Sunday, October 20, 2013


¡PRACTICA EL ACEITUNING!  Before you say “Gesundheit!” to “aceituning,” let me remind you that the Spanish word for “olive” is aceituna. Olivo, a word that comes from the Romans, is an olive tree, but aceituna, from the Arabic, is the fruit of that tree.

Practica el aceituning is the catchy slogan for the grand marketing campaign rolled out this week by the producers of table olives. Spain is the world’s principal producer and exporter of table olives. What is aceituning? “To add original and creative seasonings to commercially bottled olives from Spain.”

Some examples: olives with pesto, cheese and salt cod; black olives with cayenne and orange peel; green olives with goat cheese, honey and hazelnuts; black olives with strawberries, tomato and PX vinegar; olives with soy sauce and ginger. (See more recipes.)

Brining my olives.
I’m practicing aceituning in my own way. I just put my hand-picked olives into salmuera, a brine seasoned with garlic, thyme and fennel. They should be ready to eat in a couple of weeks. I’m also using store-bought olives in some new ways.

Queen-sized Gordal olives.

The most familiar Spanish table olives are Manzanilla, sometimes marketed as “Seville” olives. Manzanilla is the name of the variety of olive tree. It produces a plump, meaty olive. Manzanillas make up the bulk of Spain’s table olive production, but the fat Gordal olive (also called “queen”) is another favorite commercial table olive.

The olives are hand-picked when still green. The curing process entails first soaking in an alkaline solution to remove the bitterness. Then the olives are left in a brine to ferment, which converts the olives’ natural sugars into lactic acid. This is what gives them that wonderful tangy flavor. They are canned or bottled whole and unpitted, pitted and stuffed.

Black olives are picked green.
Most olive varieties, when fully ripe, turn a purplish color, not black. Black olives that you buy in a can—gorgeous for garnishing salads and cold dishes—are not really ripe olives. They are picked green, processed in alkaline solution, then the black color is fixed by oxidation.

These are by no means the only olives in Spain. Every olive-producing region has its particular varieties and methods of curing and flavoring olives.

In Andalusia, you might sample aceitunas partidas, green olives (Manzanilla, Hojiblanca or Morisco)  that have been cracked to split them open, then brine-cured (no alkaline is used). They may be flavored with thyme, fennel, cloves of garlic, slices of lemon, oregano and strips of red pepper.

Split and brine-cured.
In Extremadura and La Mancha, ripe Cornicabra and Cacereña olives are prepared rayado, incised with a sharp blade, then cured in brine and flavored with local herbs. Arbequina is the varietal best-known in Catalonia, especially Lérida. These are tiny olives with a delicate flavor, simply brine-cured. The Empeltre olives of Aragón and Navarre are cured in brine when they reach a purplish-black degree of ripeness. In Murcia and Alicante, the Cuquillo olive is cured when nearly black.

You can add flavor to bottled, store-bought olives by draining them, then marinating for two days in salt water with slivered garlic, fresh or dried thyme,  sliced lemon and a splash of extra virgin olive oil. Or, practice some extreme aceituning and get a little adventuresome.

Olive Bread with Sardines. Inspiration for this recipe comes from a recipe booklet published by the board of the Denominación de Origen Protegida Aloreña de Málaga. The Aloreña olive is a type of brine-cured Manzanilla.  The recipe calls for a sort of focaccia bread made with Aloreña olives and roasted red pepper, topped with grilled sardines, olive “air,” and a smear of strawberry alioli. The bread recipe didn’t work so well for me and the “air” required techniques and ingredients with which I am not familiar. So I topped the bread with canned sardines and stacked some sliced Aloreña olives on top. The strawberry alioli (garlic mayonnaise) was, uh, interesting.

 Potato-Olive Salad. I “aceituned” a typical Spanish potato salad, papas aliñadas, by upping the proportion of olives. For 1 cup of diced, cooked potatoes, I used 1 cup of pitted brine-cured olives. (Split olives are easily pitted by pressing them on a board to squeeze out the pits.) Other ingredients are diced tomato, parsley, green onions, chunks of tuna, hard-cooked egg, olive oil and Sherry vinegar.

Olive-Cream Cheese Dip. This is incredibly easy! In a blender or mini processor, blend 1 cup softened cream cheese, 2 cloves garlic, 2 tablespoons chopped onion, ½ teaspoon pimentón de la Vera (smoked paprika), and ½ teaspoon ground cumin. Add 1 cup pitted green Manzanilla olives and process until they are coarsely chopped. Serve with regañás  or any crisp crackers for dipping.

Black Olive, Corn and Avocado Salsa. Relish, salsa or salad?  Combine equal quantities of pitted black olives, corn kernels and chopped avocado with roasted red pepper, scallions, chile to taste, olive oil, lemon juice and a garnish of cilantro. Because olives are salty, you may not need to add salt.


  1. You have a couple of things I’ll have to try as soon as I have time. I’ve never put olives in papas aliñas before. As it’s still very summery here I may whip that up first…or maybe some olive bread…or the olive-cream cheese dip. Would all three at once be over-doing it?

    ¡PRACTICA EL ACEITUNING! That’s really all they could come up with? It sounds more like some new, post-pilates exercise craze than anything that I would care to eat. First of all if you’re going to promote olives it would be better to use the alternate word “olivas” which is more recognized as even among speakers of Arabic “aceituna” has strayed a lot from their word of “zeitoon.” And why use what looks to be a gerund ending in English which wouldn’t make sense to anyone in France, Greece, Italy, etc.?

    1. Leftbanker: Sure, try all three--or four. After the photo shoot, I had them all for lunch.

      I so agree with you about using the English gerund in Spanish-- my supermarket advertizes "ahorraring" (saving). How about "olivando"? Sounds a lot more fun than aceituning!

  2. Yum! I love this article. I used to not be fond of olives, but I've grown to love them. My favorites are sold in Zamora as "aceitunas pardas," and they are quite similar to Campo Real olives. Both delicious!

    I also love the gazpacha seasoning they sell here. I don't know how universal it is, though.

    1. Kaley: Do you know what variety the "aceitunas pardas" are? I've seen olives gazpacha. Do you know what is in the seasoning?

    2. You know, I don't know what kind pardas are. They may just be Zamora's version of Campo Real. But they were the first olives I really loved!

      As far as gazpacha, I think it's along the lines of: carrots, pickles, pearl onions, garlic, water, vinegar, salt, and red pepper.

    3. Kaley: Thanks! I've got a jar of the gazpacha mix now--yes, they are vinegar-pickled.