Sicilian Green Olives

Last autumn, I got to pick some fresh olives from a friend’s trees! (I think they were Mission and maybe Arbequina varietals.)

Some were green, some were black, and others were somewhere in between. Did you know that the color of an olive does not determine its variety? That is, any variety of olive can be picked green (unripe) or if let to ripen, it will manifest its full color (be it purple, brown, or black).

After sorting by size and color, I decided to try two different preservation techniques.

The darker olives were simply water cured/brined (not fermented). They were slit, and then submerged in fresh water which was changed out daily for about 20 days, to leach out the oleopurein (the compound that makes olives so bitter!) slowly. Then I submerged them in a 3% brine and topped the jar with some olive oil. I’m still letting them cure in the jar at room temperature. (it’s been 3 months), but I’ll eat one now and again to see how they’re progressing.

I decided to ferment the green olives, Sicilian style. I found a recipe from Hank Shaw’s great book and adapted his technique. It simply entails adding the intact olives (no slitting) into a 5% brine and adding the spices and herbs (lemon peel, hot pepper, fennel, etc.) and letting it ferment for 6 months. It’s a much slower process for the fermenting microbes to break down the bitter compounds, especially since we’re not exposing the olive flesh by cutting into it.

After 3 months, I decided to give them a taste. Very flavorful and have been infused with the herbs, but still a bit too bitter to enjoy, so I’ll check them again in a month.

Have y’all played with fresh olives? How’d it go?

Sicilian Green Olives

Prep Time 10 minutes
Fermentation Time 180 days
Course Appetizer
Cuisine Italian
Makes 2 quarts/liters


  • 3 lbs. (1200 g) green olives, sorted by size
  • 24 oz. (800 ml) filtered water
  • 4 oz. (200 ml) distilled vinegar
  • 1.4 oz (40 g) sea salt
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 1 lemon
  • 1 tsp. (5 ml) dried rosemary
  • 1 tsp. (5 ml) fennel seeds
  • 1/2 tsp. (3 ml) crushed dried red pepper
  • 3 sprigs fresh oregano
  • 4 dried bay (laurel) leaves


  • Sort olives by size. Toss out olives with holes in them.
  • Dissolve salt in water to create brine.
  • Add spices and lemon peels to a half-gallon (2 liter) glass jar.
  • Add olives to jar.
  • Pour vinegar and brine on top of olives, to 1/2" from top of jar.
  • Insert a weight to keep olives from floating.
  • Secure jar with lid or airlock.
  • Ferment 4 to 6 months, until bitter flavor is gone. (You can start tasting after 4 months).
  • You can change the brine after fermentation if it has gotten discolored or has yeast or mold on it. Mix a 5% brine (salt to water weight) and replace old brine.


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