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May 1, 2011 04:08 PM

Are Olives dyed to look more appealing to the "Olive Bar" Consumer

I love olives, and enjoy all the different varieties I see on your typical grocery store Olive Bar- But the colors of some of these olives seem unnaturally vibrant- Hues of green, magenta, robust black, $8.99 to $12.99 a pound depending on the store, I just wonder how natural these really are.....

Appreciate your knowledge!

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  1. Do not fear, olives are not dyed, rather just salt brined or oil-, water-, dry-, and lye-cured etc. either unripened or ripened, and as they ripen from green to black either before or during the curing process, they change into varying stages of color, including faded red-greys, mottled greens and muddy browns, or shades of purple along with the midnight black. When olives are harvested dictates the color; many black Greek or Italian varieites are ripened fully before harvest. Have you seen the beautiful Alfonsos? Gorgeous purple meaty olives. Even Kalamatas vary a bit in color from olive to olive. Maintaining a green hue for a green pitted Manzanilla or Picholine, or ripening those black California Mission olives requires chemical processes to develop or maintain the color, as that particular black olive is not ripened at all before brining. Air causes oxidation and undesirable color changes for green olives.

    It's quite an amazing world of olives. There seems to be a wack urban myth out there that black olives are dyed with squid ink. I would think it would take a tremendous quantity of squid ink to produce the amount of black olives consumed around the planet. Besides, it's just not true.

    Olive photos and descriptions:


    11 Replies
    1. re: bushwickgirl

      Sorry, not so. Cerignolas -- bright green and bright red, are dyed. Look at the cans they come in. Dyes are listed under the ingredients.

      Also, I know for a fact that many black olives are treated with ferrous iron to darken their color.

      1. re: pitterpatter

        Cerignolas are absolutely dyed. Both are rather garish non natural colors

        1. re: Delucacheesemonger

          As are Castelvetrano olives. Doesn't make them any less yummy.

        2. re: pitterpatter

          Ferrous iron is a dye but is used more for color stabilization when curing olives.

          Red Cerignolas are dyed with anything from FD&C red #3 to strawberry juice, depending on the processor; this is not a naurally occuring color for a ripening olive, which ranges from green to copper brown to purple black, with a reddish color that lasts for a day or two during ripening, depending on olive type. I rarely see the red ones in the market. Since the OP specifically mentioned green, magenta or robust black, I didn't consider the red variety as worthy of discussion. The color makes them appear to be very unatural to me.

          Castelvetranos are chemically processed similar to California Mission olives, and are canned to prevent oxidation and to mantain their bright green hue. If the brand you're buying has been dyed, switch to another brand. Dyeing is not necessary.

          1. re: bushwickgirl

            The Amish Market on 9th Ave in the 40s' cerignolas are red (which is oddly offputting to me - although I do like the taste, red just seems wrong). Dollars to donuts all of their olives come from Turkey - they're Turkish-owned markets.

            1. re: buttertart

              I'm sure. I just can't eat the red ones, and am not sure what the point of dyeing them is, maybe something cultural or historical; the black or green are perfectly acceptable, imo.

              I've never seen the reds at Sahadi, but it's been awhile since I've been there. That shop is a pretty wonderful olive heaven.

              1. re: bushwickgirl

                Another old stomping ground. Great store.

                1. re: buttertart

                  The same people also own the "Zet" gourmet stores (Zeytina, Zaytuna, Zataya etc.) Those are equally good. If I sound a little down about the Amish Market (and the Chelsea Market, which is also owned by them it's becuse they make me a little depressed now, once upon a time long ago, their bakery had the most incredible apple fritters, now the ones they serve as the same overglazed junk as every other donut store (I suspect the good ones were a casualty of the NYC trans fat ban)

                  1. re: jumpingmonk

                    They own the whole Chelsea Market? Wow. Bring back transfats, you just know they'll turn out to be OK in the next study (like the recent salt one that brings me no end of joy).

                    1. re: buttertart

                      OOPS, I made a mistake. They actually own the GRACIE market. That being said, they may very well own the Chelsea as well, I just don't know

      2. This is an interesting question - and not an easy answer. Sometimes it depends on the store you shop at - if a store is all-natural (Whole Foods) then you can assume the olives are. Most cerignolas and castelvertrano olives are dyed - which is why you have to be careful where you shop if it's important to you. I'll spend a few more dollars on a brand like Divina, which is all-natural rather than chance it and put chemicals in my body.

        1. I would avoid red olives like the plague before I saw this thread. Now I'll just avoid them because who knows how they were made?

          2 Replies
          1. re: Pincus

            Oh God, another thing that just can't be left alone. Why do we need unnatural red olives anyway? I had no idea olives were dyed.

            1. re: oana

              Olives have been grown around Cerignola for millenia. They've been dyed red for just about as long.

              And what's wrong with taking the approach that some things "just can't be left alone"? It's how we can eat olives in the first place. In the absence of artificial processing - often using harsh chemicals such as lye - they're too bitter for consumption.

          2. We grow olives. The color change is a degree of ripeness, similar to the color change in grapes. The chlorophyll is being exchanged in the fruit for polyphenols. Some olives, much like Chardonnay grapes, will always be green in color. We only brine our olives in salt, some people use lye, but the salt method takes much, much longer. It takes us eight to nine months of brining, and contstantly changing the brine, washing the olives, putting them in the fresh brine. The lye takes only 24 hours. However, we believe that the salt brine produces better olives, otherwise, we'd do it the easier way. Also regarding color, you'll notice that the olive oil produced from greener, less ripe olives is also greener, whereas, the oil from riper olives is more golden. If you prefer more buttery, soft oils, choose a golden colored oil. If you prefer the more pungent, grassier type of olive oil, choose a greener colored oil. I've attached a photo of this year's olives, which are not quite ripe, and the ripened olives, from a previous year, so you can see the stages of development. Enjoy eating olives and olive oil!