When it comes to olives, most people either love them or hate them but, unless you’ve tried them dehydrated, you’re not qualified to make your final decision.
Olives are small, pitted fruits related to mangoes and peaches, though they taste nothing alike. They’re highly nutritious and very popular in the Mediterranean diet, but most olives grown commercially are used to produce olive oil.
If you’ve ever had the experience of plucking an olive right off the tree and popping it into your mouth, you’ve probably regretted it. Fresh olives are very bitter and all but inedible, which is why they’re always cured before eating, often with a brine or dried.
But can you dehydrate olives? No matter how they’re cured, you can also dehydrate olives for a surprisingly simple and thoroughly tasty twist on a common food item and this article will teach you exactly how to dehydrate them.
Types of Olives
Before we get into the dehydrating process, it’s important to know what kind of olives you have to work with. Honestly, you can dehydrate just about any olive, including oily or picked ones, but it’s good to know where you’re starting because all olives have a slightly different taste.
If you’re used to buying olives at the supermarket, you’ve probably seen black olives and green olives of various sizes. The difference between black and green olives is nothing more than when they were picked. Green olives are simply less ripe, picked at the beginning of the harvest season rather than the end.
There are varieties, however, that depend mainly on their genetics and where they were raised. Some of the most popular that can be found in most supermarkets include:
- Kalamata, which are deep purple Greek olives that are typically preserved in either red wine or red wine vinegar, giving them a very unique, rich and fruity flavor
- Manzanilla are the most common green olives, coming from Spain, that you’ll often find stuffed
- Black ripe canned olives (I love these from Amazon) are usually from California and are picked green and then ripened through an artificially induced process of oxidation
You can often also find mixed specialty olives, usually combined from the region they’re grown. Italy, Spain, and France are all big producers of specialty olives.
The biggest difference occurs in the curing of the olive, including when they were harvested, whether they’re dried or pickled, what is used for flavoring and preservation and how lengthy of a fermentation process is involved.
Why Dehydrate Olives?
Dehydrating olives is not the same as drying them, first of all. Drying is a type of curing and is similar to dehydrating, but they still retain some moisture. Dehydrating essentially sucks all the water content out of your olives.
Why would you want to do that? For a few good reasons!
First of all, it’s simply something new and different, giving you a new way to use olives.
It’s also a great way to preserve your olives, if they’re fresh, retaining most of the natural vitamins and minerals without adding in any unnecessary preservatives. Dehydrating eliminates the potential for bacteria to grow because there’s no moisture to feed off.
Dehydrated food of all varieties is very popular with backpackers and people who need to be prepared for emergency situations where they might be without power for extended periods of time.
By removing the water content, you drastically reduce the weight and size of your olives, letting you pack up a large portion into a tiny, very lightweight container.
This is helpful when you are trying to fit a lot of food into a backpack and, when it comes to olives, it ensures you don’t have to forgo taste just because you’re hitting a trail!
Dehydrated olives in particular are great sources of emergency food because they’re high in fiber, sodium, iron and vitamin E – all very useful micronutrients.
How to Dehydrate Olives
Now that you know the what and why of dehydrating olives, let’s get down to business. Depending on the type of olive you’re starting with, you may have to do a little prep work before you dehydrate them. From there, you can use either a dehydrator, your oven or your freezer to complete the process.
Preparing Your Olives for Dehydration
If you have olives fresh off the tree, you’ll need to destem and pit each one. Add them to boiling water for about 3 minutes and then drain and rinse them. You’ll need to cure them before dehydrating and the easiest way to do this is to let them sit in a salt brine of 1 gallon of water plus 1 pound of salt for 3 days.
If your olives are prepared in a brine, empty them into a colander to remove the brine, and then pat them dry with a paper towel to remove as much moisture as possible.
If you have olives that are prepared in an oil, you’ll need to first rinse them to remove as much oil as possible. Then go ahead and pat them dry.
Before dehydrating, it’s best to slice your olives into thin rounds, so that they dehydrate quickly and evenly. You can also chop them into smaller pieces, if you prefer.
Dehydrating Olives in a Dehydrator
If you have a food dehydrator, set the temperature to 125F. Lay out your olive slices or pieces in an even, single file and let them dehydrate for approximately 4 – 6 hours.
If you are working with freshly picked olives, you will likely have to dehydrate for longer, some people leaving them in a dehydrator for 3 – 4 days, shuffling them around at least once a day.
Using an Oven to Dehydrate Olives
Preheat your oven to 250F or slightly lower if your oven runs hot. Spread your sliced olives or small olives chunks in an even, single layer over a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. You can also use a silicone baking sheet without the parchment paper, if you have one.
