How To Preserve Olives: 4 Curing Methods Explained

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I have never used all of the olives from my trees to make olive oil. I always leave at least a few kilos for preserving so we can have a nice side dish and salad during the year.

In this post, I’ll show you four methods you can use to cure olives so you can enjoy homemade olives all year round.

Key Takeaways:

  • Olives can be preserved using water, brine, lye, or dry salt for longer shelf-life.
  • Water curing reduces bitterness by removing oleuropein, creating a milder taste.
  • Brine curing is ideal for those who prefer salty olives, utilizing water and pickling salt.
  • Lye curing, despite lye’s toxicity, enhances flavor; caution and specific materials are required.
  • Dry salt curing is easy and suitable for snacks and dishes, resulting in shrunken olives.

4 Methods For Curing Olives: Step-by-Step Guide

curing olives in a brine

Without further ado, let’s see all the methods you can use to cure olives and make them edible throughout the year. 

1. Curing Olives in Water

One of the simplest ways to cure olives is by curing them in water solution. For this method, all you need is a large container and cold water, and of course, some ingredients are required for a brine, but I’ll discuss that later.

People mostly like to cure olives in water to reduce the bitter taste of olives, so they’re easily edible. Curing olives in water removes a percent of oleuropein, giving the olives a milder taste. 

Ingredients needed:

  • olives
  • cool water
  • pickling salt
  • white wine vinegar
  • Mediterranean-like aromas such as garlic, lemons, rosemary, etc. (optional)

Steps For Curing Olives In Water:

  1. Prepare and wash fresh olives. To get the best results, you should always use the freshest olives, and that’s why I like to cure them around the time of harvesting. You can buy fresh fruits online if you don’t grow your own olive trees. Wash them thoroughly, and remove any olives that are full of holes and bruises since they could affect the taste of all other olives in the end. 
  2. Break the olives. After washing and inspecting olives, you should break them. I like to do it with a wooden hammer, but you can also make a few cuts with a knife. Breaking the olives is extremely important since it’ll allow water to get inside the olives and reduce the amount of oleuropein in them. 
  3. Put all olives in one container and fill it with water. Now, you should put all olives in one container, or if you have a lot of olives, you can use multiple containers. Containers shouldn’t be plastic, so make sure to use ceramic or glass ones. After that, fill the container with cold water. Ensure that all olives are covered and that none are sticking out. 
  4. Replace the water every day for 3-5 weeks. Water must be replaced every day, preventing the buildup of any bacteria or mildew. Also, don’t forget to always put cold water. After three weeks, you can try one olive, and if it’s still bitter, continue the process. If it’s okay, you can continue to the next step – putting olives in brine. 
  5. Prepare the brine. The brine will keep olives fresh for months, and it’s extremely important to make high-quality brine. It’s made by mixing pickling salt, cool water, and white vinegar. You can see the ratios below.
  6. Take olives out of the water and put them in smaller containers or jars. Now it’s time to take all olives out of the water and put them in smaller containers. In each container, always leave one inch of space at the top (that’ll ensure you’ll have enough space to cover all the olives in a brine). 
  7. Pour the brine into the containers. Cover all olives so no olives come in contact with oxygen. Add some vegetables to give an additional aroma. 
  8. Close jars and store them in the fridge. Unopened jars can last up to one year, and once you open them, make sure to consume all the olives within three weeks of opening.

I like to use this ratio for a brine: 1 gallon (3.8l) of cool water, 1 ½ cups of pickling salt, and 2 cups of white wine vinegar. That’s enough for around 10 pounds of olives.

Even though it takes some time to make water-cured olives, they have a fantastic aroma, and it’s incredibly cheap to make them. That’s why people mostly use this method. 

2. Curing Olives In a Brine

This method uses brine from the first day and is perfect for those who like salty olives. All you need is water and pickling salt. Again, you can always add some additional aromas inside the brine. Also, you’ll need salt, vinegar, water, and olive oil, in the end to make the final brine for storing them. 

If you need a full step-by-step guide on how to brine olives at home, check it here.

Brined olives you make at home are much healthier than those you buy in stores. So, trying this method is totally worth it. This method is pretty similar to the 1st one, but instead of water, you’ll use a simple brine to remove that bitter taste of olives. 

