The Dark Side of Olives


A food journey is forever evolving. What we enjoy most about our food journey is learning. With knowledge comes awareness and with awareness comes change.

With a family of 7, take-away food is really not an economical operation. We very rarely have it. If we do have take-away, it is usually in the company of friends or family. On days out or holidays away we always try to take as much food from home as possible and prepare food on the go.

Occasionally, I had days where I found myself out shopping with hungry kids and feeling famished myself. We found grabbing a Hot “Lilydale” Chook from the deli together with some Green Garlic stuffed olives and Bocconcini, a quick and satisfying finger food for everyone to hook into.

I believe that these foods would contain little or no refined sugar, but without closely investigating I could not be sure. In preparation for this post I decided to investigate the green garlic olives that taste so good with the hot chook. I had a feeling that mass-produced olives, like everything else would not be cured using traditional methods but I didn’t know what they were cured with. I think I was avoiding opening pandora’s box!

This is what I have found. Traditional methods for curing olives use only salt and water and can take months to cure. Industrially cured olives use food grade ‘Lye’ and are ready after a day, making it the best option for mass production of olives. What is Lye? Lye is Sodium Hydroxide, a common chemical constituent in oven cleaners, drain cleaners and soap. It is commonly used in other foods such as pretzels.

In conjunction with Lye, the olives are treated with other chemicals that help them to ‘withstand’ the pitting process. It appears that black olives (which are just ‘ripe’ olives) are often picked before they are fully ripened and are also put through a chemical process to make their colour uniformly black! Traditionally cured black olives will be a mottled blackish/reddish colour.

What are the ill effects of consuming foods treated with Lye? I actually couldn’t find any information relating to this directly. What I did find is that Lye is a ‘corrosive’ chemical that will burn your skin and cause oesophageal stricture if swallowed. What I conclude from this is that I will completely avoid mass produced ‘pitted’ and ‘green’ olives. Black olives with their pits sound like a ‘safer’ option. In the mean time, I will source traditionally cured olives for my family. No more ‘take-away’ olives for me! We love Loving Earth’s Green Ascolana Olives.