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I've Never Bought Olives Before!

I was never big on olives until this summer, when I was traveling in the Balkans. It seemed like every vegetarian dish I ordered came topped with olives and soon they were my favorite part of the meal. So, how do people buy olives? I've seen cans of olives at the store- is that the normal way? I know some supermarkets also have sort of self-serve olive bars but I don't think they're very hygienic. Should I be going to a specialty store? What do you do? Thanks!

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  1. I tend to buy them in jars - more convenient than cans!

    just make sure you avoid "pizza olives" or "black olives" - they don't have any flavour. It's worth buying semi-decent quality ones.

    1. This Italian grocer I frequent has around 20 buckets of olives for sale. Some are stuffed, some aren't. But you use a ladle and scoop as many as you want into a plastic container, and they charge you by weight. I usually only eat these olives whole or skewered in a martini. They really are good. I'll buy the canned black olives for topping pizza or adding to tex-mex dishes, though...

      1. One of the highlights of a trip to Athens about 20 years ago was a visit to the market, where I discovered a rather large section where all kinds of olives were sold. I think I love Greek olives most of all, and didn't have time to try all the varieties.

        1. I too would avoid the cans of olives. Any grocery store will have a selection of decent olives. A way to up your chances if getting "good" olives is to buy a jar that is labeled with the variety. Also, be sure to buy them WITH the pits and remove the pits yourself.

          1. I buy the jarred olives, or the self serve. Canned only for the tasteless black ones for a few certain dishes.

            1. Like everyone said, the canned black olives are generally tasteless. They are best to avoid. I don't know if it's hygienic or not, but I usually buy my olives from the self-serve olive bars. The grocers I shop at have buckets brimming with brine and spices that imbue the olives with the most flavor. I am generally hopeful that patrons adhere to the written rule: "No sampling with your fingers."

              1 Reply
              1. re: JungMann

                I'm a bit of a sanitation freak, and I've seen nothing to deter me from buying olives at the olive bar.

                Another option is to go to a Middle Eastern food shop, if there's one in your town. It will often stock a nice variety of unusual and delicious olives. These places are the only spots I've seen oil cured and spiced olives.

              2. I marinate my own olives. Buy jarred/canned (there are some good canned ones if you really look) olives, rinse them, and then marinate them. There are tons of recipes out there. It's fun to experiment. I just had a party, where I served three different kinds of my own marinated olives. Some of the recipes call for multiple types of olives. I use some with pits and others without.

                Having said that, buy good quality olives not the horrid black ones that plwakawaka referred to.

                I'm so glad you found olives! Happy eating.

                1. The big box stores have some nice jars of pitted Calamata olives that we like.
                  Otherwise the specialty stores with a variety of olives in barrels is great.
                  Or, many supermarkets have an "Olive Bar" where you can get a nice variety.
                  Canned? No!

                  1. I buy at the olive bar and I almost always buy them with the pits. Too many of the jarred olives are mushy.

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: rasputina

                      Olives at the olive bars are usually all priced the same per pound. With pitted olives you don't pay for the pits.
                      I have not really noticed a difference in quality.

                      1. re: Motosport

                        I, too, buy pitted olives. Taky pitty on my soul.

                        1. re: Motosport

                          I don't mind paying for the pits when the texture of the olive is better than with pitted.

                            1. re: Motosport

                              An olive pit set me back about $4,500 in dental costs a few years ago..

                            2. re: Motosport

                              I bought a mixture of self-serve olives at the Harlem Fairway when I visited the city, and made a dish that I like. I enjoyed it so much I wanted to make it again the following week, but I was back upstate and had to get the olives from the bar at my local Shoprite.

                              That meal was really quite foul. It seems to make a *very* big difference where and how you buy your olives; if you can, I suggest a place with a good reputation and a lot of turnover.

                          1. I don't buy jarred. In fact, i tend to think that any olive with a "brand" is not as satisfying / good value. It might be my upbringing that brought me to be a olive snob =P

                            My family is part Middle Eastern so we frequent nut shops and Middle eastern groceries a lot. Some will have self serve, but you are right about the hygiene. Most will have the olives behind the counter, with the feta and the deli meats. You can ask the clerk to serve you the amount you want, the kind you want and they will charge you by weight. You can ask the guy to taste one kind or another before you decide. Don't be shy this is quite common!

                            If you don't have any middle eastern groceries nearby, sometime you'll find a takeout restaurant, bakery or butcher which will have a decent selection of prepacked olives.

                            1. All great posts...I would add just one small thought...OIL CURED black olives tend to be quite bitter...I'd call it an acquired taste. Other than that, buy a variety and figure out what you like.

