Learning how to cure green olives naturally was one of my first solo urban homesteading attempts. It was such an enjoyable and fruitful venture that curing green olives has turned into an annual tradition that happens every late September.
Every September, I repeatedly call Bosa Foods on Kootenay and all the ethnic grocery stores in East Vancouver each week until someone tells me that they’ve started to stock raw olives.
After, I beg for car rides to help me carry home pounds and pounds of raw olives. After several months of lifting heavy buckets and changing brines, my cured olives are finally ready to eat.
The ritual of sourcing and hauling bags of basically inedible olives home and switching out the brine every month for almost an entire year may sound like a pain in the ass, and truth be told, sometimes it is.
However, it’s my pain in the ass tradition (mostly stemming from my refusal to drive – the actual curing process is very simple).
Despite how time consuming curing green olives naturally at home sounds, it’s actually ridiculously easy to do.
It may take a long time to take a raw, bitter olives and turn it into something tasty, but the process is almost entirely spent passively waiting.
I know from experience that it’s hard to wait to eat your first batch of cured green olives, but it’s definitely worth it.
There’s nothing like breaking out a jar of home-cured marinated olives as an appetizer or as a gift for a friend. These little green olive morsels are an absolute delight to share.
Two Ways to Cure Green Olives Naturally
There are two main ways to cure green olives naturally. The most traditional way starts by soaking green olives in water, changing the water every day for 10 days to a full month, or until the bitterness has leached away.
The second way to cure green olives is to soak them in a brine immediately, and then change the brine monthly for around seven to nine months.
The traditional Greek method is to soak the olives in water, changing it every day until the olives have leached enough oleuropein out, which causes their unpalatable bitter flavour when they’re raw.
After that, they’re soaked in a brine (see olive brine recipe below) that may or may not have herbs and spices added to it.
I find curing olives in brine from the start to be the best (as in, the ideal combination of easiness and cost-effectiveness) fermentation method.
The salinity and vinegar of the brine keep the olives from spoiling, so you only have to change the brine every month. It takes longer, but what’s your hurry, anyways?
There is an additional third method, which is to cure green olives using lye. Technically, lye curing is also a natural way of curing olives, as lye is a naturally occurring alkaline solution.
However, as most food manufacturers cure green olives in factories using lye chemicals, I consider it a less natural (as in, less homey, but not bad in any way) method than water or brine curing.
If you’d like to cure green olives using lye, Hank Shaw of Hunter Angler Gardener Cook has a useful guide to lye-cured olives, which could be very helpful for you.
Do You Need to Cut or Crush Olives When Curing Green Olives Naturally?
Almost every green olive curing recipe I’ve found on the internet tells you to cut or crush the olives to allow more bitterness to seep out.
While this definitely speeds up the curing process, I find that cutting or crushing the olives really impacts the texture of the olives after they’ve been cured for several months in brine.
I prefer green olives to be quite firm, so I actually choose not to cut or crush them. It works fine for me, though the brining method does take a lot longer than cutting or crushing the olives would otherwise.
If you’d like to speed up the curing process, feel free to use a paring knife to slice the olives lengthwise, careful to not cut into the pit too hard.
You can also whack the olive hard with the flat edge of a knife, which is faster, but please be careful not to cut yourself.
If you choose to cut or crush the olives, drop them into water or brine immediately to prevent them from oxidizing and discolouring.
They will eventually turn dark green-brown over time, but you want them to turn the same colour evenly.
How to Cure Green Olives Using the Brine Method
I prefer to use the brine method to cure green olives, which I will walk you through, step by step.
Prep your work area and prep all your green olives, curing equipment, and brine ingredients ready.
Choose somewhere to work with easy access to running water, such as a kitchen or a bathtub (really).
Sort through the olives and remove any olives with significant bruising, shrivelling, or olive fly marks (as pictured below).
Olive flies are more likely to get at foraged olives than olives that you buy raw from a store. The flies leave a clear marking on the olive, which shows where the larvae have burrowed into the olive.
Green olives with tiny dots are fine, though. If your olives look and feel clean, there’s no need to re-wash or sanitize them.
Dissolve the no-rinse sanitizer solution in just enough water to dissolve the powder fully. Cover the food safe container, lid, and weights fully with no-rinse sanitizer.
Mix the green olive brining solution in the ratio provided in the recipe below: ¼ c. pickling salt, ½ c. white vinegar, 4 c. warm water, doubling as necessary (based on the Hank Shaw brine).
Optional: cut or crush green olives (see more about whether to cut green olives above in “Do You Need to Cut or Crush Olives When Curing Green Olives Naturally?“).
Add green olives to the brine solution, ensuring that you have enough brine to fully submerge the olives. Add more brine if necessary.
Weigh down the olives so that none of them pop up and float to the surface of the brine using food safe weights.
I use sanitized plates and bowls, but you can use any food safe thing to weigh them down.
Cover the olive container with a tight fitting lid and store them undisturbed in a dark, cool place. I use my hallway closet in my tiny apartment to store them.
Change the brine each month for 6 – 9 months, or until the olives are delicious. Don’t worry, they’re safe to eat (though not particularly good when raw) at any stage of the curing process.
Troubleshooting How to Cure Green Olives
Help, there’s a white scum covering my green olives!
White scum is perfectly normal and fine. Just skim the white scum off the surface of the brine as soon as you notice it, change the brine, and discard any overly softened olives.
Help, there’s a white mold covering my green olives!
White mold isn’t ideal when you’re curing green olives at home, but it’s nothing to worry about it, either. Skim the mold off the surface of the brine as soon as you notice it, change the brine, and discard any olives that are moldy or are overly softened.
Help, my olives smell/taste/feel weird!
As I can’t see, taste, or feel your olives, I can’t tell you whether they’re safe or not. However, I’d recommend you err on the side of caution when it comes to weird, funky tastes, bad textures, or crazy looking molds. When in doubt, throw them out. If you’re not comfortable eating them, don’t.
How to Cure Green Olives Naturally Recipe
How to Cure Green Olives Naturally
Learning how to cure green olives naturally is an excellent way to practice urban homesteading at home. Turn raw green olives into delicious fermented snacks using time and proven food preservation techniques.
- 20 lbs green olives, raw
- food safe container with lid, large enough for olives and brine solution
- food safe weight, such as plate and bowl
- no-rinse sanitizing powder
Olive brine recipe
- 1/4 c. pickling salt (double as necessary)
- 1/2 c. white vinegar (double as necessary)
- 4 c. warm water (double as necessary)
Sort green olives and remove any with significant bruising, shriveling, or olive fly marks (as pictured in instructions above). Olives with tiny dots are fine.
Mix no-rinse sanitizing powder in a container with just enough water to dissolve the powder. Cover the olive container, lid, and weights in sanitizing solution to sterilize them.
Mix olive brine by combining warm water, salt, and vinegar in the recipe's ratio until the salt is dissolved, doubling the brine until there is enough to cover green olives.
Cut or crush green olives if you choose to do so (optional).
Add green olives to brine, adding more brine if necessary to ensure that the olives are fully submerged. Weigh olives down so none pop up or float above the brine solution.
Cover the olive container with a tight-fitting lid and store olives undisturbed in a dark, cool place.
Change green olive brine every month for 6-9 months, or until the olives are delicious. They're safe to eat at any stage in the curing process, but they're not very tasty when raw. You'll know when they're ready to serve.
See troubleshooting section if you have additional questions or concerns about curing green olives naturally at home.