True Colors: The Difference Between Green and Black Olives

Even the most nonchalant olive fan knows that green and black olives are two separate beasts. The differences exist far beyond appearance however, with each offering a plethora of unique features even before you take specific varieties into account. Let us extend the olive branch and clear up the air between the two families once and for all.

Ripeness

The biggest difference between green and black olives exists in their levels of ripeness. Unsurprisingly, green olives are picked before they’re fully ripe (ergo “green”), whereas black olives are allowed to reach maturity. Interestingly enough, a “black” olive doesn’t necessarily mean a fully ripe olive, as cheaper canned olives are often green olives that have been chemically dyed to appear black. To avoid this issue, either buy from a grower you trust or seek out specific varieties whenever possible. 

Preparation

Olives are extremely bitter right off the tree, so they’re usually soaked in a lye solution before serving. Additionally, both types are drenched in brine (think pickling), but the process is slightly different for each. Black olives are cured whereas green olives are generally fermented, but even this can vary depending on the growing region. That being said, nearly 60% of all green olives use the Spanish fermentation method, so you’re most likely to come across olives that follow these criteria. 

Nutrition

Green and black olives share an almost identical nutritional profile, but it’s important to note that the former has nearly twice the amount of sodium. Luckily, both types compensate by being rich in vitamin E and healthy monounsaturated fats (i.e. the “good” kind of fat). 

Flavor and Texture

Although the length of the curing or fermenting time can change the flavor of an olive, most black olives will be less bitter and more oily than their green cousins. Additionally, green olives tend to have a brighter, more acidic flavor. Texture-wise, expect green olives to be firmer and meatier than black olives. 

Varieties

While some varieties of olive are available in both green and black types (we know, it can be confusing), there are a few heavyweights on both sides that are worth mentioning. Seek out the ever popular Kalamata for a crash course in black olives or the highly regarded green Castelvetrano variety to start.

  • Pro Tip: For an in depth look of varieties, check out our guide.