There are dozens of olives--black, purple, brown and green; round and oval; plump and shriveled; large and small. Flavor of the various types is influenced not only by variety but by soil and climatic conditions, length of ripening and the curing process.
All olives are too bitter to be consumed fresh. To be edible they must be soaked in oil, water, brine or an alkaline solution, or be dry-cured in salt. Sometimes olives are cracked before curing to permit brine and other curing agents to infuse their pulp.
In the simplest terms, green olives are picked before they ripen; black olives are left to ripen on the tree. An exception is in the United States, where growers produce black olives by subjecting green olives first to an alkaline bath that removes the bitterness, then to an oxygenating process and an iron solution that blackens them to an even tone darker than any tree-ripened fruit.
Some varieties, along with their place of origin, currently available in area supermarkets and specialty groceries include:
Agrinon (Greece)--Green, with a lemony flavor.
Alfonso (Italy, Spain, South America)--The Italian are large and black, brine-cured and packed in vinegar. Those from Spain are green; the South American olives are lighter black and have a meaty, sometimes mushy, texture.
Amphissa (Greece)--Black, wrinkled; produced in central Greece.
Black pitted (California)--Shiny black and smooth, with a firm texture and mellow taste.
Cailletier (France)--Black; produced in the area around Nice.
Calabrese (Italy)--Dull bronze-green, cracked, with a mellower flavor than Sicilian.
Dry-cured Californian (California)--Wrinkled black, salt-cured and rubbed with olive oil. Meaty texture.
Dry-cured Moroccan (Morocco)--Wrinkled black, salt-cured, with a slightly bitter flavor.
Gaeta (Italy)--Small, wrinkled black or mahogany-colored. Salt-cured, often packed with herbs such as rosemary. Have a mild, earthy flavor.
Greek-style black (California)--Purple-black, firm flesh, with smoother, thicker skins than those grown in Greece. Brine-cured, packed in vinegar.
Greek-style green (California)--Cracked.
Kalamata (Greece)--Also spelled calamata . Small, oval-shaped, blackish-purple and shiny. Usually cracked, with an earthy, butter-sweet flavor. Brine-cured and packed in vinegar.
Liguria (Italy)--Dark brown to black, brine-cured. Slightly acidic and very flavorful.
Lucques (France)--Produced in the Herault and Aude regions.
Lugano (Italy)--Dark purple-black, brine-cured. Salty flavor.
Morocco (Morocco)--Small, round, wrinkled reddish black to black. Brine-cured, packed with leaves and twigs.
Nabali (Israel)--Larger, rounded green-cracked. Salt-brine cured with lemons, garlic, peppers and spices added. Thick flesh, crunchy texture.
Nafplion (Greece)--Also spelled Naphlion or Navplion, dark khaki-green, cracked and crisp. Taste fruity fresh with a tart bite. Brine-cured, packed in olive oil.
Nicoise (France)--From Provence region. Small, tender and shiny. Color ranges from purple-brown to brown to black; more pit to meat. Brine-cured and packed in olive oil with herbs de provence .
Nyons (France)--From the Drome and the Vaucluse. Small, round and reddish brown. Salt-cured, rubbed with olive oil. Occasionally brine-cured. Pleasantly bitter taste.
Picholine (France)--From the Gard region, Corsica and the Bouches-du-Rhone. Smooth medium green, brine-cured. Fresh tasting, crisp and tender. Quite salty.
Ponentine (Italy)--Purple-black, brine-cured, packed in vinegar. Mild flavor.
Royal (Greece)--Also called Royal Victoria. Red to light brown to dark brown. Cured in olive oil and vinegar. Similar to Kalamatas in flavor and richness.
Salona (Greece)--Brown or purplish brown, brine-cured, soft texture.
Salonenque (France)--Green variety produced in the Bouches-du-Rhone region.
Sicilian (Italy)--Small, cracked green ovals. Sharp, bitter flavor. Traditionally spiced with red pepper and oregano or fennel.
Sicilian-style (California)--Medium green, crisp. Brine-cured, cracked or uncracked.
Souri (Israel)--Small, green-cracked. Salt brine cured with lemons, garlic, peppers and spices added. Rich flavor and chewy texture.
Spanish (Spain)--Green. Lye-cured, then packed in salt and lactic acid brine. May be pitted or unpitted, unstuffed or stuffed with pimiento, almonds, capers, onions, anchovies or celery.
Spanish-style (California)--Green, lye-cured, packed in salt and lactic acid brine. Pitted or unpitted, stuffed or unstuffed. Salty, tart flavor.
Volos (Greece)--Purple-gray, juicy and very salty.
Food styling by Rose Dosti and Donna Deanne