9 Essential Olive Varieties

Far more complex than simple “green” and “black” types, olives have a large family that differs from variety to variety. An educated olive choice can help spotlight aspects of your flavor profile, while a haphazard selection can bring in unwanted flavors or even diminish the quality of the entire dish. From famous heavyweights to lesser-known favorites, here are our top pics for olives that deserve a spot in your kitchen.


Easily the most recognizable olive variety, Kalamatas have been the top dog for decades. We’re not saying their throne is undeserved though; Kalamata’s strong flavor makes them wonderfully reliable table olives. However, due to their large size and tight skin, Kalamatas are generally best served stuffed or in a tapenade. 


An integral variety in French cuisine, Niçoise olives have a bold flavor that will please true olive lovers. This variety may be a little more difficult to source than others, but the effort is worth it, particularly if you want to spotlight French flavors. Look to this variety for a balance of bitter, nutty, and smoky flavors.


Besides having the distinction of being one of the largest varieties in the world, Cerignolas are fairly unique for being offered in green, black, and red varieties. Crisp and smooth but with an underlying bite, Cerignolas are best paired with cheese or stuffed. 


An aromatic champion among black olives, Nyons are packed with flavor despite their small size. Those who enjoy the salty bitterness of black olives will be right at home with Nyons, but be aware that they may be softer than you would anticipate. 


Naturally, the most common french olive pairs wonderfully with bread, wine, and cheese. Picholine olives’ crunchy exterior and tart fruitiness are best spotlighted next to a creamy, nutty cheese like brie or camembert, but they are often served on their own too.


Generally regarded as being one of the tastiest (if not THE tastiest) olives in the world, Castelvetranos are defined by their subtly. Their tender texture and mild favor are unlike most varieties, making them a great introduction into the world of olives. Avoid pitted Castelvetranos if you can, as they’re generally lower in quality. 


If you’re looking for a reliable green olive, Manzanillas are an excellent choice. Interestingly enough, many unlabeled “green olives” you’ll find in the store are actually Manzanillas, as they are an exceptionally high-yielding variety. So whether you’re looking for a plump olive to plop into a martini or are craving a pimento stuffed snack, consider using Manzanillas. 


With a name deriving from the Spanish word gorda, meaning fat, it should be no surprise that these are some seriously large olives. Meaty and plump but with an uncommonly low amount of olive for their size, Gordals are an ideal table olive. If you need some wow factor on your charcuterie board, these are the olives for you. 


Mission olives take their name from the 18th century Spanish missionaries who cultivated the fruit in what is now present-day San Diego. Still going strong to this day, Mission olives are one of the more prevalent stateside varieties. Seek them out if you’re looking for a bright, low-key flavor.