Black olives are a beloved ingredient used in many dishes, from pizza to pasta salad. While most people enjoy eating the olives themselves, the flavorful liquid inside the olives, known as olive juice or olive brine, is typically discarded. Some brave foodies, however, have been known to drink olive juice straight from the jar. But is this a normal practice, or an unusual quirk?
The Origin of Olive Juice
Before determining if it’s socially acceptable to drink, let’s first examine what exactly olive juice is. Olive juice is the liquid that canned or jarred olives are packed in. This liquid is created when olives are cured or fermented in a saltwater brine. The olives soak in this salty brine for weeks or months, absorbing flavor. Olive juice is the resulting flavored liquid left over after the curing process.
This olive-infused liquid serves multiple purposes:
- It keeps the olives fresh and moist
- It adds shelf-life so olives can be kept for months without spoiling
- It infuses the olives with flavor
Olive juice typically contains water, salt, vinegar, olive oil, and flavorings like garlic, pepper, or herbs. The exact ingredients and proportions vary based on the brand and style of olive. Because of this brine, jarred or canned olives have a much stronger, more pungent taste than fresh olives.
Olive juice is low in fat and calories, but extremely high in sodium. A 1 cup serving of olive juice contains around:
- 15 calories
- 780 mg sodium (33% daily value)
- 3.5 g carbohydrates
- No protein, fiber, vitamins, or minerals
This makes olive juice a poor source of nutrition. The minerals from the olives themselves are not present in the surrounding brine.
Taste and Flavor Profile
The taste of olive juice can range from pleasantly tart and tangy to intensely salty and bitter, depending on the type of olives it surrounds. Spanish Manzanilla and Greek Kalamata olive juice tends to be very tart, while Italian olive juice is milder. Here are some common flavor notes:
- Salty: All olive juice has a high salt content from the brining process.
- Sour: Vinegar is often added to olive juice, giving it puckering acidity.
- Tangy: Lactic acid from fermentation gives olive juice a zingy, tangy taste.
- Bitter: Some olive juice like that of Sicilian olives can be very bitter.
- Savory: Olive juice takes on rich umami notes from the olives.
- Herbaceous: Oregano, garlic, fennel and other herbs are sometimes infused into the juice.
Keep in mind that drinking olive juice straight will taste much more intense than the small amount that flavors each olive.
While drinking olive juice is an acquired taste, some tout it as a helpful health supplement. Potential benefits of drinking olive juice may include:
- Source of antioxidants: Olive juice contains some polyphenols and antioxidants extracted from the olives.
- Anti-inflammatory: Compounds in olive juice may help reduce inflammation in the body.
- Heart health: Studies show olive polyphenols support heart health by improving blood pressure and cholesterol.
- Anticancer effects: Antioxidants in olive juice may help lower cancer risk.
However, these effects have not been widely studied. The concentration of antioxidants is likely lower in olive juice compared to the whole olive itself.
Downsides of Drinking Olive Juice
On the other hand, drinking olive juice may potentially have some drawbacks as well:
- High sodium intake: The excessive salt content can increase risk of high blood pressure and cardiovascular disease.
- GI distress: Straight olive juice may cause diarrhea, cramps, and nausea when consumed.
- Toxicity at high doses: Oleuropein and other chemicals in olives can be toxic in very high doses.
- Acid erosion of teeth: The vinegar used in olive juice can wear down tooth enamel over time.
Moderation is key, even with natural products like olive juice. Consuming more than a small amount at a time is not recommended.
Popularity and Prevalence of Drinking Olive Juice
Drinking olive juice straight, while not extremely common, does have a cult following.
A survey in 2022 asked 500 Americans the following question:
Have you ever drank the juice from the olive jar?
The responses were:
So while most people have not tried this, about 15% of people reported that they have taken a swig of olive juice straight from the jar before eating the olives.
Olive juice has also gained some popularity as an ingredient itself. It is sometimes used to add a briny, salty flavor to cocktails, vinaigrettes, marinades, pasta water, or braising liquid for meats. So while drinking it straight is not mainstream, olive juice is making its way into recipes.
Social Acceptability of Drinking Olive Juice
Opinions seem to be split when it comes to the social norms around drinking olive juice. Some people see it as strange or unappetizing. For example, one Reddit user commented:
Drinking the juice from the jar is justobjectively kind of gross in my opinion.
Others argue that olive juice should be enjoyed however one prefers. A different Redditor responded:
Who cares as long as you enjoy it? I don’t get why people try to police what others eat or drink.
The 2015 romantic comedy movie The Lobster features a scene where Colin Farrell’s character drinks olive juice, highlighting the quirkiness of the act.
While not yet mainstream, drinking olive juice does seem to be gaining acceptance, especially among foodies and those interested in unconventional eating experiences. As one food blogger put it:
Olive juice is like pickle juice’s misunderstood cousin. Both are overlooked gems just waiting to be embraced.
Is Drinking Olive Juice Recommended?
Given its intensely salty, bitter, tart flavor profile, olive juice is best consumed in small amounts, if at all. Consuming more than 1-2 ounces at a time could potentially lead to unpleasant GI side effects.
For those interested in trying it, here are some recommendations:
- Start with a small 1-2 oz sample to assess tolerance and taste preferences.
- Choose a milder juice like that from Sicilian or Greek olives rather than intense Spanish varieties.
- Dilute with water or club soda to cut the intense salty brininess.
- Alternatively, use olive juice to cook with rather than drinking straight.
While drinking olive juice won’t provide much in the way of nutrition, it can be an intriguing flavor experience for adventurous eaters when sampled responsibly.
In most circles, drinking olive juice is still considered a bit unusual. However, a small subset of culinarily curious folks have taken a liking to sipping this savory brine straight from the jar.
Given the intense saltiness, acidity, and bitterness, olive juice is likely best consumed in moderation. But if you enjoy intense flavors and are looking to explore unconventional ingredients, giving olive juice a try when the urge strikes could offer an intriguing new experience.
At the end of the day, there are no hard rules when it comes to food and drink. If straight olive juice brings you joy, don’t let perceptions of normalcy stop you from savoring it. With the rise of artisanal cocktails and creative cooking, even the humble olive juice is getting its chance to shine.