red, purple and finally acquire black color as they mature.
  • Texture: Since green olives are unripe at the time of picking, they are firmer and denser while black are softer. Also, they tend to be drier than green olives.
  • Color: Black olives get the dark color after olives reach full maturity and are absolutely ripe. Green ones are harvested before reaching maturity. They remain unripe.
  • Taste: All olives contain glucoside before processing which lends them the bitter taste and renders them incompatible with your taste buds. However, this can be neutralized through curing, brinning, fermenting with an alkaline such as lye. Black olives have a fleshy and slightly fruity taste. However, green ones taste very bitter, raw, tangy and salty due to brinning. Most people prefer the taste of black over green. They describe the taste as very rich and smooth.
  • Brinning: It is the process of adding large amounts of salt, saturated in water, to pickle food and storing for many days to extract the bitterness out of them. Hence, green ones have to be heavily brined before use. They also need to be pickled in lye solution before brinning, which is not needed for black ones. However, black olives are mostly immersed in lots of vinegar, water and only a little bit of salt.
  • Olive oil: Also, black olives have a higher oil content, due to their maturity and are primarily used to extract olive oil.
  • Culinary Uses: Green olives are used in their raw state for garnishing martinis and even salads sometimes, especially egg salad. They are even eaten plainly as table snacks. They are never cooked or heated because their strong flavor can overpower that of other ingredients. While, black olives are widely used in salads, pizzas, pastas and Mediterranean cuisine. Those packaged in cans are generally cooked before use.
Nutritional Value of Black Vs. Green Olives

Since they are both grown on the same tree, the nutritional value of both is almost the same. However, the only difference may be in the sodium content, after processing, which can be as high as twice the amount of sodium found in treated black olives. They are not a very healthy choice for some with a high blood pressure or cholesterol problems. Green ones rate high in salt content. Also, a point to be noted is that, green olives are often pitted and stuffed with jalapenos, onions, red pepper, anchovies and garlic making a lot more nutritious than black ones. The most commonly available green olives in U.S. are the Manzanillo olive type that are stuffed with pimientos. According to the USDA National Nutrient Database, a hundred grams of green olives contain as much as 145 calories while the same quantity of black contains 115 calories, about 30 calories lesser. However, black olives are richer in antioxidants.

Anyway, you cannot use black olives and green olives interchangeably because of the difference in their tastes. If you like salty, sour and thick, you can use green olives. Well, what did I do for my recipe? I tried to cook my black olives less as I could to not let the taste mellow down further. Didn't quite have an option at that time. Lucky for me that my fiance's mother likes black olives over the green ones.
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