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Liquid Olives Recipe

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This molecular gastronomy recipe is another creation of Ferran Adria and el Bulli team. This is one of the first reverse spherification dishes that was introduced at el Bulli in 2005. The spherical olives are based on green olive juice.

The key of this recipe is to find olives that have a great quality juice that tastes great. These olives are not necessary the best olives for eating so try a few varieties until you find the one you like the most. The first time I made this recipe I made the mistake of using average quality olives and the taste was pretty bad. El Bulli recommends Verdial olives, which are thick-skinned, medium to large-sized olives grown for their oil.

Spherical olives (spherification) -720

I used Greek Mt. Athos olives with garlic and herbs and the taste was delicious. Just keep in mind that the spherification process is not going to make the juice taste better so try it before you start with the process.

Spherical Olive Ingredients

- 200 g (7 oz) of olive juice (about 500 g of depitted green olives)

- 0.75 g xanthan

- 2 g (1%) calcium lactate gluconate (this is not required in the original recipe from el Bulli but I had to add it to make the spherification process work)

Alginate Bath

- 1500 g (35 oz) of water

- 7.5 g sodium alginate

Aromatized Virgin Olive Oil

- Extra virgin olive oil

- Lemon peel

- Fresh thyme sprigs

- Fresh rosemary sprigs

- Garlic cloves

- Black peppercorns

Spherical olives macerating-720


Start by preparing the alginate bath. Mix the sodium alginate in the water using an immersion blender until the sodium alginate is completely dissolved. If this is your first time doing this, be aware that this may take longer than expected. Let it rest for 24 hours in the fridge so that the air that has entered the mixture disappears and the sodium alginate is completely rehydrated.

To prepare the olive juice, puree the depitted olives with a hand mixer and strain the puree through a superbag pressing with the hands. You can try using a blender but because there is no liquid, I couldn't make it work using my Cuisinart blender. If you don’t have a superbag, you can use a chinois / strainer lined with cheese cloth. In this case you'll have to press the olive puree with a spatula to get all the juice out. I found it easier to go through the pressing process in small batches but this would depend on the size of your strainer.

Mix the calcium lactate gluconate with the olive juice and then add the xanthan and leave to hydrate for 1 minute. Mix with a blender at medium speed and let it stand in the fridge for 10 minutes. Check the density of the olive juice. It should be dense like a thick sauce. If you scoop up some olive juice and pour it on the surface of the olive juice in the container, it shouldn't flatten completely right away. If it is too liquid, add some Xanthan in small increments of 0.2 g and repeat the process. Keep in the fridge for 24 hours.

For the aromatized olive oil, crush the garlic lightly and fry it in 20% of the oil you are planning to use to marinate the olives without letting the garlic color. Add the rest of the oil and once it is warm, add the rest of the ingredients. Keep in a sealed container in a cool dry place.

You are now ready to start creating the spheres! Remove the alginate bath from the fridge. Scoop the olive mixture with a half sphere 5ml measure spoon and carefully pour it into the alginate bath. It is important that the spherical olives don’t touch since they would stick together. Leave the spherical olives "cooking" for about 2½ minutes in the alginate bath and then carefully remove it using a slotted spoon. Then rinse them very gently with water, strain them carefully and place them, not touching each other, in the aromatized oil. Keep in the fridge for 12 hours. To improve the technique read 10 Tips to Create a Perfect Sphere.

Serving suggestions 

- Serve on appetizer spoons or Chinese soup spoons

- Serve next to traditional olives. It is fun to compare the flavors.

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  • Seejanecook

    how long can they be stored in oil for?

    • Anonymous

      I’ve stored them for 2 or 3 days without any problems.

      • edward yu

        Hi all,

        Can I use that Alginate Bath again and again too save the $$$$$.
        Hope someone can let me know.

        • QuantumChef

          Yes, just kept it up to a few days in the fridge. Pass it through a sieve if there are some particles left from a broken sphere.

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  • Dan

    Thank you for the detailed recipe, I will definitely give it a go! Do you know how long the alginate bath can be kept for in the fridge, and can it be re-used?

    • Anonymous

      I’ve kept it up to a couple of days in the fridge without any problems. Just pass it through a sieve if there are some particles left from a broken sphere.

