Skip to Content

The 9 Best Substitutes for Nicoise Olives

Nicoise Olives are the perfect addition to many dishes. However, they are not something many people keep on hand. The key issue in finding a replacement is that some dishes just aren’t the same without the salty component that Nicoise olives add. Because of that, so a viable substitute can be tricky to find.

In this article, I will list the most similar substitutes that will reasonably replace Nicoise. Please read on to learn more.

French salad Nicoise with tuna

1. Kalamata Olives

Kalamata olives seem to be the most popular and common substitute for Nicoise Olives. A variant of black olives, they are typically used in Mediterranean dishes. They have a firm texture with a slightly fruity and rich flavor.

These almond-shaped and purple-colored olives must be hand-picked in the fall (typically in order to avoid bruising. They cannot be harvested green, unlike some other varieties.

These olives can be found at your local grocery store or even online. Sometimes, they will be marketed as Kalamon olives if they are grown outside of the Kalamata region of Greece, which is their namesake. Regardless, they should taste nearly identical to their authentic counterparts if they have been harvested properly.

While Kalamata olives are the most common substitute olive when replacing Nicoise ones, a slight difference between the two olives is their flavor. Part of the process of making Kalamata olives table-ready involves the elimination of its typical bitter flavor, making it slightly sweet and fruity.

There are two different ways to debitter Kalamata olives, the long and short ones, respectively.

  1. The short method utilizes water or a weak brine to debitter the olives. This brine or water is switched out on a daily basis for a week or so.
  2. When using the long method, the olives are slitted and placed in a strong brine, sometimes for up to three months.

One of the best things about this olive is its meaty texture, making it a great addition to any recipe. While the olives are much less bitter after undergoing either of these processes, they typically retain some trace amounts of polyphenol. This means they will still have a marginally bitter taste.

Kalamata olives are great in salads, pasta, pizza, and dressings. They are also very good in classic Mediterranean dishes such as Greek salad, or in a tapenade to be spread on pita bread. They also are excellent as a snack when served with feta cheese. Just make sure that they have been pitted before using them in a recipe.

A shelf at the grocery with Kalamata olives

Related The 9 Best Types of Olives for Salads.

2. Green Olives

Another good substitute for Nicoise olives is the classic Green Olive. Also referred to as “Spanish Olives,” these are typically found on top of a martini glass and are typically sold in glass jars instead of cans.

A great element of this substitute is that they are readily available you can find them in any grocery store, or you might just have some in your fridge or pantry

Green olives are picked before they are ripe, and while they are cured to remove bitterness, they do maintain a strong flavor similar to Nicoise olives. Both of these olives have a briny taste which makes them a great competitor as a substitute.

One cool fact is that green olives are ever so slightly healthier than Nicoise. This is due to the higher proportion of polyphenols contained within green olives. Polyphenols, of course, are a type of compound that makes green olives bitter in the first place. Funnily enough, it is this same type of compound that makes certain types of coffee taste bitter.

Due to their similar flavor, this is the perfect substitute because it will blend into the dish you are making just as a Nicoise olive. They will add the perfect amount of flavor punch to many dishes.

A shelf at the grocery with green and kalamata olives

Related 15 Best Similar Substitutes for Kale.

3. Capers

Like green olives, Capers are also harvested before they are ripe. However, unlike green or any other kind of olive, capers do not come from a tree at all. Capers are harvested from a spiky bush known as “Capparis spinosa.” The capers that you will typically find at a grocery store are actually just unripened green flower buds.

As part of their preparation process, they can be brined or dried. For the purpose of substituting for Nicoise olives, it is probably best that you choose brined Capers rather than dried ones. This is because the brine used to prepare Capers is very similar to the one used to prepare Nicoise olives.

Additionally, capers make a good substitute for Nicoise because they have a similar salty and somewhat sour flavor. They have also been described as having a salty, savory, and even floral taste to them.

Their unique flavor and firm texture make a great substitute in salads or cold food appetizers. Capers are often used in seafood dishes in the Mediterranean, and in the U.S., they often accompany or are included in various spreads for things like bagels.

Capers are also similar to olives in terms of nutritional value, as they are packed with vitamins A, E, and K. However, just like olives, they come with a lot of sodium thanks to the brine solution they are placed in.

Just be careful what you buy. Capers should not be mistaken for caperberries, which are what capers grow into if they are not plucked when still unripened. Caperberries are nearly identical in size to olives but have a much different flavor. This makes them unsuitable as a substitute for any sort of olive, like the Nicoise olive.

Jars of capers on a grocery store shelf

4. Anchovies

This seems like such an odd choice for a Nicoise olive, but several sources recommend it, and for good reason. This is due to their umami flavor. They are also very easy to find in local grocery stores.

