How to Cure Green Olives With Lye

  • 01 of 06

    Step 1 - Gather Equipment & Ingredients

    Bowl of olives
    Image Source / Getty Images

    There is two way to cure olives—with lye or with salt. This step-by-step describes the lye method and includes photos and instructions. The lye process of curing olives is simple and takes about a week. Why use lye? Lye leaches the bitterness from the olives, making them edible. Since lye is poisonous, before beginning, please carefully read the safety notes in step 3.

    Necessary Equipment & Ingredients

    • Two 2-gallon bucketfuls green olives
    • One 5-gallon plastic bucket for mixing
    • One 18-gallon plastic tub
    • 5 gallons water
    • 18- to 24-inch wooden stick to stir
    • 72 ounces household lye (please see safety notes in step 3)
    • Peel of 2 oranges
    • 2 heads of garlic (broken into cloves)
    • 1 bunch fresh oregano
    • 1 cup salt

    Be sure to use utensils made of stainless steel, cast iron, enamelware, glass, wooden barrels or plastics intended for food use.

    Continue to 2 of 6 below.
  • 02 of 06

    Step 2 - Pick and Rinse the Olives

    Brine cured table olives in harvesting tubs in the orchard
    Kathy Coatney / Getty Images

    Olives on a single tree will be at different stages of ripeness, like any fruit. When picking the olives, do not pick the black olives because they are too ripe and not suitable for the lye-curing. Pick the olives that are green to green-purple, and clean any debris (dirt, leaves, etc.) and rinse the olives with cold water. Place them into the 18-gallon plastic tub.

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  • 03 of 06

    Step 3 - Add Lye to Water, then Mix With Olives

    Spoonful of lye
    Wikimedia Commons / Basilicofresco

    Please read the safety notes below before using lye.

    Pour approximately 1/2 gallon of lukewarm water into the 5-gallon bucket. Add 3/4 cup lye to the water. Do NOT add water to the lye to avoid splashing. Stir with a wooden spoon or stick. Add the mixture to the tub of olives, and stir in 3 gallons cool water.

    After 8 hours pour out the water, and 3/4 cup lye to a 1/2 gallon of water and another 3 to 4 gallons fresh water. Repeat this process twice a day for 3 days. Olives will turn a darker green during this time.

    Remember, olives should be stored in a cool place, like a garage or cellar, out of the reach of pets or children.

    After 3 days, repeat the above process once a day for 3 days.

    Safety Notes for Using Lye

    • Be sure the container says "100% lye". If it doesn't, it is because there are other ingredients added for clearing clogged drains. Do not use those products (like DRANO brand) because the other ingredients are harmful to your health!
    • Remember, lye is a poison. It is composed of 100% sodium hydroxide, which is also known as caustic soda. When handling lye, be sure to read the label and follow all instructions carefully.
    • Avoid contact with skin, eyes, and clothing. If lye does get on skin or in eyes, be sure to wash or flush immediately and thoroughly with clean, clear water. Always wear gloves and goggles, or some type of eye protection when working with lye. There may be splashback, or a strong reaction when adding lye to water.
    • Be sure to keep lye out of reach of children and pets.

    Curing more or fewer olives than featured in this tutorial and need to adjust amounts? The general rule of thumb to follow is to use 3 tablespoons of lye per gallon of water.

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  • 04 of 06

    Step 4 - Prepare the Seasonings

    Prepare the seasonings
    The Spruce / Lisa Sierra

    Once the olives have been cured with the lye for a week, it is time to season them. First, rinse the olives thoroughly several times with cold water.

    Fill a large stock pot (12 quarts or bigger) with water. Add the orange peel, whole garlic cloves, fresh oregano sprigs, and salt. Heat to a boil and remove from stove, allow to cool.

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  • 05 of 06

    Step 5 - Add Seasonings to Olives

    Olives in Spices and Brine
    The Spruce / Lisa Sierra

    Once the water is cool, pour water with seasonings into the tub full of olives and stir. If the olives are not completely covered, add more water to cover. Store tub in a cool dry place, such as a cellar, basement or garage for about two days.

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  • 06 of 06

    Step 6 - Adjust Seasonings and Serve

    Olives in dish
    Andrew Unangst / Getty Images

    After sitting in brine for two days, the olives are ready to eat. Scoop out of tub using a ladle and serve. However, you may wish to add more seasonings to the olives, such as olive oil, vinegar, and chopped garlic.

    Store the olives in a refrigerator for up to 2 weeks in a covered container.

    The primary source for food safety rules used in writing this article: University of California, Division of Agriculture and Natural Resources Publication 8267, Safe Methods for Home Pickling.