Olive oil is super trendy right now, if such a thing can be said of a truly ancient food.
Hot new brands have been popping up on social media with plenty of sponsored content. Their eyecatching bottles and cute names like Brightland “Awake” and Graza “Drizzle” show up on the shelves of celebrity chefs. Drama between these two brands was covered in the New York Times and watched like Wimbledon.
Suddenly it’s sexy to discover, drizzle, and bake with extra-virgin olive oil.
The dark side? These newcomer brands are working the angle that there’s something you can’t trust about traditional olive oil. They promise their oils are superior not only in flavor and production quality but also traceability to their sources.
But are they?
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Brightland calls itself “Drizzled in sunshine. Dipped in truth.” Graza’s claim is “Always fresh, never blended, (real) EVOO.” Kosterina advertises that its oil is about “Ancient Ingredients. Modern Superpowers,” and its founder claims to have “discovered that the majority of the olive oils here in the US are not what they say they are.” And their prices are as high or higher than many traditional premium brands.
Packaging and provocative claims aside, these oils have brought growing numbers of home cooks to enjoy olive oil, which is a good thing. So we wanted to see how they actually tasted.
How We Tasted
After we’d sampled nearly two dozen traditional premium olive oils from around the world, rating and describing their flavor, we took our three top-scoring favorites and tasted them alongside three of the most prominent new brands.
We removed all packaging and labels; samples were randomized and assigned three-digit codes to prevent bias. Tasters did not know the brands or the purpose of the tasting.
The three favorite premium oils, all longtime estate-grown, family-owned brands, included:
- Castelines Classic AOP Vallée des Baux de Provence Extra Virgin Olive Oil from France
- Castillo de Canena Reserva Familiar Picual from Spain
- McEvoy Ranch Organic Extra Virgin Olive Oil from California.
Our three “social media-famous” oils were:
The upshot? Tasters rated traditional brands significantly higher than the newer brands. Only Kosterina got close, tying with one of the traditional brands. While the new brands originated in three different countries and were made from three different olives, they shared a trait that several tasters noted: Their aromas were enticing, but the flavor didn’t sustain that initial appeal, failing to build and bloom the way the traditional favorites had. As one taster put it, these oils were: “Nice, but not particularly special.”
So we wouldn’t go out of our way to seek them out—especially given that their prices are on par with far more flavorful (and higher ranked by our tasters) traditional premium olive oils. We’re also not on board with their marketing. Joseph R. Profaci, executive director of the North American Olive Oil Association (NAOOA) agreed: “I find these brands promoting the idea that theirs is great and everything else is crap, or fake. It just does a disservice to the whole industry. It makes people feel that if they can’t afford a $40 half liter of oil, (they) had better not buy any olive oil. And nothing can be further from the truth.”
We did enjoy using the soft plastic squeeze bottle that held Graza Drizzle, which made it easy to dispense, as well as its clear, instructional marketing of the two oils in its line as “Sizzle” for cooking and “Drizzle” for finishing. (By contrast, the names of Brightland’s pair of oils, “Awake” and “Alive,” were more aspirational than helpful.)
If you want to dispense your favorite olive oil into a squeeze bottle for ease of use, here is our tested winning squeeze bottle, which is endlessly reusable and dishwasher-safe.
For more information about traditional premium olive oil, including our tasters’ impressions of the three brands compared here, see our recent olive oil tasting. Here’s what our tasters had to say about the new brands, listed in order of preference.
Kosterina Original Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Price: $29.99 for 16.9 oz ($1.77 per oz)
- Source: Whole Foods Markets
- Origin: Greece
- Olives: Koroneiki
- Comments: “Buttery, smooth, clean and with a medium spicy finish,” this Greek oil was likable though it had “pretty mild flavor” that one called “somewhat weak.” It “starts off with an astringent punch that quickly subsides,” “nothing extremely remarkable about this flavor. Very middle of the road,” “it’s OK, but not bowling me over.” One wrote: “There’s nothing wrong, but also not much to recommend this one. The flavor isn’t just mild, it’s absent.”
Graza Drizzle Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Price: $19.99 for 16.9 oz ($1.18 per oz)
- Source: Whole Foods Markets
- Origin: Spain
- Olives: Picual
- Comments: Tasters loved this oil’s bright green color, and some found it “pleasant," “peppery, delicious.” But several others noted that it was “not as peppery as (the) green color would indicate,” finding it “lighter on the palate than some,” “mild,” and “a little one-note.” As one put it: “Meh, except for looks.”
Brightland Awake Extra Virgin Olive Oil
- Price: $37.00 for 375 ml/12.7 oz ($2.91 per oz)
- Source: Brightland.co
- Origin: California
- Olives: Arbequina
- Comments: “Very thick and buttery” with a “grassy and green start,” this oil smelled appealing but then most tasters noted that it had “not a lot of flavor impact.” “I liked it at first, but upon a second taste, I disliked it.” “Mild. Barely any flavor,” and “nary a touch of peppery bite.” In sum: “Nice, but not particularly special.” Recently, this brand dialed back its frequent claims that traditional olive oil is “rotten, rancid or adulterated” and made the founder sick, after an inquiry from the National Advertising Division of the Better Business Bureau.