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100 responses to “Curing Olives with Lye”

  1. dugan

    Great Site –

    I followed your recipe and olives came out fantastic – thanks!

    question ?

    I wore gloves and long sleeves the whole 9 and was totally freaked out using this stuff … I will continue to do so however you mentioned

    After the lye is mixed into the water – it cant really hurt you …

    Can you explain that a bit further ?

    Many thanks for all your great works !!!

  2. Stuart Duncan

    Lye (sodium hydroxide or NaOH) won’t hurt you when handling small ammounts such as the 500gram tubs of drain cleaner. If you fell in to an idustrial sized vat of the stuff you may have some problems though.

    Some people with very sensitive skin may experience dermititis from handling it without gloves, but it’s not common. I’ve often clasped a hand full of it without gloves to throw down a drain or what not.

    As the author already said, do not use aluminium implements when preparing food with NaOH as the NaOH will disolve the aluminium and make it soluable in water. It’s not the NaOH that will poison you, but the aluminium.

    Also, never ever mix NaOH (or acids) with other house hold cleaners as it can change the chemical structure of the cleaning acid and make it toxic. This is probably where this relatively harmless chemical gets its bad rep from.


  3. Eric Petrovich

    What is the best way to store the olives after they are done ? How long will they last?

  4. andy


    Do you still need to cut the olive when using the LYE method of curing?

    Thanks in advance


  5. George Phillips

    Hi Hank
    Just picked about 10 kg of nice firm green olives and have put them into a light brine solution.
    I am into my second day. The olives are still nice and green.
    I have just read your article
    Can I do the lye cure now? Will there be any reaction with the salt?
    Will wash them well before putting into the lye mixture

    Thanks for all the comments

  6. Timmy


    I have an olive tree in my yard and have tried brine and dry curing in years past, but the results have been too bitter for my taste so this year I tried lye curing. I used 3 tablespoons lye granules per gallon and let it go 10 hours. After 3 changes of water the olives have no bitterness and have remained firm and bright. The only problem is that the skins are peeling off the olives! Did I use too strong a solution? Any suggestions for next time?

  7. Sara

    I was wondering how many pounds of olives you used in this recipe. I only have about 2 or 3 pounds, would I have to up the amounts? Thank you!

  8. Leslie Serafin

    I live in Temecula,ca. and I have an acre of Olive trees, that I’ve just started picking and your method of curing olives, is almost exactly the way my great-grandmother, from Tecate, BC does, till this day @ the age of 90. Our nieghbors always look forward,to their jar of delious olives. Great site and great info.

  9. Erin

    Question about olive size – mine are what I would consider big – I believe they were labelled as Sevillanos. (about 1 – 1 1/2″ long) Would you recommend increasing the length of the lye process? I also read about cutting into one to see how far the lye has come to the pit. Do you have any input on checking them that way? Should there be a full colour change of the flesh all the way to the pit, or should it stop before reaching the pit?

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  11. Freda

    Can you pick the olives then wait a week to start the lye cure? If so what is the best way to store the green olives till you can start a lye cure?

  12. Erin

    Another question – if any one feels like answering… I see the lye process is at room temperature, but what about the rest? water changes.. and brining – all at room temp?

  13. fgump

    Is there a difference in the amount of lye you use, depending on the form it’s in?
    I used liquid lye, and 3TBSP didn’t seem like enough. Did you use flaked or granular lye?

  14. Joe

    I used Hank’s lye-cure recipe last year and am doing so right now. I’ve left picked olives in a clean dry bucket for several days before using without any problems, and I do my rinse process w/ water right out of the tap. On a separate note, I’ve stored olives with many different spices and flavorings including fresh mint, anise seed, cloves, fresh basil and rosemary, orange and lime and I noticed that the more exotic the flavoring, the faster you need to eat the olives. Say w/in a month or two at the most. The traditional dried spices like coriander, bay leaf, pepper, fresh garlic etc will keep much longer.

  15. zack

    I just finished soaking my olives in lye solution and noticed that some of them, when sliced into are brown at the pit. What does this indicate? The olives sat for over a week before being cured so I was wondering if they sat too long?

  16. E. Nassar

    These are heavenly and I have not even tasted the “marinated” ones yet. Only tasted them after the initial brine and they were brilliant green and delicious. A couple more days and the second flavor/brine phase is done.

  17. Sara

    Hi Hank, I just wanted to follow up. My olives turned out so well that I’m doing up another 3 pounds. Thank you for the help!

