Whether you love olives but don't have any or despise them and need a different flavor, we've got you covered. This guide will provide you with the best substitutes for olives so that you can make any dish without them.
Keep in mind some olive varieties are salty and meaty while others are highly bitter. We've tried to take this into account with our suggestions but keep in mind nothing will perfectly replace an olive in cooking.
What can I use to replace olives in the kitchen?
To replace olives with a similar-tasting ingredient we recommend capers or caper berries. If you don't enjoy olives in slow cooked meals, but need an ingredient that brings saltiness to a dish, then try anchovies. For a burst of spicy flavor without the bitter or salty notes, use green peppercorns.
Best for replacing green olives
Capers grow throughout the Mediterranean and are immature flower buds harvested from the caper bush. They look like a miniature, withered version of green olives and are your best option if you're looking to replace them with a similar tasting ingredient.
The caper has a salty, briny taste which is also lemony and bitter. People often describe them as having an olive-like flavor although they are more bitter and punchy.
Capers are also usually packed in jars of brine, in a similar way to olives. You could leave out the capers and just use the juice if you wanted a less intense burst of flavor in your food.
For recipes like chicken piccata, casseroles, or Italian pasta sauces, capers will make a nice replacement for olives. They also offer a nice visual addition as a garnish and work well scattered over smoked salmon.
Visually similar and milder in taste
The caperberry comes from the same bush as the caper, however, it is left to develop into a fruit. This is your best alternative if you're looking for an ingredient that looks like an olive. They are similar in size and color, although the caperberry has faint stripes and tapers in at the stalk.
While an olive has an inedible stone inside that needs to be removed, the caperberry has many tiny seeds that are part of the fruit. This results in a seedy, starchy texture. Its taste is milder than most types of olive. This is the perfect alternative for people that don't enjoy the salty, intense flavor of olives.
Caperberries make an excellent garnish on salads or dips like hummus. They can also be served in a martini or other classic cocktails. Caperberries are tasty sliced and added to sauces for chicken, fish, veal, and pork.
3. Green peppercorns
Add spice without the bitterness.
Green peppercorns are harvested early and don't carry the same intensity as black peppercorns. They look like a small version of an olive and are useful as a garnish on fish.
The green peppercorn is a useful replacement if you don't want the intensely bitter, saltiness of an olive, but still want a dish that's packed with flavor. They can be used in most recipes that call for olives. While the final dish will have a different flavor, they won't throw the meal out of balance.
4. Dill pickles
For a brighter, sweet and sour flavor
Dill pickles are also known as cornichons and they provide a combination of sweet and sour in one mouthful. Instead of having the olive's soft consistency, they provide a crunchier bite.
Although we wouldn't recommend dill pickles as a garnish or added to casseroles, they have some uses in the kitchen. For example, instead of blending olives into your next dip, try dill pickles instead. They are also delicious as part of an antipasto platter or sprinkled into salads.
Best for dialing-up salty flavor in food
For recipes where the olive is used mostly for adding salty flavor to a dish, try anchovies instead. Always use them in slow-cooked meals so that the fishiness gets “cooked off”.
One of our favorite uses for this fish is to add one or two fillets to pasta sauce. It adds salty, umami flavor and people won't be able to detect that fish has been added.
Related reading: how does an anchovy compare to a sardine?
How to replace one olive type for another
If a recipe calls for a specific type of olive which you don't have, you may want to replace it with a different variety. Check out the table below to find out how different types of olives can be used interchangeably.
|Original Olive||Replacement Olive|
|Alphonso||Gaeta or Kalamata|
|Amphissa||Gaeta or Kalamata|
|Kalamata||Gaeta or French black olives|
|Nicoise||Gaeta or Kalamata|
|Picholine||Castelvetrano, niçoise, green olive|
|Spanish||Green or black olives|
Olives have a unique taste which makes them hard to replace. If you need a substitute for olives then capers or caper berries will usually be your best option if you want something similar. Green peppercorns, dill pickles, or anchovies could also be used in some applications, particularly if you’re looking for a different flavor profile.
Keep in mind that olives can have a different flavor and texture depending on their variety. however, they all tend to have a salty, bitter taste so we've made some rough generalizations in this article to try and keep things simple.
These replacement options won't mimic the taste of an olive, but at the same time, they all share some similar characteristics and won't be out of place in most recipes.
As a final suggestion, if you’re making cocktails then another everyday ingredient you can use is cocktail onions. They’re easy to find in supermarkets and are a good olive substitute for this application.
What dish are you looking to replace olives in? Please let us know in the comments below.