Niçoise olives are a prominent part of several classic French recipes, as well as a beloved addition to any charcuterie board. You might want to prepare a classic Niçoise salad at home, but can’t find the namesake olives. The good news is that you can still make a great Niçoise salad without Niçoise olives. There are several substitutes for Niçoise olives that all will add a similar taste and texture, and should be much easier to find at any grocery store. Keep reading for the full breakdown of which substitutes are best, and how to use them.
What are Niçoise olives?
Niçoise olives get their name from their place of origin in France, as the term Niçoise translates to mean “in the style of Nice.” These olives were originally grown in the region around the French Riviera, including around Nice. Niçoise olives are a part of many French recipes and are a key ingredient in the aptly named, Niçoise salad.
Niçoise Olives are known to taste a bit sour and bitter while still being salty and briny—the salt and brine taste is from the curing of the olives. Niçoise olives have firm flesh.
The brine flavor comes from the brine-curing, the curing method used when preparing Niçoise olives. The ripe olives, usually dark colored, are placed in water with salt and other herbs and seasonings. They are cured in this brine for a few months.
Niçoise Olive Substitutes
Niçoise olives are sometimes in stores and sold in cans; however, they aren’t always available. Luckily, there are several substitutes:
Kalamata olives are probably the most common substitutes for Niçoise olives. Just like the Niçoise olives, Kalamata Olives originate in Europe and are named after their place of origin, Greece. However, some varieties of Kalamata olives are cultivated all over Europe today. Kalamata olives are not as firm as other olive varieties, and must be handled with care when they are being harvested.
Unlike Niçoise olives, Kalamata olives are more sweet-tasting and somewhat fruity. While they are bitter when they are first harvested, a part of the preparation process is designed to eliminate the bitter taste. Depending on the preparation method, Kalamata olives may taste like wine. Kalamata olives are easily found in most grocery stores, and are a great Niçoise olive substitute.
Pitted Green olives are perhaps the most well known olive around, and are ubiquitous on the shelves or olive bars at grocery stores. Green olives are actually just olives picked before they are ripe, and are usually cured to remove bitterness. Some green olive varieties are Manzanilla, Gordal, and Picholine. Though these olives are certainly not the same as Niçoise olives, they still have the briny taste that could be a welcome addition to a salad, and most of all, can be purchased at most stores.
Unlike Niçoise olives, capers are harvested before they are ripe, as they are dark green flower buds on caper bushes. Capers can be brined (like Niçoise olives) or they can be dried after harvest. After proper preparation, capers can last as long as six months refrigerated. Capers are used as a substitute for Niçoise olives as they are salty and sour, just like the Niçoise olives. They have a unique flavor, a firm texture, and are often used in salad and cold food appetizers.
Unlike the other substitutes for Niçoise olives, anchovies aren’t plants or fruits; but fish. Anchovies are a popular garnish that add umami flavor and are perhaps best known as a topping for pizza. Anchovies also happen to be a key ingredient in olive tapenade, and perhaps that is why they are a great substitute for Niçoise Olives.
Anchovies are the perfect substitute for Niçoise olives, as they are just as salty. Even a small amount of anchovy added to your salad can make it just as salty as Niçoise olives will. Hence, when using anchovies as a substitute for Niçoise olives, you only will need a little bit. The intense umami flavor of anchovies can be overpowering in a salad, so be careful.
Blue cheese is another popular Niçoise olive substitute, as it is an aged food, which gives it a similar flavor as the salt-brined Niçoise olives. Blue cheese is found in every grocery store, either in a solid block or pre-crumbled, and is a classic addition to salads of all kinds.
Similar to Niçoise olives, blue cheese is also salty and has a bit of a bitter taste. Unlike Niçoise olives, however, blue cheese is creamy and adds fat to the salad. Regardless, if you’re craving that salty briny taste of Niçoise olives, blue cheese will surely not disappoint.
Artichoke hearts are obviously not the same as olives, but they have the same salty, oily flavor that olives bring to a salad. Marinated artichoke hearts are usually soaked in oil, vinegar, and spices, similarly to olives. The hearts are tender, more so than Niçoise olives which are known for their firm flesh. Since Nice is so close to the Mediterranean, artichoke hearts are not even out of place in a Niçoise salad.
Pickled onions, either homemade or store-bought, are another acidic component that can replace that briny taste of Niçoise olives in your salad. Though they don’t have the fruitiness or oiliness of Niçoise olives, they are fresh and bright tasting. Pickled red or white onions, and even shallots, go great with the other components of a Niçoise salad.
Cornichon pickles, also called gherkins, are actually a staple of French charcuterie boards, and will work well in a Niçoise salad. These tiny pickles are crunchy and acidic, much like Niçoise olives. Cornichon (pronounced “KOR-nee-shon”) pickles are almost always found in grocery stores with other pickles, and can be the perfect addition to your Niçoise salad.
Niçoise Olives FAQ
What’s the difference between Kalamata and Niçoise olives?
There are many similarities between Kalamata olives and Niçoise olives, making them somewhat interchangeable. But it’s important to remember that there are also a few key differences:
➢ Origin: Both Kalamata and Niçoise olives originate in Europe but in different countries. While the Niçoise olives originate and are named after a place in France, Kalamata olives are from a place in Greece. Today, however, both of these olives can be found in several countries as long as the soil and climate support them. Though Kalamata olives are still heavily associated with Greek cuisine, and Niçoise olives are a French staple.
➢ Taste: Taste is probably the most important aspect when it comes to choosing olives. While Niçoise olives taste salty and sour, Kalamata olives taste sweeter and more like wine.
➢ Texture: Both Kalamata and Niçoise olives are harvested ripe. The major difference here is that Kalamata olives are much softer and more delicate than Niçoise olives, so much more delicate that the harvesting of Kalamata olives is done by hand. If you prefer a crisper, firmer olive (which may be a preferable texture in a salad) you may prefer Niçoise to Kalamata.
How do I store Niçoise Olives?
Olives of all varieties should be stored moist, either in their brine or with olive oil, and kept in the refrigerator.
What does Niçoise mean?
Niçoise means “from Nice” which is the area where they are originally found.
How do you pronounce Niçoise?
The correct pronunciation is “NEES-wahz”.
Are Niçoise olives green or black?
Niçoise olives are black or dark colored, as they are picked when they are ripe.