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Etiquette: What do you do with the olive pit?

I had a green salad in a restaurant at lunch today, and there was one, lone reddish olive hidden in it. I ate it, lifted the little cup the dressing came in to my mouth, and allowed the pit to fall into it. But this made me think?

How does one politely eat olives with pits in Western dining?

When I was in China, I remember seeing a woman allow a small bone to fall out of her mouth onto her plate in mid-sentence. I was aghast. But I don't really know how she could have dropped the bone otherwise.

(As an aside, I don't like olives, but I always try them hoping that maybe I will like this time. It was actually ok today.)

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  1. spit it at a sibling.

    Miss Manners I believe maintains, anything that needs to be removed from the mouth should exit the way it came in. But I feel a discreet deposit of a pit in a napkin and transfer to plate is also acceptable.

    4 Replies
    1. re: hill food

      LOL I was thinking the same thing. Does one not learn this basic tecnique at a young age with watermelon? I just put them back on my plate. Please don't serve me those tasteless pitted olives just because some one might be offended by my pits.

      1. re: hill food

        Agreed- it's supposed to come out the way it went in.

        1. re: hill food

          Umm, what would Ms Manners advise if one used a toothpick to convey the olive to one's mouth? (Imagining trying to balance an olive pit on a toothpick to remove it! ;-)

          1. re: Niki in Dayton

            Miss Manners probably expects you to serve olives with proper olive forks or in a dish, so that you don't have the toothpick problem! ;)

        2. Same way as when I'm eating olives with a drink. Just take it out of my mouth and put it on the side of the plate.

          1 Reply
          1. re: Harters

            Agreed. Just take it out and back on a plate or napkin. Unless a very elegant formal affair, just be normal like everyone else. No need to hind and pretend.

          2. lol to the one lonely olive in the salad. I'd be dissappointed, i love olives in every variety.

            While it'd be fantastic if restaurants would get on board and realize that kalamata olives CAN be purchased pitless (more $$ i know) or that pits are easily removed by smashing with a knife...i vote against spitting it into a cup, that could get messy or not so nice to view. I usually bring it to just between my front teeth or lips, and swiftly remove it with my fingers or a napkin if i don't want to get anything on my fingers or have anyone else see it.

            Barring that i guess you could store them all in your cheek like a chipmunk until you excused yourself to the washroom ;)
            I wonder how many unenlightened diners have lost a tooth on one of these babies?

            7 Replies
            1. re: im_nomad

              For some reason, I always find that pitted olives seem to have less flavour than ones with stone still in. Is it just me? Or is there a reason? They always seem to be softer as well.

              Fortunately, my local supermarket now stocks its own brand of jarred non-pitted organic Spanish green olives. Good product - olives are tasty and nicely chewy.

              1. re: Harters

                Oh yes - pitted olives don't have the same great flavor or the texture! But eating them at a restaurant is a bit sticky. I try to very discretely remove them from my mouth and deposit them on my plate.

                1. re: Harters

                  yes once the pit is removed the olive's texture is compromised and it decomposes faster. the appearance is also not as nice, there is more waste, the fruit is less appealing to the customer. . .

                  1. re: soupkitten

                    why do canned pitted olives taste rubbery, soup kitten? and sort of "squeak"? vastly different from "real" olives! is the black variety of olive in the can ever sold as a "real" olive -- scooped out of a brine-filled olive barrel, e.g.?

                    1. re: alkapal

                      well i am not a huge olive expert but i know a couple of things-- canned commercial black olives from california are often artificially aged (with lye or other chemical means) green olives that don't have the flavor complexity that is typical with wonderful european olives that are riper when picked. i've tasted home-cured california ripe olives (with pits) and they are really good, but i don't know if there is a good brand with widespread distribution-- maybe the hounds in cali would know--

                      brine or salt cured olives from europe or the middle east can have a lot of character, i think the texture is better too. i think that the skin of the olive does a lot to preserve the fruit in brine, when the pit is removed, the brine can get in there and it seems to make the flesh mushy very quickly. kalamatas in brine with pits can last for a very long time in the fridge, and their flavor improves-- but once they've been pitted the flesh gets mushy very fast and the flavor gets-- muddy? for lack of a better descriptive? i used to stock kalamatas with and without pits but the ones with pits are so much better!

                      i think that people around the mediterranean have an appreciation for the delicious & subtle flavors of aged olives (aged olives, not aged olive oil) that isn't common in the u.s.-- i think it's only possible to age olives for any length of time with pits intact, and these aged olives are among the very best imo.