                              5 Replies
                              1. re: njmarshall55

                                OK, I confess. I have been known to sample an olive from the tray or barrell to make sure I like the taste. I use the utensil and not my fingers.
                                I do like the oil cured black olives but some will find them bitter.
                                Another aquired taste are the "new" green olives that have not been in the brine long.
                                It's all good and as far as I am concerned, healthy.

                                1. re: Motosport

                                  I would say oil cured black olives are much less bitter than the other varieties.

                                  1. re: melpy

                                    I totally agree. Until I tried oil cured, I hated olives.

                                  2. re: Motosport

                                    I always just used to guess what I like and spoon the olives into the container without tasting.

                                    Then, one day the guy working the cheese counter next to the olives (who had just helped me buy a few cheeses - always with a sample first) ran over and told me to always taste before I buy. The people at the meat counter there also always give a sample before you confirm your selection.

                                  3. re: njmarshall55

                                    I wouldnt say Oil cured are more bitter as a whole. It depends on the olive. There are so many kinds.

                                  4. I think the olive bars that most stores have are just fine. People are so paranoid about stuff like this now, I just don't think it's a big deal and I've been eating olives from these bars for tons of years. Or, go to a mediterranean style shop that has them and you'll get even better selection, and they can dish them out for you from behind the counter.

                                    Pit and CHOP any pitted olives before you eat them has been my lesson. Too many "pitted" ones had surprise pits or bits of pits.

                                    1. My favorites are probably Nicoise olives (small, green), but they can be hard to track down.

                                      1. We're an olive loving family!
                                        I buy canned black olives for pizza, tacos and decorating fingers
                                        Husband and daughter love green olives stuffed with pimentos. We get those from Costco in jars.

                                        My favorite olive buying experience is the middle eastern stores. Huge buckets of kalamata, Greek, spicy, and green olives. Some stores will let you weigh only the olives and then go back and fill up the container with brine- that way you're paying only for the olives and not the brine

                                        6 Replies
                                        1. re: cheesecake17

                                          If you like olives then pick up the Castelvetranos at Costco (in the refrigerated section). A very flavorful green Sicilian olive with a full-bodied texture. Really great.

                                          1. re: ferret

                                            Thanks! I'll check next time I'm in Costco. How big is the container?

                                            1. re: cheesecake17

                                              It's a little larger than a quart-size deli container.

                                          2. re: cheesecake17

                                            I'm glad someone brought up the finger olive. I don't think i could get an olive on my finger any more, but when we were growing up that was the best part of grandma's relish tray.

                                            Black canned olives are a different beast than the many fine varieties of olives available in many stores these days, but I still like them, mostly chopped into spaghetti sauce, on pizza, etc. But then I've been known to put canned mushrooms into those dishes as well.

                                            OK, someone bring the smelling salts, a half dozen chowhounds just dropped senseless to the floor.

                                            1. re: KaimukiMan

                                              I confess to both of those as well. I like the canned black olives on mexican stuff like nachos or layered mex dip. And I love canned mushrooms. I've pretty much quit buying stuff in cans due to BPA though, so I miss those things.

                                          3. I am simplistic about this. In my local big grocer (Stop and Shop, but others have em too), there is an Italian foods aisle, that has a ton of jarred olives..Kalamata, oil cured, Sicilian. Then I mosey over to the Goya aisle and get a can of my beloved anchovy stuffed green olives. I love them all. Some are sweet. Some are savory. Some are chewy. Some are tender. It's an inexpensive and easy way to begin experimenting with what you like, and what goes with what.

                                            1. Don't fear the self-serve bar. It's a great way to find out what types you like in small quantities.

                                              We always have a big jar of the ordinary green pimento-stuffed olives on hand (I grew up with them/comfort food); we get Costco's quart of kalamatas frequently; and I'll go on olive-bar binges when I see a good one.

                                              The only canned olives I like are Graber tree-ripened olives from California; they are a buttery delight and a treat and will set you back ~$7 a can (but so worth it).

                                              1. I like the variety at the self serve olive bar. I can take just a little of any kind, and I'm not committed to an entire jar of one kind I may or may not like.
                                                So far, I like them all....

                                                And fellow Chowhounders, I know some may not agree, but I really like plain old canned black California olives on pizza and on my Mexican lasagne casserole. I don't want the strong flavors of the cured olives on those dishes.

                                                1 Reply
                                                1. I buy Kalamata olives in the jar and do not like canned olives. My particular favorite are oil-cured black olives that are available by the pound in our deli section.

                                                  1. We have a little Turkish market not to far away that has Gemlik pit in low sodium black olives that are very good. They come in a big quart size can and also shrink wrapped. Very good.