What’s the Difference Between Green Ripe Olives and Black Ripe Olives?


Green ripe olives versus black ripe olives! Do you know the difference? Here's a peek at how California Ripe Olives are harvested and processed!

Photography Credit: Emma Christensen

This post is produced in partnership with the California Olive Committee.

Ok, take a minute right now to sit back in your chair and imagine eating an olive.

First, imagine eating a black ripe olive — you know, one of the ones from a can that you probably enjoy sprinkled over your pizza on Friday nights. Got it? Ok, now imagine eating a green ripe olive, also from a can and also great on pizza. Not a fancy olive from a salad bar or imported from another country; olives from a can, grown in California (which is where the vast majority of US canned olives are grown, by the way).

I’m going to take a wild guess here and assume that in your imagination, those two olives taste different. Right? I’m assuming this because that’s also what I have always thought!

Brace yourself because this is going to be shocking: there is no difference between California Green Ripe Olives and California Black Ripe Olives. They are the same varieties, picked at the same time, and have a very similar flavor, both before and after processing. The difference is entirely cosmetic

Wait, what? No difference? Record scratch. I recently went on an olive harvest tour in Fresno, California where I learned all about it, so allow me to explain.

California ripe olives on the tree


In California, farmers grow two main kinds of trees for table olives: Manzanillo and Sevillano. These trees are farmed in groves (which are quite beautiful to walk through, by the way!) and the olives are picked in the fall when they are a bright lime green color.

In the photo above, you’ll see a mix of these bright green olives with some darker, purple-colored olives. Those darker olives are actually just over-ripe. They’d still be harvested, but ideally, the olives would be picked before they get this color.

California Ripe Olives (meaning, olives meant for eating, not for olive oil) are harvested by hand. It can take one worker a whole day to pick just one tree!

Also, a word to the wise, ripe olives right off the tree are insanely bitter. It’s only through the curing process that they become tasty enough for us to eat.

Olive grove


  • Olive trees can live to be hundreds, if not thousands, of years old. You can tell an old tree by the thickness and knobbiness of its trunk.
  • Olive trees are “alternate bearing,” meaning that they usually produce a large crop only every other year.
  • Olive trees are drought-tolerant, needing about 25% less water than other fruit trees.


Ok, now let’s talk about how all those lovely California Ripe Olives are processed, and why some turn black and some stay green.

The process for curing olives in the US was actually developed by a woman named Freda Ehmann toward the late 1800s. Ehmann was a recent widower and desperate to earn an income, so she turned to the olive trees growing around her house. She didn’t have any fancy equipment and ended up curing her olives in old wine barrels on her back porch.

The olives were delicious, but the fact that she cured them in wooden wine barrels, which are aren’t airtight, meant that the olives were exposed to oxygen and turned black. Thus, the California Black Ripe Olive was born.

California Olive Harvest Tour - Bins of olives


Amazingly, the process is pretty much the same today as it was back then!

After harvesting, the olives are soaked in a lye solution, which helps pull the strong bitter flavors from the olives and softens their skins for curing. They are then washed several times in cold water to remove all trace of the lye, followed by a soak in salty brine to finish them off before being canned.

When making black ripe olives, oxygen is constantly bubbled through the tanks and around the olives during the whole curing process. This turns them a deep, uniform black color.

The process for making green ripe olives is exactly the sameexcept that no oxygen is introduced to the tanks during curing. Their color stays bright and lime green.

The oxygen affects the color of the olives, but not their flavor or their texture. Try them in a blind taste test and see for yourself!

Green and black olives in a bowl on a cheese board


This process for making California Ripe Olives is very different than the process used to cure Spanish olives or most other kinds of olives from around the world. It results in an olive — black or green! — that is very mild, sweet, and buttery with a firm, meaty texture.


California Ripe Olives are great on their own, but also soak up the flavors of any dish you put them in. They’re great on pizza (of course!), but also in salads, with pasta, or party dips. Here are a few ideas!

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Emma Christensen

Emma Christensen is the Editor-in-Chief of Simply Recipes, and has over 10 years of experience creating food and content for web and print. She was formerly the recipe editor for The Kitchn and is the author of three books on home-brewing, True Brews, Brew Better Beer, and Modern Cider. Emma is a graduate of The Cambridge School for Culinary Arts and Bryn Mawr College. She lives in San Jose, California.

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No ImageWhat’s the Difference Between Green Ripe Olives and Black Ripe Olives?

  1. Charlie

    Emma, you dangled out this tempting sentence near the end of your excellent article: “This process for making California Ripe Olives is very different than the process used to cure Spanish olives or most other kinds of olives from around the world.” Please give us some more information about how olives are cured in Mediterranean countries.

  2. R. Ousey

    I have been enjoying green ripes for years. It may be psychologic but i have found green ripes tastier. I like chopped black olives mixed with cream cheese as a sandwich spread. BTW, i spent several years in spain, italy and greece while a naval aviator many years ago. You cannot find olives to compare to what you can scoop out of the barrels in open markets in those countries.

  3. Glenda Doerhoff

    Why are pimentos not put in black olives?

    Show Replies (1)
  4. Glenda Doerhoff

    Question: Why are pimentos only put in green olives?

    Show Replies (1)
  5. Philip Fortman

    Oxygenated green olives to turn them black are not really ripe despite the label on the can. It is an over simplification to try to just define green vs black olives. Tree ripened olives, like any fruit create a completely different flavor as well as the variety of curing methods and storage before consumption. Anyone who has not tasted the wide variety of olives offered in Italian, Greek, Spanish and Middle Eastern markets hasn’t a clue of what the vast majority of world cuisines have come to appreciate about olives since ancient times.

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Green and black olives in a bowl on a cheese boardWhat’s the Difference Between Green Ripe Olives and Black Ripe Olives?