  18. GARY

    I used this process for the first time this year, well actually it was the first time I cured Olives. I had about 4 gallons of olives, used 2 gallons of water/lye solution, and soaked for the suggested 12 hours. My olives were average in size. When I poured out the solution it looked like strong coffee. after the third day I cut and tasted one expecting a soapy taste as stated. it was so bitter that there could have been a cup of soap and I wouldn’t have tasted it. I let them set in rinse solution one more day and tasted. again very bitter no change. I rinsed them one more time and then started the process over again. same amount of water/lye solution (it’s all my bucket could hold) 12 hours in the lye and again coffee colored when I poured it out. After the second day of rinsing I tasted and had a mild soapy taste. two more day of rinsing and on the last day the last three rinses were pretty much clear water when I dumped them. So I brined. I used Himalayan pink salt to brine the flavor is fantastic, but if you use it be aware it doesn’t need as much I used about a half cup per gallon of water. after three days the olives are wonderful. I have since put them in finishing brines and seasonings. they are so good.

  19. GARY

    The gentleman that owns the grove where I picked my olives contacted me this morning and asked if I would consider doing some for him. Let me explain I looked high and low for somewhere local to get olives and could find none. I happened accross a business that had a small grove of olive on their property. The owner is a super nice guy. When I asked about purchasing some olives from him he told me that all he wanted was a couple of small bottles of olives when I was done. I took him some simple brine and a flavored bottle that I came up with. Now we are back to the start. He called me this morning, telling me that these are the best olives he has had in ten or fifteen years. Thank you so much Hank. So my second batch is in the cure. I think with the first one I didn’t have enough lye solution for the ammount of olives that I had in there. I used two gallons of solution and had almost 4 gallons of olives. So I had to cure twice. This time I have a few more olives, but have increased my solution to almost three gallons. I’d do a little more than that, but don’t have enough room in my container. I’ll let you know how these progress. thanks again

  20. GARY

    Has anyone ever tried using oriental flavors in their olives? I was thinking about something like sesame garlic and ginger. I just don’t know if the flavors will work together. Does anyone have anything unique that they have used, I’m open to try anything interesting.

  21. GARY

    Hey Zack, did you continue with your oives. I think if they are brown the lye has not leached out completely (not sure I’m not super experienced) I just have been reading everything I can find about curing them. How did they turn out?

  22. Kathryn

    Hi Hank,
    I’m 9 hours in to soaking 5lbs. in 1 gal. Of the lye solution. I wouldn’t describe the water as dark, exactly. A picture of that step would be helpful. It is more the shade of green tea. One previous poster described a strong coffee shade. Any insights? Thanks!

  23. Jeff

    I picked olives to cure when I get home to eastern Washington. I’m wondering about temperature, its in the 40s outdoors. Is room temp good? Garage temp (60) better?

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  25. sue

    I’m trying to cure olives for the first time. I had difficult finding lye. Finally found some at a small hardware store, however, it did not heat up when I added it to the cold water. I tried it twice and nothing happened. Any suggestions?

  26. Hart Drobish

    Just a quick but important note. Olives cured but not cooked must remain in an open container with normal air exposure to the water they are in. Once cured with the lye, and without the natural acid in them, they can develop botulism if left in a closed container. Never put them in a container with a sealable lid. Like a fish, they need to breath some oxygen out of the water to prevent the anerobic bacteria from growing in them.

  27. Kathryn

    Hart, where is this information from. University of California’s guidelines for safe home preservation of olivesmakes no such mention for the lye method. In fact, they explicitly instruct using a sealed container. They do instruct a third brine change to a stronger solution (1.5 c. Salt/gal.), but that’s it. I’d love to see your citation. I like to be safe, but at this point trust UC.

  28. Kathryn

    Hank, these have been wonderful. I’ve now done 4 batches. Two of some very small green olives(between dime and penny diameter) and have found 6 hrs. in the lye to be perfect.

  29. Bryan

    Awesome post, Hank!
    I’m sourcing my ingredients as we speak.

    I’m also trying to figure out what non-reactive item to use to submerge the olives at the start of the lye soak.
    Sure, any glass, food-grade plastic, or stainless etc item will do, but have you found the lye at this proportion to etch or damage the items you use? Or have you ever used parchment paper for this step?
    Thanks in advance.

  30. todd krein

    Hank, tried a salt water brine last year with (at best) marginal results. Took the plunge and tried your Lye method this year. Simply amazing! Thanks so very much for laying it out oh-so-simply.

