What Is Tapenade?

If you don’t really know anything about it, tapenade comes off as some fancy food in an ‘80s comedy that the rich villains eat to signify how out of touch they are. The down-to-earth hero is offered some and they’re like, “Ew, yuck! Tapenade? Get out of my face!” And we all cheer because he’s sticking it to those snobs! 

But let’s all grow up and admit that tapenade is good. Sure, there are people out there that just don’t like olives and will always hate anything containing olives. To those people I say, you’re wrong. Olives are good and tapenade is good. But what is tapenade, exactly? What is in tapenade? What is tapenade used for? I’m glad you asked! Let’s tap into some tapenade answers!

What is olive tapenade?

Tapenade is a condiment or spread consisting of chopped olives, capers, and sometimes anchovies. Any time anchovies get mentioned, controversy follows. Whether they’re being used as a pizza topping or to make caesar salad dressing, anchovies are a great way to pack in the umami but they aren’t for everyone. You don’t have to use them in your tapenade. So stop whining about them. 

Tapenade goes back to ancient Roman times. Roman writings document several similar chopped olive dishes preserved with anchovy or vinegar. But the modern tapenade condiment is believed to have begun in 1880 in Marseille, France. So now, tapenade is closely associated with French cuisine. In fact, the name tapenade comes from the Provençal word for capers, tapenas. Tapenade is a super common hors d’oeuvre throughout the south of France. Hors d’oeuvre is a fancy, Euro way to say appetizer. 

What is in olive tapenade?

We know that tapenade is made from olives, capers, and sometimes anchovies, but does anything else go in there? These days, there are all sorts of tapenade recipes. Really, the only consistent ingredient is olives. Old school, trad tapenade was almost always made with black olives, usually Niçoise or Nyon olives. But these days folks like to mix it up with green olives. Capers are almost always in tapenade; the dish needs their briny flavor. Lemon juice and olive oil are common ingredients as well. You can find tapenade made with garlic, basil, parsley, and even sun-dried tomatoes. And you can always keep your tapenade vegan by leaving out the little salty fish. 

What is tapenade used for?

So, you made a big bowl of tapenade. Now what? Do you just eat it by itself with a spoon? Hey, you can. No judgment. But if you want to be a little more socially acceptable, serve tapenade as an appetizer alongside some crackers or crostini. Tapenade can liven up a sandwich, hard-boiled eggs, pizza, salad, or it can be a nice accompaniment to a cheese plate. You can get really French and serve tapenade over some fish or use it to stuff some chicken. 

About the Author

Will Morgan

Will Morgan, a freelance contributor to Sporked, is an L.A. based writer, actor, and sketch comedy guy. Originally from Houston, TX, he strongly believes in the superiority of breakfast tacos to breakfast burritos. Will traveled the world as one of those people that did yoyo shows at elementary school assemblies, always making a point to find local and regional foods to explore in whatever place he was, even in rinky-dink towns like Tilsonberg, ON. Will spends his birthdays at Benihana’s. Let him know if can make it.

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