Ingredients needed:

  • olives
  • cool water
  • pickling, rock, or sea salt
  • white vinegar
  • Mediterranean-like aromas (optional)

Steps For Curing Olives In a Brine:

  1. Wash and choose the best fresh olives. Washing olives from any dirt is extremely important, so do this thoroughly. Also, I like to choose only the best ones that don’t have any damage. If you want, you can slit olives with a knife or by using a wooden hammer. Make sure not to crush them completely. The pit should stay untouched. 
  2. Get a container and soak olives in the water for 2-3 days. Even though this method differs from the first one, you still need to soak olives in plain cool water for 2-3 days. Make sure to change the water daily, and make sure that olives are always fully covered in water. Again, you should use a ceramic or glass container. However, if you don’t have any other option, plastic one could be used, but it’s best to avoid it altogether.
  3. Cure olives in brine. Now that the olives have been in the water for 2-3 days, you should cure them in a brine. The brine for curing olives is very simple; it’s made with salt (unprocessed rock or sea salt) and water only. The ratio of salt and water should be 1:10. Mix the brine in some container, and then put the olives into the jar, bucket, or container with a lid and fill them with brine. Make sure that all the olives are covered, put something above the olives (a plate) to keep them below the surface, and then close the lid.
  4. Change olive brine every week for a month. Every seven days, you should replace the brine with a new one. That’ll remove the bitter taste quickly. However, if you see that mold is growing inside containers, you should replace the brine even sooner. After a month, try olives; if you like the taste and the bitterness level, you can store them.
  5. Store olives in sterilized jars and fill them with brine. After draining the old brine that you used for curing, put olives into the glass jars or containers. Fill them with brine (check the ratios below). Make sure that all the olives are below the surface of the brine. In this stage, you can add any flavorings (garlic, lemon, etc.) you want. On the top of the brine, pour a little bit of olive oil. Olive oil will keep the oxygen separated from the brine, which is essential for long-term storage. When you fill it with everything, screw the lids on jars.
  6. Store jars in a cold place or in a fridge. Jars stored in a cold and dark spot should be consumed within 6 months, and jars stored in a refrigerator can last up to 12 months. Once you open the jar, consume all the olives within 3 weeks. 
  7. Wait a week before trying them. You should wait at least a week before consuming olives. That way, the flavors you have put in will give olives an additional taste.

Ratios for a brine: 2:5:20 of salt, vinegar, and water. For instance, 40g salt, 100g vinegar, and 400g water is enough for about half a liter of salt brine.

3. Lye-Cured Olives

Even though lye is a poisonous substance, it has some fantastic benefits if used correctly with some foods. One of the ways people use lye is to create lye-cured olives, an excellent way of preserving olives and making them extremely delicious. 

The biggest disadvantage of making lye-cured olives is that you need to be extremely careful when doing it, and using some materials, such as aluminum, is entirely forbidden.

Ingredients needed:

  • olives
  • lye (food-grade ideally)
  • water
  • pickling salt (or any other unprocessed salt)
  • Mediterranean-like aromas (optional)

Steps to make lye-cured olives:

