Manzanilla olives, or manzanillo or Spanish olives, as they are also known, refer to both the certain olive trees and to a particular manner of preparing the fruit, which is also known as olives. Olive trees are evergreens that are prized for the fruit they bear. Although these olives are sometimes called Spanish olives, not all Spanish olive trees produce them.
Olive trees have different properties: while some produce fruit that is ideal for oil extraction, others are grown for the table or for cooking, and yet others are multipurpose, with fruit that can be both harvested for the table and pressed for oil as well.
All table olives must be cured before being eaten. The curing process rids them of oleuropein, a component that makes them so bitter as to be inedible. Curing is usually done in a solution using water, brine and lye, or by packing in salt, and the manner of curing affects texture, color, and flavor. The curing method is also responsible for the name the olive is given as a food product that you can buy in the store.
Another variation in the resulting product is when the olives are picked: unripe olives are harvested when still green; brownish or black olives have been left on the tree to ripen, giving them a less dense and less bitter taste. There are many different styles of olive preparation, and manzanilla olives are one of the types that are picked unripe.
There are many types of olives that are only found in specialty sections or in delis. Manzanilla olives are not of this sort: they are typically found on the standard grocery shelf in glass jars, near to the cans of pitted and unpitted black olives and typically in an aisle with other salad and salad-dressing products.
Olives range in size from small to very large. Manzanilla olives are in the small to medium-size range. Manzanilla olives are available whole or pitted, in which case they may be stuffed, often with pimento and sometimes with garlic.
Manzanilla olives are often seen in appetizers, for example, in antipasto. They are de rigueur in martinis and the luncheon meat referred to as “olive loaf,” and are also used to garnish other items. They are frequently added to Arroz con pollo (a Spanish chicken and rice dish), though in cooked dishes, they should be added towards the end of any cooked food preparation to avoid having them become unpleasantly bitter through the cooking process.