Candy Your Olives for a Surprising Treat

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The only reason I came across sweetened olives is because I took a chance on a Christmas panettone. I was checking out the flavors from a fantastic panettone company, Olivieri 1882 (they offer more flavors during winter), and I stopped in my tracks when I saw White Chocolate and Olive panettone. It sounded absolutely revolting. I had to have it.  

I’m glad I took a chance on that panettone because I was smitten with the flavors. I expected to be overwhelmed with briny salty olives mismatched with cloying white chocolate chunks, but what I found were delicately sweetened olive pieces scattered through a light, fluffy loaf. The olives were tender but held onto their integrity, they highlighted the flavor of the white chocolate and yet they were the undisputed star of the sweet holiday bread.

Now I’m fully on board. We should all add candied olives to our dessert rotations. The olive is a fruit, after all; how often are olive oil aficionados noting their detection of “fruity notes” in a particular blend. As insufferable as that is, they’re not wrong. Olives, especially the green Castelvetrano olive that I use for this recipe, can have robust verdant, fruity flavors. It’s only because we’re rather accustomed to eating them after they’ve soaked up a salty, tart brine that olives have been confined to savory dishes and cheese boards. 

My stance on olives being a savory food has completely crumbled. Not only are syrupy olives my favorite panettone flavor, but I’m convinced that candied olives can fit right at home accompanying other sweet treats. They’re strong enough to hold court in cakes, but happily yield to slicing, unlike nuts which can tear up the crumb. Here’s how to make them at home from a store-bought jar.

How to candy your olives

The panettone used green olives, and although I haven’t confirmed this with the company, they looked to me like Castelvetrano olives, a mild olive with a bright, nearly blue-green, meaty flesh. The flavor of this variety is light and floral, and I think you can really taste the fruit. I grabbed a jar of those from the store and got to work.

Olives floating in a pot of water

Credit: Allie Chanthorn Reinmann

۱. Simmer the olives

Since I don’t have an olive orchard, my store-bought jarred olives are sitting in brine. In order to rinse some of that brine from the flesh of the fruit, simmer it in clean water. In a small pot, add about half the jar of olives and about two inches of water. Bring it to a simmer and let it boil gently for about five minutes. Rinse them out and repeat this with fresh water. 

۲. Boil them in syrup

Rinse out the pot and the olives. Add equal parts, by weight, sugar and water to the pot. For half a jar of olives I used five ounces of water and five of sugar. Although the olives will float, you want enough simple syrup to cover the olives when you stir them. So if your pot is bigger then you’ll need more syrup. Add the olives to the pot and bring it up to a low boil. Let the olives simmer in the syrup for about 25 minutes, stirring every five minutes or so.

Olives in a ramekin

Credit: Allie Chanthorn Reinmann

۳. Let them sit

Turn off the heat and let the olives sit in the syrup, stirring occasionally, for an hour or until they’ve cooled to room temperature. 

The olives will look wrinkly—this is fine. They’ve done a bit of expanding and contracting. More importantly, you’ll notice that the flesh has become darker and taken on a translucent quality. This is great. The change in color and opacity means they’ve been properly candied. (If you think you might enjoy retaining a bit of that salty flavor from the brine, only do one fresh water simmer instead of two.)

Prepare for an olive like none you’ve ever tasted before. These candied Castelvetranos are sweet at first bite, followed by the aroma of an olive orchard in spring. (I’ve never been to an olive orchard, but I bet I’m right.) It’s a delicate, floral perfume that I thoroughly enjoy from such an unexpected place. Strain the syrup off of the candied olives and use them in vanilla or fruit-flavored cakes, quick breads, blondies, cookies, or simply scooped over a heap of ice cream.

Candied Castelvetrano Olives Recipe


۱. Put the olives in a small pot with two inches of clean tap water. Bring them up to a low boil and let them simmer like this for five minutes. Rinse out the water and olives, then fill the pot again and repeat.

۲. Rinse out the water again and this time add the sugar and water for a simple syrup. Add the olives back into the pot. Bring it up to a simmer and, stirring occasionally, let the olives simmer in the syrup for about 25 minutes. Turn off the heat and let the olives cool in the syrup, stirring occasionally, for an hour, or until room temperature. Use immediately, or store them in the syrup in the fridge in a tightly covered container. I haven’t tested how long they’ll keep like this; most candied fruit covered in syrup will be fine for six months to a year. However, when in doubt, try to use it within the week. 

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