                2. re: im_nomad

                  I'm with Harters on this one. I would prefer my olive unpitted, unless it has been recently depitted for the dish I am eating. Just like cherries, olives taste better to me when they have the pit. My feeling is that if I have been served food with an unpitted olive or cherry, they expect me to get rid of the stone. As long as I am discreet, and don't contaminate the food of others, it should be ok. So either the setting is casual enough that using a napkin or placing it into a small pit bowl is ok, or the people who served me the unpitted item value the item for the properties for the quality it brings to their dish, in which case they understand it will have to be discarded and they are ok with it. If I am in a setting where discarding a pit from my mouth will be frowned upon, then my feeling is that the person who served the dish made the mistake, they should have taken into account the setting, and not served a dish which would require potentially distasteful behavior. Fortunately, I have rarely been placed in this uncomfortable position of having to decide between leaving the olives or participating in "distasteful" behavior. Most of the times, I am with people who relish olives and are happy to eat olive after olive and dispose of the pit in a reasonable manner. I happily follow suit!

                3. I agree with hill food. If there is a pit (or something inedible), it is appropriate to remove it idiscreetly n the same manner it went in- with a fork, a spoon, your fingers, however. Don't worry about it.

                  1. More power to etiquette (so little of it around these days) - olive pits should come back out exactly the way they went in.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: PDeveaux

                      I agree. I was at the bar at the Plaza this week and they actually had little metal toothpicks for the olives, though of course I couldn't remove the pit with one of those, so discretely (as discretely as one can sitting in a huge lobby bar) put the pit in my cupped hand and placed it on the provided plate.

                    2. As others have stated, the olive pit (or anything else you want to take out of your mouth, such as fish bones) are supposed to be taken out the same way they went in.

                      However, I have only seen one person place an olive pit back onto their fork and then onto a side plate. Everyone else I've seen uses their fingers. I tried using a fork a few times, but it didn't work too well--much more discreet to use fingers.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: brandygirl

                        Perhaps a teaspoon would work better than a fork.

                      2. The real question is "How does one politely SERVE olives is Western dining?" A cook shouldn't leave ugly surprises in food that might cause unsuspecting guests to crack a tooth or have other problems with the food. You shouldn't put unpitted olives or other foods containing shells, bones or inedibles into dishes that you're serving. Remove them in the kitchen.

                        Olives are normally served as part of a relish tray or in their own bowl. They are properly eaten by holding them in your fingers and biting the flesh off the pit, not by popping the entire thing into your mouth for cleaning. After the flesh is eaten, the pit is deposited on the bread plate.

                        Of course, common sense applies if we get stuck in situations like miss bennett did - the darned thing is in your mouth and we have to get it out!!!
                        If that happens, etiquette expert Amy Vanderbilt suggests a method for small stone fruit that works well: push the pit gently out of your mouth with your tongue into your cupped hand and then place it on the side of your plate.
                        If you can't do that gracefully, use your fingers as discretely as possible.
                        Whichever is more comfortable for YOU.

                        I agree with brandygirl. I've never seen anyone use a fork or spoon to remove something from their mouth without looking impossibly awkward and calling attention to themselves. I don't care what the books say. It looks stupid and you're much more likely to drop the pit or bones.

                        7 Replies
                        1. re: MakingSense

                          I am very surprised to learn that one should properly eat an olive as if it were a small peach or something. This sounds infinitely messier than the pop-in-the-mouth method. I thought the whole point of the pit-disposal problem was that putting your fingertips near your mouth (and maybe also exposing your teeth to everyone) was somehow considered rude.