    Two questions for you (or anyone else here):
    1) My wife finds them too salty. After the second (first?) salt brine, can I reduce the amount of salt for storage?
    2) Can you give me an idea of just what you put in the seasoning brine? How much salt to water, amounts of spices, etc.? I’d hate to screw them up now…

  31. todd krein

    Bryan, I took a zip-lock bag, filled it with cold water, and laid it on top of the olives. it keeps them well submerged, and is dirt cheap.

  32. Courtney

    Hi Hank- we followed your recipe and love how the olives have turned out. Now wondering how to best pack them up to give as gifts. Is it best to jar using a pressure canner or is there another easier, while still safe method? What does everyone do with their lbs and lbs of olives?
    Thanks so much,
    Kris & Courtney

  33. Steele

    Dont worry about how salty your olives taste after 2nd treatment, better too much than not enough. I find it easy to soak the olives needed the day before. You can remove nearly all the salt if you soak them over 2 days, personally I find overnight is OK.

    After soaking simply roll them dry and add your oils herbs etc. These will keep in good condition in the fridge for up to a week, if they last that long?

    Greetings from Australia.

  34. Olen

    Caution: The fellow (Stuart) who said that 500 grams of lye won’t hurt you is, sorry to say, a bit off his rocker. I’m flabbergasted that he would encourage people to handle lye with bare hands! You don’t need to be hypersensitive to lye for it to dissolve your skin! Ignore his comments and follow the precautions given in the article. If Stuart was able to measure out a fistful of lye with his hands, without damage, it was only because his hands were completely dry, and he quickly washed off any of the powder that remained on his skin. Just because his recklessness didn’t cause him harm does not mean you’ll be so lucky. Most likely you will not walk away unscathed.

  35. Libby

    I’ve bought some olives in brine. How do I get rid of the horrible briny taste from them? Having read your article I am thinking of curing my own next time.

    All the best


  36. Sarah

    Hi! I’ve tried several methods of olive curing and was always leery of using lye. This recipe was wonderful and easy! I love how quickly they pick up the flavors of whatever you put in the jar. I used lemon slices and garlic and they are excellent paired with feta cheese and a lemon olive oil.
    I’m wondering about pitting them–has anyone had success with this? I’m considering buying a simple, cheap pitter and seeing how that goes…

  37. Diane

    Hi Hank, my olives are wonderful, but like Courtney I am wondering what to do next? I have 25lbs of olives cured in the second brine. Can I leave them like that until I use them like say till Dec. out of the fridge or do I need to can them, to preserve them? I now have them in 2 half full 5 gal containers that will not fit in my fridge.

  38. Chef Stella

    Hank You ROCK!! I live in Tucson, AZ and last year I harvested olives cured using water and brine. Took 6 months before they were edible. Just put 13 lbs in cure and can’t wait to mix up some brine. I brew my own vinegar and have made several batches of flavored vin which I use with salt, water and herbs to make different flavored olives. Suggestion to others….soak herbs, onions, hot peppers and spices in plain vinegar first to flavor. Strain out add to brine. The addition of acid has allowed for regular shelf storage. I have also salt dried my olives and then rehydrated them in brine later. Thanks for all the great tips all!

  39. amy

    Lye was hard to find thank god my grandma still has some it’s not sold in stores anymore

  40. Liz

    Growing up in Newcastle/Loomis area of northern California where there used to be a lot of old olive groves, a favorite annual treat was the big jar of homemade lye-cured olives a neighbor used to give us every year. I now live in Greece, home of the famous Kalamata, but I’ve never forgotten the taste of those olives from years ago. My in-laws think my memory must be failing. Olives? And LYE? We’re going to be doing a water and citric acid cure this year, but I’d really like to have a go at trying your recipe. The only problem is finding sodium hydroxide…I’ll keep searching. In the meantime, thanks for continuing to inform, entertain, and inspire. Great blog.

  41. Petra

    I found a goldmine worth of huge ripe black olives pounds and pounds I picked. Yet I noticed a worm crawl out of them and after cutting them opened found about 70% of them had worms. My question is can I cut out just the non infested pieces and cure them? Also many of them have pinpricks where the eggs have been laid but haven’t hatched(just a little discolored where the wholes are) – are those ones Okay?

    Also I’m using the Dry salt cure method. Will the Salt kill these parasites????

    Will doing a 3 min flash boil kill before I try to do a brine or water cure? Please give me some idea because I hate to let this source of olives be unusable.

    Perhaps maybe I should pick earlier in the season while they are still hard and green? Any ideas please let us know.

  42. Coco in the Kitchen

    This is awesome. I’m sending the link to my hubby!

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