Anchovies are a primary ingredient in olive tapenade which is why they are such a great contender as a substitute. Another reason why they are the perfect substitute is that they are just as salty as Nicoise olives. Even just a little bit of anchovies will create the same salty flavor that the olives do.

If you looking for Nicoise olive substitutes in the hopes of creating a healthy dish, then you will be happy to know that Anchoives, like olives, are considered to be quite healthy when eaten in small doses. Anchovies provide an abundant amount of omega-3 fatty acids, which aid in maintaining good eye and heart health.

It is important to add that you should be careful with the number of anchovies you use. A few anchovies will go a long way, and the intense umami flavor can become too powerful in dishes like a salad. Anchovies can go great in things like pasta and pizza as a substitute for Nicoise olives.

A skillet of fresh anchovies

Related The 9 Best Types of Steak for Salad.

5. Picholine Olives

Picholine Olives are a variety of green olive that comes from the Gard region of France, although it is now also grown in the United States, Morocco, Chile, Israel, and other places. They have a somewhat tart and acidic flavor, an ovoid shape, and a low to medium oil content.

They are small and have a firm and crisp texture, much like Nicoise olives, and they are commonly used as a garnish or an additive to salads and antipasto platters.

They can be used as a Nicoise olive substitute in plenty of recipes. Although they are pretty similar, Nicoise olives are larger and have a more mild taste. When you are using these olives as a substitute, it is important to add them in early so that the cooking process has time to mellow out the flavor.

These relatively rare olives are great table olives (just like Nicoise olives) and work great in a Nicoise salad.

6. Pickled Onions

The acidic taste of pickled onions resembles the briny flavor of Nicoise olives. Although they do not have the same hint of fruity flavor, they make a good replacement, having been stored in a salt and vinegar solution along with other various preservatives and flavorings.

Pickled onions are tangy, a tad sweet, and crunchy, which means that they will make for a similarly salty but uniquely crisp taste and texture as a Nicoise olive substitute.

Whether the onions are red, white, or even shallots, the strong flavor is a great additive to enhance something like a Nicoise salad.

They can also be used as a substitute in dishes like sandwiches, salsas, salads, and dressings, or to be used with other ingredients as a pizza topping.

Another bonus is that pickled onions are also relatively easy to make at home and are more economical than some of the rarer varieties of olives on this list.

An open jar of pickled onions

Related The 8 Best Substitutes for Red Onion in Salads.

7. Cerignola Olives

Cerignola olives are large in size and have a meaty texture. They also have a somewhat nutty and both salty and sweet taste, with a good hint of bitterness. They are somewhat buttery in flavor as well.

These can be used as a substitute for Nicoise olives, and they are especially good in salads or when used as appetizers. They come in both green, black, and even red varieties, although the red versions are simply dyed. They have a high oil content, which means that they are mainly used to make olive oil. Originally from Cerignola, Italy, these olives are substantial in size compared to many other varieties.

An important detail to remember when using these olives as a substitute for Nicoise is that you should use the same amount or less as you would Nicoise olives. Otherwise, the recipe may turn out too salty or bitter.

Due to their firm texture and distinct flavor, Cerignola olives make for a great substitute in any dish. These olives are excellent when paired with cheeses as a table olive.

8. Gaeta Olives

Named after the town of Gaeta in southern Italy, these olives are a good substitute for Nicoise olives due to their similar taste and texture. The only difference is that they have a sweeter flavor.

In place of Nicoise olives, all you have to do is pit them and add them in! Gaeta olives pack in all of the flavors of Nicoise without the bitterness.

These olives are a lot smaller than, say, the Cerignola variety, and are typically black or purple in color. They are great in seafood dishes and in salads, and they also make great table olives as part of an appetizer dish when accompanied by cheese.

9. Castelvetrano Olives

Castelvetrano olives, grown on the island of Sicily, are not the first option for a Nicoise olive substitute because they have their own distinct flavor and texture.

Although they are firm like Nicoise olives, they are mainly known for their creamy and buttery taste. This difference is what makes them a little lower on the list of substitutes. Their flavor has been compared to green beans, and to black California olives.

Many will actually prefer these over Nicoise olives if you don’t like the briny flavor of the latter, as they taste unlike any other olive.

Although they seem very different from Nicoise olives, many people use Castelvetrano substitute for Nicoise olives, specifically for salads. They also make a good substitute in various kinds of pasta and even pizza.

They are a very crisp variety of olive and may just become your new favorite if you give them a chance.

A shelf at the grocery with Castelvetrano olives

I hope this list has been helpful.

Thanks for stoppin’ by!

For more, don’t miss The 9 Best and Most Similar Cabbage Substitutes.