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  • Blockbonn

    Hi, first of all thanks for putting this great page togeher. Its a great inspiration for people like me to study more about this kind of cooking. I tried reverse spherifiaction yesterday with cherries and the recipe that I found on the net required 6.25 gr od Calcium Lactate (I used Texturas Calcic) on 250 gr of chrry puree. I figured out already that this is too much due to the overpowering metal and bitter taste in the sphere. In these rever spherification reciped here you mention that it actually doesnt require any calcium lactate. Is this for all liquids like this or does it depend on some factor? Do you have any decent recipe for cherry spheres? I am workig on a recipe that reuqires a take on chocolate and cherry so cherry spheres would be a beautifl addition.

  • Eric

    Thanks for a great explanation of the recipe! I attempted this myself a few days ago. I had some problems, because the olives became very flat when I removed them from the bath. They looked great in the alginat/rinsing baths, but when I placed them on a spoon they became very flat. Is there anything I can do to counter this?

    Secondly, doesn’t the original recipe use any calcium at all? I found the recipe and it says that it uses CALCIC. Isn’t that pure calcium chloride? I substituted it for calcium lactate.

    • QuantumChef

      Store the spheres in olive oil for a day or two and they will not flatten as much. Alternatively you can add more Xanthan or keep them in the bath a little longer to create a thicker membrane.

      Yes, Calcic is calcium chloride but it is not used for reverse spherification because it is too salty.

  • Eric

    Thanks for the tip! I’m gonna try to store them in oil for a while. I tried to add more Xanthan, and kept them in the bath longer, but it didnt help.

    I looked at the recipe from the el bulli CD from 2005. It says to use 1.25g of Texturas Calcic. I was surprised since I too thought it was too salty to be mixed with the food.

  • Stacker

    Spherical olives…hmmm. Is there another kind? Don’t get it…

  • Trevor Mullen

    how many spherical olives will this recipe make?

    • QuantumChef

      Probably around a couple of dozens.

  • Jared Weisman

    I can’t preview the pictures I posted (I’ll attempt to repost if it didn’t work), but I was wondering if you had any further advice for getting the olives to stop from flattening out. I had read what’s posted below about adding xanthan and allowing more setting and storage time, but I still had that issue. They looked great in the baths, but put them on the spoon and poof. Just keep adding more xanthan in the future?


  • Jared Weisman

    Is the solution to flattening just keep adding xanthan? I had gone up to 0.95g last time I made these but they would still flatten on the spoon a bit. I tried marinating them longer and allowing them to set a little longer, but it didn’t seem to help much. Should I just keep going with the xanthan?


    • QuantumChef

      Probably not, it will start tasting bad. When you are marinating them, are the spheres floating in oil? You should be generous with the oil. Also, they will always flatten a little so if you are looking for a perfect sphere that will never happen. Do you have some pics?

      • Jared Weisman

        They do appear to be floating from the pictures I have. I can try adding more oil next time. I’ve also attached a picture of what Jose Andres’ version looked like when I had it at é; it seemed much more stiff/stable.

        • QuantumChef

          Yep, they don’t look too bad in the oil. Maybe you just need to leave them a little longer in the alginate bath to create a thicker membrane.

          • Jared Weisman

            I think it turns out that EVOO for whatever reason is key in keeping the spheres from falling flat. I made these (along with 11 other courses for 8 people so I couldn’t take pictures on the spoons) tonight and they held up really well. I did use 0.95g xanthan, but I’m not sure it was even necessary.


          • QuantumChef

            Glad it worked out!!

  • Heather Mandy H

    How can this be adapted for a Martini? I’m thinking just skip the oil, but otoh I’m not sure on taste. Mostly I’m looking to just make a good, old classic martini, not a chocolate apple one or something.

    • QuantumChef

      Are you thinking of placing this liquid olive inside a martini? That should work. Like you said, just skip the oil.

      • Heather Mandy H

        Yeah. Though I’m also considering doing it in the caviar for a more diffused look. I’m just not sure how it would change the taste.

        Also, if we can pre-make these, how do we store them? Or any other kind of reverse-spheres.

  • Ra’s Al Ghul

    Hi, chef!

    I love this website. I’ve been experimenting with several ingredients and will get your kits anytime soon.

    You listed in the ingredients session “2 g (1%) calcium lactate gluconate”. I have both calcium lactate and clacium gluconate, separately. Should I add 1g of each or just 2g of one of them?

    Thank for the recipes and help! :)

  • Phoebe Leung

    hi, does that mean the spheres will have to be consumed in 1 to 2 days ?