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Nov 8, 2007 09:51 AM

Curing Olives--Where to buy Lye?

I'm a first time Olive preserver and thought I'd try both brine and lye preservation techniques this year to experiment. Can't seem to locate appropriate stores in the East Bay (preferably close to El Sobrante) where I can buy Lye in small quantities. Would appreciate any suggestions for purchase, as well as recommendations on favorite recipes.

Thanks! Jim.

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  1. I would start with your local hardware store.


    1 Reply
    1. The County Square Market in Pleasant Hill has Chineese style lye. There's also a large asian supermarket in Emeryville that might have it.

      1. Please remember that green olives are really tender, like peaches for example. I would try picking them into a bucket filled with water to minimize their bruising. Last year's crop was all ruined by having brown rotty spots all over the olives which weren't there when they were on the trees. . I used arbequinas last year.

        1. We process black olives without lye. We only use brine in the last stages of our process. We extract the nasties with water, changing it daily for a couple of weeks. The results are outstanding.

          1. I have cured olives with lye, salt, and water. You do get lye at your local hardware store--it is the main ingredient in the dry Draino.. The university of California Agricultural Extension puts out a pamphlet on curing olives. Carefully inspect every single olive for a tiny black dot. Most unsprayed home olives have been attacked by some bug. When I was still curing olives I found that they went soft too fast. They were fine when just cured, but within a month, even refrigerated they went mushy. I gave up after experimenting for about 10 years. Frankly, I'd start the process by going to my local delicatessen with a wad of cash in my hand.

            3 Replies
            1. re: Curmudgeon

              A lot of formulations of Drano are NOT 100% lye and therefore are not safe to use. Look for something that says 100% sodium hydroxide.

              The UC guide is very good. Here is another link:
              Although, I would recommend at least two soakings in lye--one was not enough for me.

              1. re: sfbing

                How long did you soak the olives in lye?

                1. re: sfbing

                  For small olives--like picholine sized, then an overnight 12-16 hour soak in lye was sufficient.
                  For larger olives, I found that they were quite bitter and needed a 2nd overnight soak in a fresh lye solution. The best way to tell whether the lye has penetrated to the center of a large olive is by taking one out (use gloves) and cutting a section out. The coloring should be uniform to the pit. (I learned this the hard way, after copious water washes that I hadn't soaked in lye long enough.)
                  Ideally, you should sort the olives by size so you can soak the little ones for less time and the larger ones for longer. But....then it stops being fun and you run out of room in your bathtub.

                  Also, you have to be pretty obsessive about preventing exposure to air during washes to preserve that green color. Regardless, they still taste great.