Embrace the Pit

So some of what we write about is simply striving for higher quality in food, but other times it should serve as a serious red flag, and this is one of those times! We were appalled to hear what is done to commercial olives, primarily the chemicals used during the pit removal process. Friends, let us embrace pits! We can give up this little convenience, can’t we? Plus, we promise pits aren’t that hard to remove (or just remove them as you chew them)—and something you may be more prone to do after reading this.

But let’s start with the fun facts, shall we? Much like bell peppers start out green and ripen to another color, so do olives. Thus green olives are unripe, and black (or brown/purple) olives are ripe. Olives are inedible in their raw state and must be “cured” to remove the bitterness.

The majority of olives are cured in two ways:

  • Artisanally cured with a brine (salt and water; plus whatever herbs, garlic, vinegar, etc. one chooses to add)
  • Or industrially cured with food-grade lye.

As you might guess, the lye treatment process is used for mass production and is thus much shorter (the same day) than the artisanal one (months). Unfortunately,
it is impossible to tell from sight alone how an olive was cured (unless it’s wrinkled and conserved without liquid, which usually indicates dry-curing with salt).

But let’s get to those dreadful pits. In order to “man up” the olives to withstand the mechanical pitting process, chemicals are added to the brine. Be wary of olives sold in heavy marinades with lots of garlic or spices to hide what may be a chemical flavor or deficiencies in the olives. The absolute worst are those flaccid black “California olives” in a can that you may have, at one time, stuck on the ends of your fingers before eating. (Hey, no judgment here.) Not only do they undergo
lye curing, but, because they have been picked green and unripe, the solution is then pumped full of oxygen to make them turn black, after which an iron supplement solidifies the color. Ever notice the texture and the taste? Not good.
(Convinced yet?)

Try Masseria Maida’s black olives from the Naples area of Italy.

So how do you remove the pits at home?
No fancy gadget to buy here. If you can’t get the pit out by simply maneuvering with your fingers (some olives have loose pits), apply slow pressure with the flat side of a knife (“slow” since the juice can squirt), much like smashing garlic free from its peel, and then maneuver it with your fingers. Worst-case scenario: you have to cut around the pit, but that is rare. Or just use them as is and warn your diners to work the pits out themselves as they eat. If they complain, tell them our story about the pitting process and emphasize how you’re saving their lives (obviously).

Of course, if you can find a trusted brand that uses a more organic pitting process, please let us know!

  • Buy olives that still
    contain pits
  • Avoid lye-cured olives
  • Buy brine-cured or
    dry-cured olives
  • Avoid olives sold in heavy marinades unless you trust the producer
  • Avoid the standard black pitted olives that are limp and tasteless
    (think: bad pizza topping)
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