Spicy Marinated Olives

Spicy marinated olives are a really great appetizer with drinks. They are also a grand addition to a host of other dishes. Why? The olives’ deep, often hidden, flavors are intensified by this marinade of chili, rosemary, thyme, garlic, vinegar, and lemon.

Spicy marinated olives in the jar, as seen from above

What makes these spicy marinated olives so special?

Using around 2 1⁄2 pounds of olives in brine, you’ll be making a fair-sized batch which will keep in the fridge for at least two weeks. But what’s really great about this spicy marinated olives recipe is that you don’t have to wait for the flavors to develop or mature — they’re right there to be enjoyed from the very start.

Olives love chilies. And vice versa. It’s a marriage of equals. The deal works like this. The olives agree to release the fullest of their flavors in return for the chilies returning the most subtle of theirs. It’s smoky and fruity rather than primarily hot.

This recipe uses a surprising amount of finely chopped, medium-hot chili peppers (six red cayenne peppers, seeds and all) and yet their fire is really subdued. There’s no “sudden impact” eating experience here.

It’s an interesting interaction. On first taste, you’ll probably wonder, “What happened to the chilies?” Right up front, you get a really deep, lasting richness of the olives and garlic. It’s only after those flavors have receded that the bite of the chilies — a sort of tingling afterglow — becomes apparent.

And when that happens, it’s a grand time to have another few sips of your drink.

Choosing the olives: pitted or whole, in brine or oil, green or black, cheap or expensive?

Green olives, because they’re not fully ripe, have more body than the softer, fully ripe black ones. They also have a sharper, less mellow taste than their more mature fellows. By using a combo of both, you’ll get an appealing contrast between the two colors, textures, and flavors.

Eating any type of whole olives always strikes me as a bit of a nibble-and-discard mission — in comparison to the safe, one-bite pitted variety. Perhaps more importantly, pitted olives will obviously pick up more of this marinade’s flavor, both on the outside and in their hollow inside.

Olives packed in brine are also way preferable to those in oil. Before they go into the marinade, they’re going to be washed. Yep, washed. Briefly in hot water, thoroughly drained, and then dried on a clean dishtowel. Rinsing off all the ‘packaging’ oil is far more difficult than rinsing off the brine. Oil will always create an unwanted barrier between the olives and the marinade.

Spicy marinated olives, as seen from the side of the jar

And get the best deal you can for your olive-buying money. Prices vary widely. I go for the lowest cost olives that I can find — pitted, in brine, some black, some green, and most often in plastic containers. High-ticket, monikered, estate-denominated olives in fancy cans and jars? Don’t bother. The whole idea here is that the marinade is the olives’ flavor accelerator.

Keep your spices fresh

Yeah, they’ve all gotta be fresh for this recipe. No matter how finely chopped, any dried varieties will still taste unpleasantly hard and woody against the smoothness of the olives. Dried chilies and herbs will feel gritty. Not good. So, no question: fresh chilies, fresh rosemary, and fresh thyme.

More than just an appetizer

As for using your spicy marinated olives in other dishes, well, any recipe that calls for olives could be a candidate for adding these. Sicilian tuna steaks would be a great example, as would a simple spaghetti putanesca or a penne all’arrabbiata.

They’re certainly great tossed into salads – just think how perfect they’d be in a salade niçoise. But they’re also fab served as an accompaniment alongside bbq meats, poultry, and fish. Mix your spicy marinated olives with a little good mayo and they really are great on a burger. And they’re surely essential as a standalone feature with any form of mixed, mezze-style platters.

Or keep it oh so simple. I really love them just with buttered bread and cheese. It’s so easy, but so tasty.

Like this recipe? You’ll love these too:

100 Spicy Recipes from
Around the World

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Explore the world of spicy food through these delicious globally inspired recipes! From tasty handhelds and bold soups to fiery pastas, meals, desserts, and more. PDF AND EPUB provided. Kindle ready.

Spicy marinated olives as seen from top of the jar

Spicy Marinated Olives

A classic appetizer for cocktails and more
4.34 from 3 votes
Prep Time 10 minutes
Cook Time 15 minutes
Total Time 25 minutes
Course Appetizer, Side
Servings 40 servings
Calories 52 kcal


The olives

  • 1 1/2 pounds green pitted olives in brine
  • 1 pound black pitted olives in brine

The marinade

  • 6 cayenne peppers finely chopped, seeds and all
  • 4 cloves garlic peeled and thinly sliced
  • 4 sprigs fresh rosemary four-inch sprigs
  • 4 sprigs fresh thyme four-inch sprigs
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice approximately the juice of 1/2 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon brown sugar
  • 1 teaspoon ground sea salt


Prepping the olives

  • Pour all the in-brine olives into a big colander set in your kitchen sink. Run hot – and I mean hot – water all over the olives for a minute or so. Turn off the hot water and shake the colander to remove as much water as you can.
  • Now evenly spread the drained olives across a dry (and clean) dishtowel or paper towels. What you want to happen here is to soak up any visible water from the olives. You’re getting them ready for the marinade. After about ten minutes, put them into a mixing bowl big enough to hold them and the marinade.

Making the marinade

  • Put all the marinade’s ingredients into a microwave-proof bowl. Stir well, then place the bowl in the microwave and microwave it for two minutes. After that, give the marinade a really good stir, then microwave it again for another two minutes. This heating will rapidly pull out all the marinade’s flavors. Also, the marinade is now going to be pretty hot. Good, that’s ideal. That heat means it’s going to get into the olives – quickly.

Bringing it all together

  • Pour all the hot marinade over the dry olives in the mixing bowl and give the whole lot a thorough, but gentle stir. And I mean gentle. Stir it just enough so that all the olives get coated – inside and out – with the marinade. Done.
  • Pour the whole contents of the mixing bowl into a tight-lidded container that will hold about 800 ml (1.7 pint) and put the container into the refrigerator.


In the refrigerator, the olives will be fine for at least two weeks. My bet? You’ll have eaten the lot within two days.


Calories: 52kcalCarbohydrates: 1gProtein: 1gFat: 5gSaturated Fat: 1gSodium: 499mgPotassium: 13mgFiber: 1gSugar: 1gVitamin A: 118IUVitamin C: 1mgCalcium: 16mgIron: 1mg
Keyword Cayenne Pepper
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UPDATE NOTICE: This post was updated on July 7, 2024 to include new content.
4.34 from 3 votes (3 ratings without comment)
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The recipe doesn’t have enough liquid to cover the olives. Should there not be water in the ingredients?