                          Also, pushing the pit into your cupped hand?! Is it possible for anyone to do that gracefully? Maybe I'm not understanding the correct gesture.

                          1. re: DeppityDawg

                            "I am very surprised to learn that one should properly eat an olive as if it were a small peach or something. This sounds infinitely messier than the pop-in-the-mouth method"

                            I think this method would also call much more attention to oneself than just popping the thing in your mouth. I've yet to see someone eat an olive that way. If I did, I'd have to refrain from staring (but of course I wouldn't because it's rude:)

                            1. re: DeppityDawg

                              "Cupping your hand probably" wasn't the clearest description. Sorry. Guess that could sound like you're barking or something.

                              If you curl your fingers almost as though you're making a loose fist - like when you clear your throat or cough lightly - and cover your mouth, no one sees you eject the pit, and it falls into your palm. Really easy to do gracefully.

                              1. re: MakingSense

                                My BF's graceful disposal of olive pits (in this manner) was one of the keys of my attraction to him! Also he can debone a fish with his fingers without anyone even noticing.

                                1. re: melon

                                  melon, now THAT deboning is something of which you must give us a detailed description.

                            2. re: MakingSense

                              "You shouldn't put unpitted olives or other foods containing shells, bones or inedibles into dishes that you're serving. ...............Olives are normally served as part of a relish tray or in their own bowl. They are properly eaten by holding them in your fingers and biting the flesh off the pit, not by popping the entire thing into your mouth for cleaning. After the flesh is eaten, the pit is deposited on the bread plate."

                              Maybe where you are in the West, but not where I am.

                              Where I am, food cooked on the bone will usually be served on the bone. And unpitted olives appear almost as regularly in cooked dishes as separatley (presumably you mean with an apperitif?).

                              1. re: Harters

                                Food cooked on the bone or with a shell, pit, etc., that OBVIOUSLY still has it, such as it's still served in a large piece or that a diner can be easily aware of, is not the issue.
                                It's about picking inedible things out of your mouth that you didn't expect to find their way in there. Or making food hard to eat.
                                A piece of bone-in chicken in paella isn't a problem; a whole fish whacked into small pieces and mixed into rice is, because lots of mouthfuls are going to include unpleasant bone fragments.
                                You have probably seen postings about tail-on shrimp in pasta dishes or cocktails driving CHs crazy.

                                As for unpitted olives in recipes, that may be a difference of region, formality, or custom. I think it's awkward as unpitted olives are considered finger food due to the problem of disposing of the pits, and the possibility that an unwary diner could damage a tooth. I never do it, but to each his own.
                                I'd certainly pick them out carefully and probably warn my dining companions, just as I warn them about the possibility of stray "shot" when I serve wild game.

                            3. i recall that you are to hold your fist to your mouth and spit pit into the little crevice between thumb and forefinger. deftly maneuver pit with thumb and fingertips and place on side rim of plate.

                              1. I lift a spoon to my mouth, put the pit in it, and then put the pit onto the side of my plate. That's if the olive is in a dish. If the olives themselves are the appetizer, then someone should have put out a small dish for the pits and that is where they will go.

                                1 Reply
                                1. I put the fork to my mouth, push the pit out onto the fork from my mouth, and put it onto the plate.

                                  1. I was told at an early age to just swallow them. (I learned years later that I was an unplanned child).

                                    2 Replies
                                      1. re: Veggo

                                        So was I! Now I'm glad we didn't have olives in the house when I grew up!

                                      2. I prefer to hold it at my fingertips and eat the olive flesh off of the pit. That lets me shelter the sight within part of a hand, and avoid taking something out of my mouth since it never went in.

                                        1. Just a tip- never, ever put the pit back into your salad bowl in an attempt to seem mannerly by not displaying it. Sadly, I say this as someone who's almost cracked her molars twice [!] chomping on hidden pits I should have known better to have removed onto another plate or napkin. Still love olives, though.

