As we speared and munched our way through 21 different varieties of pimiento-stuffed green olives in an effort to find the best in our recent taste test, my colleagues and I wondered: "Can they really be that different?" The first four were totally fine, just as we assumed olives would be. The next four tasted—well, like olives. And then we got to olive number nine, and Andrew Spena said, "I usually don't care one way or the other about olives, but this one showed me how wrong I've been." And then we tasted olive number 10, which was even better.
I'm sure the remaining olives were fine, but we were all so enamored with those middle two olives that avowed olive-lover Emily Johnson wondered out loud if it was "even worth it to taste the rest of these" since she'd just discovered her "briny, pimiento-stuffed soul mate" in our ultimate winner, Mediterranean Organic. For the record, of course we did taste the rest, and we have a couple of runners-up to share. For more on our methodology and the full list of olives we tasted, scroll to the bottom of the page. First up, the rankings!
Our Favorite Pimiento Olives: Mediterranean Organic
The thing about most olive brands is that the pimientos stuffed into the middle of their products aren't actually strips of red pepper, as you may have been led to believe. Instead, many brands make a gelatin-like red pepper paste that's easier for machines to cut into uniform strips and fill that void the missing olive pit left behind. What we found is that most of these types of olives have little in the way of red pepper flavor, and are more likely to have a metallic, acrid taste.
Mediterranean Organic olives are stuffed with real strips of red pepper, which lend a bit of sweetness to balance the salty olive brine. They also have a nice punch of juicy acidity, and a firm, meaty texture that's neither mushy nor too crisp.
The martinis we made with these olives had a real kick of olive flavor to back up the brininess of the juice. Plus, like I said, Emily considers them the last olives she needs to know about, thank you very much.
The Runner-Up: Divina
These are the olives that made Andrew realize that maybe he is an olive person after all. Made with Greek Halkidiki olives—which are nearly identical in appearance to most of the Queen olives on the roster—Divina's product was even more red pepper-forward than our winner (they're also stuffed with real strips of red pepper). The martinis I made with these olives and their brine didn't have quite the same olive-y punch that the martinis made with Mediterranean Organic did, but the drinks still went down easy and the olives still had satisfying bite after soaking in the boozy mix.
Two reasons you might want to choose these olives over the winner: if you prefer a crisper olive, which these are; or, if you're throwing a cocktail party on a budget. They're less expensive per ounce, but come in a bigger jar.
The Best Manzanilla Olive: B&G
When Emily first stepped into the tasting, she declared that she would surely like the diminutive Manzanilla olives best. They're small stature and "poppy texture," as she calls it, is better for snacking and spearing three-olives deep to dunk into a martini. Reader, as you may have already guessed, Emily did not like the Manzanillas best. These smaller olives often can't compete in terms of the rich flavor and superior texture of Queen-style olives.
However, if you're a Manzanilla lover and you don't want to stray, these were the best of the lot: firm but not crisp, with pronounced olive flavor, a pretty dark green color, and a tart finish.
What We Were Looking For
While we realize that there are other—perhaps more chic—olives in the world, for this taste test we set out to find the best tasting pimiento-stuffed olives for snacking, cooking, and slipping into a dirty martini.
The olives could be Manzanilla or Queen or any other green olive, so long as they were packed in brine and stuffed with a "pimiento," "pimento," or little red pepper by any other spelling. Of course they needed to be briny, but they also had to have good olive flavor—many were so salt-heavy that you couldn't taste anything else. They should also have a punch of sweetness from the pepper.
How We Tested
A team of Epicurious editors and staff sampled the olives at room temperature, straight out of the jar. I then gathered a group of friends after hours and plied them with a side-by-side martini tasting using the olives and brine from our top two contenders to determine the ultimate winner. All tastings were conducted blind and no distinction was made between organic and non-organic products during testing.
The Other Olives We Tasted
- Pearls/Early California Organic Red Pepper Stuffed Queen Olives
- Mezzetta Super Colossal Spanish Queen Pimiento Stuffed Olives
- Goya Stuffed Queen Spanish Olives With Minced Pimientos
- Lindsay Spanish Manzanilla Olives Stuffed with Pimiento
- Mezzetta Imported Spanish Queen Martini Olives
- Cento Spanish Stuffed Manzanilla Olives
- Pearls/Early California Pimiento-Stuffed Queen Olives
- Target Market Pantry Queen Size Spanish Olives with Pimiento
- Cento Spanish Stuffed Queen Olives
- Pearls/Early California Pimiento-Stuffed Manzanilla Olives
- Target Market Pantry Manzanilla Olives with Pimiento
- Santa Barbara Olive Co. Pimento Martini Olives
- Goya Manzanilla Spanish Olives Stuffed With Minced Pimientos
- Reese Minced Pimiento–Stuffed Manzanilla Olives
- Filthy Pimiento Olives
- B&G Spanish Style Queen Olives Stuffed
- B&G Colossal Spanish Style Queen Olives Stuffed
- Lindsay Super Colossal Spanish Queen Olives Stuffed with Pimiento
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Originally Appeared on Epicurious