This Is Why You Can’t Buy Fresh Olives at the Supermarket

This is one fresh fruit that you won’t find on the shelves of any grocery store.

Green Olives TreeJoannaTkaczuk/Shutterstock

Admit it, have you ever really thought about why you don’t usually find fresh olives on store shelves? Typically, olives go from being grown on a tree to getting picked and then to the jars you see in the supermarket. That makes sense, right?  But, why are they always found in a jar, soaking in a salty brine?

Sorry to disappoint all of the olive lovers out there, but according to the American Chemical Society, the fresh fruit actually tastes really horrible—so horrible that grocery stores won’t sell it. The compound in the fruit that makes it taste so disgusting and bitter is oleuropein. Fresh olives contain up to 14 percent of it.

To make olives edible, professional olive processors and bold home cooks use three different methods to remove the oleuropein. The first two methods are soaking them in water or fermenting them in a salt brine. The downside to those methods is that they take weeks. We bet you didn’t know these secrets only food manufacturers know, either.

The third method is a chemical shortcut, and it can get olives onto supermarket shelves much faster after being picked. It involves soaking the olives in Lye, or sodium hydroxide. Also known as NaOH, sodium hydroxide speeds up the chemical breakdown between oleuropein and sugar to less bitter (and tastier) compounds. This whole process takes about one week. After being thoroughly rinsed of any chemicals, the olives are packed in salt brine to help preserve them when being shipped.

Sometimes the saying “fresh is always better” isn’t always true, and with olives, that is definitely the case.

Morgan Cutolo
Morgan Cutolo is a former senior production editor at Trusted Media Brands. She graduated from the University of New Hampshire in 2016, where she received her Bachelor of Arts in Journalism. In her free time, she likes exploring the seacoast of Maine, where she lives, and snuggling up on the couch with her corgi, Eggo, to watch HGTV or The Office.