                                          1. Funny story - when I was young - about 23 - I dated this guy from Kuwait - a very quiet and unassuming student. I knew his family was wealthy, but coming from a large family in a small town, I guess I never really "got it." Anyway, on our birthday - we both happened to be born on the same day & year - only half a globe away! - he took me to the Space Needle in Seattle ... where he accidently put something in his mouth he did not think wise to swallow. He got up from the table, graciously excused himself without saying anything, and went to the men's room. This is how I learned what an extremely well mannered young man does with such an item. Well ... now I just discreetly use a napkin. But I think of him every time I am in such a situation!

                                            1. I'm amazed at the amount of thought that some people have put into this, or how complicated a small number of individuals have made it. Am I the only one who thinks this much level to detail to etiquette sucks the fun out of food, or that if you have this much time to worry about something as minute as an olive pit that I should be jealous as to the lack of problems in your life? No offense, intended: I'm genuinely curious.

                                              I don't really care for olives, but every so often if presented with nice ones on a plate at a restaurant, feel the need to confirm this fact just so that they don't go to waste. I'll simply pop one in my mouth, chew the flesh off, and then take the pit out with my fingers and put it back on the plate. No stealthy acrobatic maneuvering or magical sleights of hand required.

                                              This makes me really curious how some of the posters who try to be really subtle eat seeded grapes, watermelon, etc.

                                              5 Replies
                                              1. re: vorpal

                                                "This makes me really curious how some of the posters who try to be really subtle eat seeded grapes, watermelon"

                                                Very good point Vorpal. I don't disagree with your point of view. Still, it is nice to be informed by others about what might be standard practice. Just opens up my little bitty eyes to the world out there.

                                                I must say, I'd be very interested in the seeded grapes thing. I really love the large Muscat grapes with the seeds, they are soooo delicious! But I'll rarely put them out in public because of the issue of the pits. Instead, I'll eat them in the privacy of my own kitchen, like a little sloppy rodent. Same with crabs. I love to eat every last morsel of meat. I'll rip apart claws, knuckles, body, and leave it spotless. So I'll never order it in a restaurant. Hmm, should I start a thread on General Chowhounding topics? Food you eat in hiding?

                                                1. re: moh

                                                  I, for one, would find the responses to such a post fascinating! I don't think that there are any particular foods I eat in hiding, but I may modify my way of consuming them based on my surroundings. For example, at home, I literally douse my carbohydrate-laden breakfast foods (bagels, pancakes, waffles) with melted butter. Eating this much butter in public would probably end up being a messy, distasteful experience, not only because of the sheer quantity, but because of the fact that it tends to, on occasion, run down my fingers and onto my hands and get all greasy. (Note: I have a serious health condition that requires me to eat very high calorie meals - especially fats, in my experience - to prevent weight loss, although admittedly, I do have a freakish love for butter and I'm not ashamed to admit it. My friends all secretly hate me for my skinniness in spite of my near-daily pancake / bacon breakfasts, which I flaunt shamelessly.)

                                                  1. re: vorpal

                                                    Vorpal: I started the post:

                                                    http://www.chowhound.com/topics/509986

                                                    And the responses are fascinating! Thanks for the inspiration!

                                                    1. re: moh

                                                      Thanks for posting this and for the heads up! I've loved the responses so far: it's delightfully humanizing to read these sorts of confessions on a website like Chowhound, and utterly fascinating - especially the prevalence of this saltine eating technique!

                                                2. re: vorpal

                                                  I laughed when I read your comment. I don't think most people give much thought to getting the pit out of their mouth - unless they are trying to describe how they do it gracefully in public to someone asking for advice. Then something that's intuitive begins to sound like a step in performing brain surgery. It becomes a minor exercise in technical writing.

