Olives, The Perfect Food for Parties and Games

The easiest foods to serve at large gatherings are appetizers. Finger foods help guests feel comfortable as they eat and mingle. And if you’re incorporating a game into the mix, then bite-sized morsels assist in permitting people to nibble while they interact over board and card games.

Appetizer recipes abound, but if you’re more of an eater than a cook, serving foods like olives provide a beautiful and ready-made offering. And dispersing olives as well as a selection of other tasty tidbits throughout the night promotes guests to flow rather than converge near the buffet table.

Olives as an hors-d'oeuvre display well, too, and stand up appealingly throughout an event.

Olives come in a variety of colors and sizes and always look elegant. Check out the specialty food area of your grocery, and there is usually an olive bar with a wide assortment—from exotic options marinating in zesty sauces to those stuffed with cheese, peppers and garlic.

But for some people, olives are an acquired taste, and many have found they don’t like them.

Until recently, I thought I was in that camp but always wished I could include them in my food library. Somewhere along the way, I decided the strong acrid flavor as well as the texture of olives was unpleasant, and never broached trying them again.

Of course, I limited my olive experience to those green ones found in the jarred food section of the super market. Typically, these are a Spanish variety called Manzanillas that come stuffed with pimentos. I sampled them maybe once and made my decision. Over time, I found I could enjoy olives on pizza or in antipasti, but generally, I veered clear of eating them solo.


At a recent family gathering, as we noshed on appetizers before dinner, I noticed my 5-year-old granddaughter Athena pop several olives into her mouth. I marveled that her young taste buds found olives delicious while I, so much older, had not evolved to include them in my food repertoire.

Perhaps it’s her name. Athena, after all, is the Greek goddess attributed with gifting humans the olive. Or perhaps it was her preference carried forward by her father, who is named Oliver—a derivative of the word. Of course, the most likely reason is that she finds them delicious. 

Athena made them look so appealing that night that I decided to give olives another try. I ate one and then another Kalamata and found I liked them.

In a flash, I was the character in Dr. Seuss’s Green Eggs and Ham, a convert smacking my lips enthusiastically. “Oh, happy me. I do like Olives, Sam! And I will eat them here or there. And I will eat them anywhere!”  


  • Keep foods bite-sized. A slice of hot, tomato and cheese lasagna will leave a string of cheese draping from guest’s chins and be hard to eat with cards or game pieces in-hand.

  • Stick to robust dips. Some salsas and sauces are a pain. How does anyone contend with scooping thin salsa onto a chip from the flat surface of a plate?  

  • Main dishes are for dinner tables! Hot substantial dishes and soups usually are too much to balance for someone on the move at a party.


So again, I’m an olive convert, and in keeping with the idea that they are great for gatherings, I went on a quest to learn more about them and determine which ones I’d like to serve at my next party.

I found Michael Joseph’s post on Nutrition Advance detailing 26 varieties to be helpful. Factoid takeaways:

  • The difference between the green and black olives is the level to which they are ripened at harvest. More dark equals riper.

  • The chemical property oleuropein is what makes olives so strong and bitter. If they are not cured they are inedible.

With Athena as my olive sidekick, we sampled an assortment of olives from our local Whole Foods Grocery Store and here is what we discovered:

The Whole Foods Olive Bar in Des Moines, Iowa

The Whole Foods Olive Bar in Des Moines, Iowa

  • Black olives taste milder than the green ones.

  • Kalamatas are our absolute favorite although some of the others we sampled and liked included:

Grilled Green: Grandma approved, but not so much Athena.

Sicilian pitted: Mild. We liked them.

Castelvetrano: Two thumbs down. Really strong.

Athena shows off an olive.

Athena shows off an olive.

Black Cerignola: These are quite large. I was most nervous about trying this one as it was the first we sampled, but learned the black olives were generally milder to taste.

Black olives are ripe!

Black olives are ripe!

  • Mix olives together with other flavors. Even the stronger olives would probably be fine if they are served with bread, cheese and meats—and that other food group, pizza.

If you’ve decided to host a party then enjoy the benefits of a successful gathering with the right dishes. Helping people feel welcomed and comfortable to interact can be done with appetizers like olives stationed throughout your space. Whether you like olives or are still working to expand your pallet, or just want to serve olives at your event to encourage people talk while eating, you’ll have a memorable event. 

We are biased, but think “Tell Me Another” makes for a great way to encourage great conversation through the magic of storytelling. What might be your answer to the Tell Me Another prompt seen here?

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