A pimento is probably the most recognizable item that is stuffed in a green olive, but it’s not really known why or when this practice started in the first place. It’s believed that the first olives stuffed with pimentos happened sometime in the 1700s in the Provence region of France, and the pimento might have been used to cut the bitterness of the olive.
Pimentos are a very mild variety of chili peppers and are also known as cherry peppers. But pimentos aren’t the only things stuffed in green olives. You can find green olives stuffed with onions, garlic, blue cheese, anchovies, almonds, or a variety of different peppers.
While the question of why pimentos were first put in olives is fuzzy, how they get inserted into green olives is thankfully more clear. Olives straight from the tree are inedible. To make them edible, the green olives are placed in a brine and fermented for about nine months. When they are ready, the olives are placed in a sorting machine and then aligned to go through a pitting machine that will remove the pits of olives at the rate of 900 per minute. A coring knife pushes the pit out of one end of the olive, leaving a hole on one side and an “X” or “star” shape on the other. Next comes stuffing the olive with the pimento.
Up until the 1960s, pimentos were stuffed into olives by hand, a very time-consuming process. Today, the process is mechanized but not in all cases. Higher-end olives are still stuffed by hand, while lower-end olives are stuffed by a machine. To accomplish this, pimentos are puréed, and a natural gum is added so the mixture can be made into tiny strips. The pimento strips are then cut and stuffed into the olive mechanically. As a comparison, it would take 20 workers all day stuffing by hand to equal the number of olives the machine can stuff in one hour.