                                                  Part of the problem today is that so many people have given up seated family meals and consequently children don't grow up learning how to take these challenges in stride as part of daily life. You can do anything you want when you're eating in front of the TV or when supper is chicken fingers or pizza. It your Mom never tells you that something is bad manners, how do you ever learn what you should do when you're faced with a situation in a restaurant, your boss's home, on a date, or anywhere in public. Suddenly you get then insecure oh-oh feeling. Everybody else seems to know what to do but you.

                                                  Decent table manners aren't complicated and they aren't elaborate rituals of the snotty upper class. They're pretty much learning to handle different and sometimes awkward foods gracefully without making a federal case out of it. Mostly it's learning to be comfortable which only comes from doing it routinely and making it part of your regular life.

                                                  Food is food. People have been eating it forever. There's a way to do it gracefully. The sooner you become comfortable with that idea, the more relaxed your mealtimes become. You don't worry.
                                                  Exactly as you said - it's no big deal.

                                                3. i guess the etiquette is not exposing one's table-mates to one spitting out the pit on a utensil, or where they can see one doing such manipulation with one's lips in a visible manner.....

                                                  1. I personally don't like/eat olives, so I can't be much help here...

                                                    ...but this subject line immediately reminded me of last season of Top Chef, during the Restaurant Wars, where the Judges immediately dinged the team for no bread/side plates - "Where am I supposed to put this olive pit??"; "I'm just going to place it right here (lonely pit left on the table...)" :o)

                                                    1. Good question miss bennet! Has someone come up with an answer yet? I guess I would just carefully dispose of mine in a napkin. But I'd be curious to see what more elegant people do...

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: Chew on That

                                                        You shouldn't put anything that comes out of your mouth or any food debris in your napkin. That leaves a potentially icky surprise for someone who might clear the table - like your Mom, the bus staff, a waiter, your hosts at a dinner, etc.
                                                        You might even forget later and have it drop on the floor, into your lap or onto the table.
                                                        Read the suggestions above for how to remove it from your mouth inobtrusively with your fingers. Then place it on your bread plate or to the side of your dinner plate.

                                                      2. what a hoot, fun read!
                                                        Next time I'm confronted with an olive pit, I'll probably second guess myself (lol) now!

                                                          1. I place my napkin to my mouth and extract it. Later, I'll remove it from the napkin and place it onto my app-dish, or appropriate.

                                                            Hunt

                                                            1. I was taught to discreetly place it back on the fork and deposit on the plate. Goes out the way it went in, as someone posted.

                                                              1 Reply
                                                              1. re: c oliver

                                                                That would probably work well too. I'd be shaking, as I raised the fork, as I just know that I'd drop the pit. Probably a much more elegant option, than mine. However, I can definitely hit my napkin, if its right there. Maybe I need to practice the fork routine.

                                                                Hunt

                                                              2. My mother always taught us to make a fist like some people do when they cough, and spit it politely in and then drop it onto the plate. Maybe this is a middle eastern way?

                                                                2 Replies
                                                                1. re: BamiaWruz

                                                                  bamiawruz, your technique is the proper way.
                                                                  see my post from march 30, '08.
                                                                  spitting it back out (or pushing it out of your mouth with your tongue) onto a fork is just gross.

                                                                  1. re: alkapal

                                                                    Actually, in American culture (i.e. Letitia Baldridge, Miss Manners, etc), many people believe that it's supposed to come out the way it went in. Some people find the fist thing more gross than pushing it out onto a fork with your tongue.

                                                                    However, as we can see, there are totally different acceptable ways of handling this problem. The question reminds me of an older post here where someone asked about the "correct" ("one and only" implied) potato salad recipe (she wanted to settle an argument with her mom)!

                                                                2. I have to say that I was thinking of this thread, while dining in London last week. Faced with olive pits at a formal dinner (well, a "dark-suit" dinner), I opted for the napkin and then removed it/them below table level, placing it/them on my bread plate, as there was no olive pit plate on the table. I observed my guests and saw all sorts of techniques - some listed in the thread, and some that were unique.

                                                                  Good topic,

                                                                  Hunt