What’s the Difference Between a $4 and $38 Olive Oil?
Domino’s associate editor tests the trendiest bottles.
Published Feb 6, 2020 12:00 AM
The latest celebrity kitchen essential isn’t a Dutch oven. It isn’t even a vibrant new dinnerware collection. It’s the unassuming bottle perched on your counter that typically sets you back around $4. I’m talking about olive oil.
Or rather, pre-2019 olive oil, because the current iteration is anything but average. Over the past few years, we’ve seen the staple reimagined in bright, Instagram-ready containers. Companies like Brightland have reached cult status; CBD-infused versions and limited-edition jars are popping up left and right. As a Greek with a lifelong passion for the ingredient, I couldn’t help but wonder what all the hype was about.
Maybe it ties back to the broader trend of millennials investing in their kitchens more, swapping takeout menus for dinner parties. Or maybe it’s the next frontier of DTC trendy cookware. What I do know is that where I come from, pledging allegiance to and constantly espousing the virtues of olive oil is basically a civic duty. So I decided to put three buzzy brands to a blind taste test, pitted against a couple humble grocery store options.
A few rules I try to keep top of mind:
- Only buy olive oil packaged in dark glass or metal (otherwise it will go bad quickly).
- Never buy something parading as a “light” blend—it has no flavor and isn’t any better for you.
Luckily, all the trendy ones fit the bill. Here’s what I discovered on my quest to find the perfect bottle.
Oracle Oil, $38
The verdict: Fresh, smooth, and olive-y in the best possible way; I could eat this with a spoon. It will make you forget butter exists as an alternative. Sourced in Laconia, Greece, from a single olive variety (Koroneiki), the oil has super-concentrated flavor—because of this, it would be an absolute tragedy to relegate it to frying eggs. Suffice to say, it placed first of the five.
Best for: Charcuterie boards. Pour some into a ramekin and welcome it into your cast of cheese platter regulars—all you need is a crunchy baguette for dunking.
Brightland Awake Oil, $37
The verdict: Brightland’s take, made in California from handpicked Coratina olives, is a little sharper but just as dunkable. You can truly see the attention that went into it—the bottle is adorned with artful Matisse-inspired shapes. Awake is a status oil through and through (it’s even sold at Goop), so it just wouldn’t be right to leave it hidden in a cabinet.
Best for: Drizzling over salads, soups, pastas, and savory brunch dishes, making it the star of your table.
Trader Joe’s Extra Virgin Olive Oil, $3.49
The verdict: Confession: This is my go-to cooking olive oil; I always have at least two of the larger variety stocked in case of emergency. However, it stacked up surprisingly well against its more expensive counterparts (despite the fact that it uses oils from Greece, Italy, and Tunisia in its blend). It’s milder and has a fruitier aftertaste, but it’s definitely not bitter. Turns out, I could be using it more often.
Best for: Easy vinaigrettes. (My favorite two-ingredient one involves whisking a spoonful of TJ’s Aioli Garlic Mustard Sauce into the oil.)
Whole Foods 365 Organic Mediterranean Blend, $7.99
The verdict: This option is on the lighter side flavor-wise (as in, you can barely taste any olive at all), making it ideal as a base for any and all culinary endeavors. I’m guessing its subtlety (and low price) has something to do with the fact that it contains EVOO from eight different countries.
Best for: General weeknight cooking.
The verdict: If first impressions were everything, this ochre-colored tin would win hands down. Looks aside, it’s 100 percent organic and harvested from three different olives in California. The result is mild, with a gently spicy kick and an herby flavor.
Best for: Blending with fresh greens and spices into a marinade. Get ready to take your upcoming dinner party to the next level.