  1. Prepare olives. Pick only good-looking olives, just like any other type of curing olives. Throw away those that have holes in them (probably an olive fly), and other that are rotten. I like to wash olives to get rid of any dirt and debris, and then I proceed to the next steps. 
  2. If you can, wear glasses. Be careful, lye is a dangerous substance if you pour it on your skin or eyes, so make sure to stay protected. Using some plastic working glasses is completely fine. 
  3. Pour cold water into a container. It must be cold because when mixed with lye, it’ll become warmer. Also, it’s extremely important that you only use glass, stainless steel, or a food-grade plastic container. Never use anything made from aluminum because it reacts with lye. So, pour 1 gallon of cold water inside the container.
  4. Add lye into the water. For every 1 gallon of water, add 3 tablespoons of lye into the water. Also, don’t use aluminum spoons to do it. When you add the lye, stir everything by using a wooden spoon.
  5. Add olives to the container. Now add olives to the container of lye and water mixture. Put something above to keep all the olives beneath the surface. Otherwise, they’ll become darker. None of the olives should be exposed to the air (oxygen). Keep them in lye for 12-16 hours. 
  6. Clean olives from lye. After staying in lye for 12-16 hours, you should dispose of that lye. I like to pour it into the sink. Just be careful; you don’t want to pour olives, hehe. When there’s no more lye in the container, add cold water to fill it. Change the water 2 to 4 times a day. You should repeat that for 3-6 days until the soapy taste from the olives is gone. The water will look a bit dirty until all the lye from olives is gone. When water becomes clear, even after being in a container for a few hours, olives are ready for brining. 
  7. Make 1st brine (Strong one). Now, you should make a bit of strong brine made from salt and water. I prefer to use pickling salt, but any rock or sea salt is fine. For every 1 gallon of water, add 2/4 or 3/4 cups of salt. When you pour the brine into the container, let the olives brine for 5-7 days. Again, keep olives submerged. After one week, olives are ready for a final brine.
  8. Make final brine. Now, olives are completely cured, and you can get smaller jars, fill them with olives, and then with a new brine. This time, you should use a less salty brine. I like to use 1 cup of salt per 1 gallon of water. If you want, you can also add a little bit of vinegar to the brine. Fill all the jars with olives, brine, and some Mediterranean-like aromas (garlic, rosemary, etc.), and you can close the lids. 
  9. Enjoy the taste. You can eat olives straight away, but if you add some additional flavors, you can wait another 7 days for olives to soak all that Mediterranean aromas. Also, if the olives were more ripened at first, they may even become completely black (like the ones you buy in cans).

Strong brine ratio: 2/4 or 3/4 cups of salt per 1 gallon of water

Final brine ratio: 1/2 cup of salt per 1 gallon of water

4. Dry Salt Cured Olives

Dry salt-cured olives are one of the easiest ways to cure olives. This type of cured olives is best for use as a snack, for salads, in pasta, or to add on top of pizzas. Furthermore, olives dry salt-cured olives will look shrunken in the end since all the liquids from them will completely evaporate.

Ingredients needed:

  • olives
  • salt (pickling or any other unprocessed salt)
  • water
  • olive oil (optional)

Steps for making dry salt-cured olives:

  1. Pick fully ripened olives. In all other ways I showed you above, you should pick green or a mixture of differently ripened olives. For this method, you’ll need fully ripened (black) olives. 
  2. Clean olives from any debris. Thoroughly wash olives and remove any stems and pieces of dirt and debris. After washing them in cold water, drain them in a colander.
  3. Poke holes in every olive. This is a bit time-consuming, but make sure to poke one or two holes in every single olive. That’ll allow them to dry and cure quicker. I like to do it with the tip of the knife (just make it really sharp). 
  4. Prepare the container. For this type of curing olives, I like to prepare them in glass jars, but if you have plenty of olives, you can use larger containers. Only use glass, ceramic, or food-grade plastic types of containers/jars. 
  5. Add salt and olives in layers. Now, you should add a thick layer (½ inch or 1 cm) of salt at the bottom of the jar or container. Then, add a layer of olives (not more than 2 olives thick). Then again, add a layer of salt, and so on, until the jar or container is full. The last layer must be salt. It’s like making lasagne. Then, close the lid.
  6. Let olives cure at room temperature. Now, you should let olives cure at room temperature. Once a day, you should shake or stir the container, and if needed, add an additional layer of salt to keep all the olives covered with salt. Repeat the process for about 3 weeks.
  7. Replace the salt if needed. Sometimes, olives release too much liquid, converting salt into a paste. If that happens, drain the olives and fill the jar again (salt-olives-salt). 
  8. Rinse and taste. After 3 weeks have passed, you should rinse all the salt off and taste the olives. If they’re still bitter, you can continue to cure them the same way and taste them once a week. If they’re fine, continue to the next step. 
  9. Dry and rinse off the salt. Once you like the taste, you can brush off all the salt and quickly rinse the olives. After rinsing, let the olives completely dry overnight. 
  10. Store them in airtight containers. After drying the olives, you should store them in an airtight container. You can keep them at room temperature, in a refrigerator, or in the freezer. At room temperature, they’ll last up to one month. In a refrigerator, they’ll last up to six months; in the freezer, they’ll last up to one year. 

TIP FOR SERVING: prior to serving, tossing olives with 1 tablespoon of high-quality olive oil will improve the overall taste.