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

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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  • BoB G.

    The difference is how your completed dish looks. The green or black accents the rest of the platters presentation. Great information, Thank You.

  • Noreen

    I love both the canned black and green olives! The green I consider a treat because they cost at least twice as much. Any idea why?

  • [email protected]

    LOVED this info! Thank You!

  • [email protected]

    Can’t wait to show off my newly acquired knowledge!

  • Ann Forbes

    Very Informative! Who knew.

  • William Stoneman

    I would like to know why black olives are packed in metal cans and green olives are packed in glass jars!

    • Emma Christensen

      Hi, William! My understanding is that it’s just a packaging preference — no real difference! All the California ripe olives that I’ve encountered (green or black) are in metal cans.

    • Elise Bauer

      Hi William, California Ripe Olives are packed in a brine solution which works well in cans. My guess regarding the green olives packed in jars is that they are in more of an acidic solution, especially those with pimentos, which lends itself better to glass than metal. Don’t quote me on that though, it’s just a guess.

  • Steve

    All those ideas and no Martini?

    • 3 ounces gin, 3:1
    • 1 ounce dry vermouth, (recommended: Vya Extra dry)
    • 2 dashes orange bitters, (recommended: Regans’ Orange Bitters No. 6)
    • ice, use filtered water, it’s part of the drink
    • 1 or 3 olives, an odd number is traditional, as is green

    1. Chill a coupe or Nick and Nora glass in the freezer. Use a cocktail glass as a last resort.

    2. Add ice to a mix glass.
    Measure 1 ounce of dry vermouth and 1 ounce of gin into a 2 ounce measure. Add 2 dashes of orange bitters. Pour into mix glass. Add 2 more ounces of gin to wash down and mix everything off the ice. Stir with a bar spoon 40 rounds. Strain into the Nick and Nora glass. Skewer the olive(s) are a pick and drop it in.

    A Martini is a gin drink. Keep the barbarians at the gate. Substitute vodka for gin for an alternative, also wonderful drink, originally called a Kangaroo Kicker, or just a Kangaroo. Now, the preferred nomenclature is a Vodkatini.

  • Shirley Willard

    I had no idea how they were made. Thanks for the article. I love both kinds of olives, but I must use the Spanish green olives stuffed with pimento as it is entirely different tasting. Also it comes in a glass jar. I use the black olives in my potato salad, but the green olives in my macaroni salad. I keep cans of the black olives for so many things. I went to a Mexican restaurant the other day with my brother and his lady friend and ordered a tostada . They listed the ingredients but didn’t include olives so I asked for them extra and the dish was perfect.
    I use them in my hamburger goulash, in my Manhattan Clam Chowder, in salads, soups, appetizers and just to eat. So good for you.