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We sat down with an etiquette expert to solve the age-old olive pit conundrum.

September 07, 2017

Olives are a staple at many social gatherings and a common pre-dinner snack at Spanish tapas restaurants and bars. When soaked in citrusy olive oil or tossed in herbs, they make a rewarding nosh, but how to handle the pits? Olive fanatics will be the first to say that olives with the pits intact have more flavor. The debate remains, though, surrounding how to properly pop an olive into your mouth, eat the flesh and remove the pit from your mouth without looking ridiculous. Is gnawing around the pit appropriate? Does the entire olive go into the mouth, and then the pit somehow magically disappears? Do you nonchalantly place the pit into your hand when finished? Or do you just not swallow them because all the other options seem too daunting?

Don’t worry, you’re not alone in your confusion. We asked Maggie Oldham, a modern etiquette coach, several burning questions about olives—so consider this a foolproof guide to olive-eating in public.

Disguise the discarding of the pit. 

Cocktail party spreads often consist of Italy’s most prized culinary possessions: cured meats, cheeses and olives. In the case of a salumi platter, Oldham says it’s appropriate to pick up the olive with your fingers. “Eat around the pit, then take the pit out with your fingers while using your free hand to cup your mouth to 'hide' the discarding of the pit,” she says.

Use your fork to your advantage.

A proper Greek salad typically contains a pitted olive component, so you should try this manoeuver: “Place the olive in your mouth using your fork, eat around the pit, then discard the pit by pushing it onto the prongs of your fork using your tongue,” Oldham says.

No pit bowl? No worries.

When hors d'oeuvres are passed, a pit bowl may or may not be in the vicinity. If there isn’t one, stay calm. Oldham says it’s completely acceptable to place the pits on the side of your plate—or to fold the pits into a disposable napkin and hand off to a server when passing by.

Use a toothpick, or the thumb and index finger.

“The elegant way to eat an olive with a pit is to simply pick it up with a toothpick (if one is provided) or with your thumb and index finger, place it in your mouth, close your mouth, gently chew around the pit (gently so as not to crack a tooth), then discard the pit by using your thumb and index finger—while keeping your mouth as closed as possible,” she says.

Size matters.

For small olives, place the whole olive in your mouth, chew around the pit and discard. For large olives, try using a knife and fork to cut the flesh off. If that doesn’t seem to work, “take one bite around the pit, chew and swallow that bite, then place the remaining bit of the olive (pit included) into your mouth and chew around the pit,” discarding of the pit when finished.

Never gnaw around the pit in public.

This is a big no, unless it’s a large olive, in which case one small bite will be taken—elegantly, of course. Otherwise, “It's bad etiquette to visibly gnaw or nibble around a pit,” Oldham says. (This comes as devastating news to us.)

Cocktail napkins are key.

Not only will a cocktail napkin keep fingers from becoming oily and slippery while devouring, but they allow you to get rid of pits in a discreet, concealed manner.