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There are two camps of martini lovers: those who swear by olives as a garnish and those who love a lemon twist. If you’re an olive fan, you know that just any old olive won’t do. You want one that will complement the bold flavors of the martini. The Sicily-grown Castelvetrano is a fan favorite, although the Spanish variety (green stuffed with pimento) is another go-to for drinking and snacking. Fun variations, like blue cheese- and garlic-stuffed, are popular, too.
Best Overall: Divina Castelvetrano Olives
“For me, there is no better martini olive than a Castelvetrano olive from Sicily,” says Pete Stanton, head bartender at Ai Fiori at The Langham, New York. Grown specifically in the Castelvetrano region of Sicily, the fresh seaside air adds a distinct mild salinity to the olives.
“At Ai Fiori, we use whole Castelvetranos in brine (with the pits in) because they deliver a delicious buttery flavor that classically pairs well with the aromatics of a proper gin martini," Stanton says.
The olive's meaty texture is also durable, he says, which makes it easy to run a martini pick through. Unlike other green martini olives that may be a bit more neutral in flavor, you get a rich taste without bleeding into the drink. These olives by Divina are grown in Italy, and then packaged and imported to the United States. They have no high-fructose corn syrup or other unnatural colors, flavors, or preservatives. As a snack, they're best paired with Brie.
Best for Bloody Marys: Filthy Food Filthy Pickle Stuffed Olive Case
Stuffed olives are particularly attractive to drinkers looking for a little pizzazz, and these ones are filled with another highly coveted garnish: pickles. To make them, the pits are removed from large green queen olives, which are then stuffed with tiny gherkins—perfect for adding depth to bloody marys.
“Filthy Olives by Filthy Food is by far the most preferred brand at The London,” says Piero Procida, director of food and beverage at the Beverly Hills bar. “I know many bars like to buy in bulk and sometimes buy large containers of olives to save money, but Filthy makes its olives in easy-to-handle small jars that make easy storing and freshness the focal point. The jars are very reasonably priced and designed for today’s serious bartender.”
Best for Vodka Martinis: Eat Prime Foods Pitted Sicilian Green Castelvetrano Olives
"Castelvetrano olives are the best-tasting olives on the market,” says Paul Gonzalez, beverage supervisor at Delta Hotels Virginia Beach Bayfront Suites. “They taste great by themselves, with other small bites, and especially in savory drinks like martinis or bloody marys."
These Castelvetrano olives from Eat Prime Foods are rich, buttery, meaty, and especially great for vodka martinis. Plus, as Gavin Humes, food and beverage director of Scratch Bar & Kitchen says, Castelvetrano olives like these are tasty to eat on their own while making a cocktail.”
Though you may think the pits are annoying to remove, leave them in—they keep the flavors as fresh as possible.
Best for Gin Martinis: Jack Rudy Cocktail Co. Vermouth Marinated Pitted Olives
“I cheat with my martinis and always add a splash of sherry, which means they beg for olives as a garnish,” says Bill Books, beverage director of Torch & Crown Brewing Company in Manhattan. “When I'm ready to indulge in that first sip, I grab Jack Rudy Vermouth Brined Olives. They add the perfect amount of salinity.”
These olives nod to the classic martini, combining dry vermouth, juniper, and coriander to mimic the flavors of the boozy beverage. Since they are brined in vermouth, they have a short shelf life after opening, but that shouldn’t be a problem—try eating just one.
“Some nights I skip the gin and just eat the olives straight from the jar with a spoon and no shame,” says Books. Grown in California and batched in Charleston, South Carolina, test out a few of these olives in a spritz for a savory undertone.
Best for Dirty Martinis: Dirty Sue Stuffed Olives Pack
"Olives are just as important as the quality of gin or vodka and vermouth that goes into a martini, says Claire Mallett of Catch One in Los Angeles. “We take a lot of time to decide which vermouth best suits a particular gin, which is wasted if it's garnished with a sub-par olive. For that reason, I like to use Dirty Sue olives. They have a guaranteed freshness, so when you bite into the olive there's a nice crunch.”
This set comes with all the fixings you need for a delicious dirty martini: a small bottle of Dirty Sue olive juice and a jar of olives double-stuffed with jalapeno and garlic. They're larger than most stuffed olives, brined perfectly, and finish off the martini with bold flavor and a subtle kick.
Best for Spritz: Collins Pimento Gourmet Spanish Olives
“Adding an olive to your martini always levels it up, but choosing the right olive to round out the experience is no easy task,” says Henri Schock, co-owner of Bottlehouse and Mr. West Cafe Bar in Seattle. “Collins is the tried and true brand I've vetted and always go with. When I'm feeling classic, Pimento Gourmet Spanish Olives are the only option. Any knowledgeable bartender knows that genuine Spanish olives make for the proper martini and shine in any classic cocktail. These have a dash of sweetness that elevates the salty olive brine and a firm texture that's neither mushy nor too tough.”
These are statement olives. They're bold, salty, and carefully stuffed with spicy pimento peppers. Try sipping it in vermouth and soda or a Spanish-style spritz. The pepper will add a perfect hint of spice.
Best Blue Cheese-Stuffed: Collins Blue Cheese Stuffed Olives
Collins Blue Cheese Stuffed Olives offer an extra savory spin on a dirty martini. These large hand-picked queen olives are filled with creamy blue cheese and steeped in a delicious, salty brine. Add it as a quirky addition to a martini bar and switch up your usual drinking routine or add them to a salad for quick and easy Mediterranean flavor.
“They make a fantastic garnish or a solid snack time option,” Schock says.
What to Look for When Buying Olives for Martinis and Other Cocktails
There's nothing like biting into a crunchy olive that's garnished a martini. Look for olives that are green and preserved in brine and (not oil) to add to the taste and depth of the martini. As to whether the olive is stuffed or pitted, it's more of a drinker's preference.
The olive needs to be firm enough to handle a martini pick or skewer pushed through it. An olive that falls or breaks apart makes the drink lose its visual appeal, and no one wants to eat pieces of olives.
Check the label before buying a jar of olives to make sure there are no additives, such as high-fructose corn syrup, coloring, or preservatives.
Why should there be three olives in a martini?
It's quite the conundrum as to when this tradition started, but some firmly believe that it is unlucky to have an even number of olives. Three has just been the perfect number and what bartenders garnish a martini with. If you want additional olives, serve them on the side.
Why is it called a "dirty" martini?
The "dirty" part of the name is derived from the use of olive brine in the martini, in addition to the olive garnish. Order it extra dirty if you desire more brine.
How should olives be eaten when drinking a martini?
For the lovers of these drinks, there's a way the olives that accompany a martini are eaten. The first olive is eaten with the first sip, the second one can be eaten somewhere in the middle, but the last olive is typically eaten with the last sip of the drink.
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Kate Dingwall is a seasoned wine and spirits writer and martini lover. She has been writing about the bar and spirits world for years and loves a Gibson martini. She interviewed nine experts for this article.