Dirty Martini cocktail with one olive in the glass

Some say the olive is the best part of a martini. Martini drinkers often claim that garnishing the beverage with olives gives it an extra kick of flavor. Cocktail party-goers insist that the simple olive garnish turns gin and vermouth into a martini.

The Facts

Single woman drinking dry martini alone in a bar

The olive has its positive health effects, but it's hardly the reason why it's a necessary ingredient in a great martini. Bar olives used in the drink are preserved in brine and their salty flavor alters the taste of the drink. Martinis are typically garnished with three olives; any additional are served on the side. Many recipes for the classic cocktail recommend using gourmet olives to embellish the drink.

Eating Martini Olives

Martini with olives.

Dedicated martini drinkers savor the olives at the end of the drink. Olives soak up some of the gin and vermouth, giving them a unique taste. When the drink comes with more than one olive, martini lovers typically eat one olive with the first sip, using a cocktail pick or just swallowing. The second or last olive is swallowed with the last of the drink.


Barman adding salt into a strong martini cocktail

There is no definitive story on the creation of the martini, but folklore suggests the drink was first mixed during the California Gold Rush. “In 1849, a miner struck it rich and was returning to San Francisco. The miner, arriving in Martinez, the first large town he hit, wanted to celebrate. He walked into our leading bar and asked for champagne," according to the City of Martinez website. Champagne was not available. "However, the bartender told him (the miner) that he had something much better than champagne and served a drink which the bartender said was a ‘Martinez Special’. The miner liked the drink and ordered for the house. Over a period of years the name Martinez became martini.”

Types of Martini Olives

Classic Dry Martini with olives.

No matter what type of olive you use, always use fresh ones. Old olives will ruin a martini. There are countless types of olives that can be added to a martini. In addition to the typical bar cocktail olive, gourmet olives stuffed with garlic, blue cheese, onion, anchovies or almonds may also be used to give a martini a more distinctive flavor.


Couple with martinis
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Recipes that call for cocktail onions instead of olives do not make a true martini; they make a Gibson. The olive garnish is what makes the martini cocktail. When other garnishes are used, it becomes an entirely different beverage.