Why Are There so Many Craft Olive Oil Brands?
Here’s what you should look for when buying olive oil.
It feels like a new olive oil brand emerges every week. They arrive in glass bottles, fancy tins, or plastic squeeze bottles all touting similar phrasing: Our olive oil is the freshest, the best oil to cook with, can take your salad vinaigrette to the next level, and is a lot healthier than canola oil. While all these statements may be true, it’s hard to navigate this expanding world of olive oil. Can I no longer purchase a supersize bottle of olive oil from Costco? (The answer is, if you want your olive oil to remain fresh, probably not).
To guide me through this slick sea of olive oil, I’ve reached out to ,Pineapple Collaborative co-founders Atara Bernstein and Ariel Pasternak, Brightland founder and CEO Aishwarya Iyer, and Graza co-founder and CEO Andrew Benin. They all share an enthusiasm and love for olive oil—and also recommendations on what to seek out in your perfect olive oil.
What should you look for in a good olive oil?
You would think that seeking out a good olive oil means looking at its color or aroma, but those aren’t the measures recommended by professionals. In fact, you shouldn’t be able to see the olive oil at all—light is detrimental to olive oil, so olive oil vessels should be dark or better yet, fully opaque.
Beyond the vessels, Bernstein recommends looking for transparency—using a checklist—to ensure you are getting olive oil of the highest quality. “Look for a clearly displayed harvest date and note that harvest happens in October to November and the olive oil is typically ready about three months later,” she explains. “That means the freshest oil is from the year prior,” In addition to harvest dates, it's important to look for “extra virgin” language, provenance of the oil, and types of olives used to make the oil.
“I always recommend seeking out transparency, otherwise you really can’t be sure that what you’re buying is high quality or worth the premium,” she says. Pineapple Collaborative’s olive oil has its harvest date stamped on the tin, as well as a lot code that can trace the oil directly to the California tree that grew the olives. Always look for where the olive oil comes from. Whether it’s Spain, California, or Italy, the terroir of these places will ultimately affect the way the olive oil tastes.
Which olive oil vessel is the best?
We’ve established that olive oil needs to be in particularly opaque or dark vessels, but which is actually the best? It depends on how you define best—is it handy to use, is it stylish, is it protecting the oil?
“Olive oil’s biggest enemies are light, heat, and air. And if you have a beautiful vessel, but it happens to be clear or it happens to be barely opaque, then your oil is going to change structurally and molecularly very quickly,” Iyer explains. This is why she opted for a glass bottle—a material that’s more easily recyclable—with a completely opaque, protective coating for Brightland.
Benin, however, drew inspiration from line cooks and the ease of plastic squeeze bottles for Graza. “Plastic versus glass is super loaded,” Benin admits, but his bottles are also fully opaque. “The best thing to do is to bottle it and seal it right, and we would not have chosen to launch in a plastic bottle if we didn’t know that there were no chemical interactions.”
Pineapple Collaborative’s olive oil arrives in a stylish tin. “As soon as we knew we wanted to create The Olive Oil, we knew we wanted it to be in a tin,” Pasternak explains. “We were heavily inspired by how olive oil is packaged in Europe and wanted to create a design that felt both new and timeless.” The tin does a great job of preventing light from leaking in, while being lighter and less breakable than glass.
Whichever type of vessel you consider the best, the most important thing is to ensure no light leaks into your olive oil carrier and that the olive oil is never stored in warm places. The best place to put your olive oil is a cool, dark pantry.
How long should olive oil last?
Most people don’t realize that olive oil, at the end of the day, is a fruit juice. Once exposed to light and oxygen, rancidity can begin to develop in olive oil. “Once you open it, the olive oil is good for three to four months,” Iyer explains. “If it’s unopened, it should last 18 to 24 months.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean you should throw out your five-month-old olive oil or you’ll get sick if you’re using it, but the purity of flavor begins to decline. With olive oil, fresh is best.
What’s the difference between cooking oil, finishing oil, and infused oil?
Flavor, first and foremost. Graza currently carries two variations of olive oil: “sizzle” and “drizzle.” For flavor, drizzle is a much punchier, spicier, and grassier olive oil because the olives used in this oil are harvested in October—four weeks earlier than the olives used in sizzle. The yield of oil is smaller because the olives haven’t had time to fully ripen and plump up with juice—so drizzle does require more olives to produce. However, the young olives have much more bite and antioxidants. Sizzle is a much more neutral flavor that’s perfect for frying eggs, sauteing vegetables, or searing meats.
“The one thing I wouldn’t recommend doing with drizzle is making a homemade mayo because that will be very, very powerful,” Benin says. And although you can cook with drizzle, Benin views it as a waste because with the addition of heat, the unique flavor of drizzle can be cooked out. Instead, use it for finishing pastas, salads, or even ice cream.
Brightland’s two “hero” olive oils also differ in flavor and olives used, and the Brightland website has recommendations on how to best use each. Additionally, Brightland has a line of four infused olive oils made with garlic, lemon, basil, and a blend of chili peppers. These can be used to enhance soups, pastas, or even baking—olive oil cakes made with lemon-infused olive oil have an added dimension of citrus flavor.
So why are there so many olive oil brands now?
It’s the same reason there are so many craft coffee brands, independent chili crisp creators, and small batch hot sauce makers. “Consumers want products connected to a brand, community, and terroir. They want products with more transparency, sustainability, and they want products that are beautifully designed, too,” Pasternak explains. “The new pantry is stocked not with chicken of the sea, McCormick, Braggs, or Sriracha, but with Pineapple Collaborative’s The Olive Oil and The ACV, Fishwife tinned fish, Diaspora Co spices, and Fly By Jing chili crisp.”
Benin agrees, saying the scrappiness of smaller brands with inviting websites is an advantage in this digital consumer world. “The main disadvantage that grocery store olive oils have is that they can’t tell the story we can digitally,” he says. “Savvy digital brands are able to leverage their storytelling online and learn about the real deal stuff.”
And it’s not just about the look—although how beautiful something sits in a pantry shelf is considered. It’s about the flavor and feeling a thoughtfully made product can provide. “There’s an enthusiasm around what we are putting in our bodies and olive oil happens to be such a foundational element of food,” Iyer says. “The mission was always even bigger than olive oil. The mission truly was to inspire people, to enjoy simple everyday moments in their kitchens.”