Let your olives dry in your oven for 3 – 5 hours. Check on them periodically and remove them once they’re completely dehydrated, but not dried to a powder.
How to Make Freeze-Dried Olives
Freeze-drying food is the process of dehydrating, or removing all the moisture, inside an extremely cold environment. You can accomplish this with a specialized machine, or you can take your chances in one of 2 alternate ways. The machines can cost upwards of $2500, so we’re going to assume you don’t have one of your own. If you do, it should have come with a great set of instructions! Otherwise…
- Using your home freezer
- This will take the longest and requires an empty freezer for best results.
- Prepare your olives as if you were going to use your oven but, instead of putting them in a pre-heated oven, place your baking sheet into your freezer.
- For best results, turn your freezer temperature as low as possible and don’t open the door at all during the next week or two while your olives are dehydrating.
- Your olives will freeze quickly, but it can take weeks for them to fully dehydrate.
- Normally, you check if your food is properly dried by taking out a small piece and seeing if it turns black when it thaws.
- If you’re working with black olives, you’ll have to watch closely to see if there is any color change – thoroughly dried foods will not change color when they thaw.
- When your olives are properly dehydrated, you can store them in airtight containers or Ziploc bags, keeping them in a cool, dark location.
- Using Dry Ice
- If you’re impatient and brave, you can also freeze-dry using dry ice which evaporates the moisture from your olives pretty quickly
- Get yourself a heavy-duty pair of insulated gloves and a large container at least twice the size of your baking tray full of olives
- Place your tray at the bottom of the container and then completely cover it with dry ice
- Leave the container uncovered so that the gas can escape and moisture can evaporate
- Once all the dry ice is evaporated, usually in less than 24 hours, especially with smaller batches, your olives should be adequately freeze-dried
- With your gloves on, carefully remove the baking sheet and store your olives in airtight Ziploc bags.
Best Seasoning for Dehydrated Dried Olives
There are plenty of uses for dehydrated olives, but the two most common preparation styles are either going to be slightly rehydrating by tossing with oil and seasoning or leaving as a chunky mixture for topping.
Keep in mind that the flavorings used in the original curing process might be enough of a flavor for you when they’re dehydrated. Take a sample before adding any other seasoning.
If you mix your dehydrated olive slices with oil, you might want to marinate a few fresh or dried herbs with your olives, such as:
- Fresh Garlic
- Dried chili
- Citrus zest
If you’re chopping your olives up to use as a topping, consider mixing it with any of the above dried herbs, or possibly some of the following:
- Salt and pepper
- Dried garlic
- Toasted sesame seeds
- Poppy seeds
Health Benefits of Olives
Dehydrating foods help to retain a lot of the nutritional value, so olives can be a tasty and healthy addition to any meal. They’re often used in the Mediterranean diet and have been shown to have a lot of benefits, particularly for heart health and even cancer prevention.
The main fatty acid found in olives is oleic acid, which has been shown to help regulate cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure, both important factors for keeping your heart healthy.
Olives are also really high in a variety of great antioxidants, which reduces inflammation, the root cause for almost all chronic diseases including some cancers.
Olives are considered a low-carb fruit, making them diet friendly. Even more importantly, many of the carbs they do have come from fiber, which your body does not actually use as fuel, which makes the digestible net carb content of olives even lower.
Basically, this means they’ll have a very small impact on your blood sugar levels and therefore insulin activity.
Finally, olives are packed with vitamins and minerals that support health in a variety of ways. There are very few, if any, downsides to this tasty treat!
What Foods Can Be Dehydrated at Home?
Almost all foods can be dehydrated, either with an oven or a machine, but if you’re just starting out, fruits, vegetables and lean meats are the place to start.
For fruits and veggies, cut them into small pieces or slices before dehydrating, and keep your lean meats in thin slices. You can season your foods before dehydrating if you’re going to be eating them as a dried snack in the future or leave them without flavor if you’re planning on rehydrating later, in a soup for example.
Can You Make Olive Oil from Black Olives?
Most olive oil is made from a blend of green and black olives. Green olives have a more signature flavor, but are lower in oil content, so mixing it with black olives increases the yield and tempers the flavor.
What is Olive Dust?
Olive dust is basically just pulverized dried or dehydrated olives with seasoning. You can make your own by placing dried or dehydrated olives in a small food processor or chopper and turning them into a chunky dust.
Mix this with salt and any other seasoning blend that you like for your own take on olive dust.