A year or so ago I noticed that, alongside my usual ads for fancy dog collars, I was being served ads for olive oil on Instagram. Like, a lot of ads for one specific olive oil. This wasn’t packaged in a classic metal tin, or a bag-in-a-box bulk container; this olive oil came in a sleek, matte bottle. With its sans serif fonts and Memphis-style graphics, the bottle felt like it might hold a skincare product, the kind only celebrities know about.
That olive oil was, of course, Brightland, the progenitor of well-designed, impeccably-marketed, olive oils. Soon, I was seeing Brightland everywhere: in non-sponsored posts, on the shelves at my friends’ houses, and on the desks of my coworkers. And I started seeing other similarly chic olive oils in my feed, too. Well-designed, luxe olive oil brands like Wonder Valley, Oracle Oil, and Mr. Pete’s became mainstays in my social media feeds, seemingly out of nowhere.
I’m on record as being someone who cares (arguably too much) about how my kitchen looks. And I obviously care about the quality of the ingredients I’m using at home, too. I’m also on record as being okay with a little everyday fanciness. So these olive oils seemed right up my alley. And yet, I wanted to know if they actually tasted good. Yeah, they looked pretty enough to be in someone’s Top Shelf, but did they also taste like expensive skincare products? Since we’d just done an official olive oil test, I wanted to taste these olive oils I'd seen on Instagram to see if they held up to my newly-honed expert olive oil palate. So, I did. Here’s now it went.
How I Tested
These are Instagram olive oils, so I left the formal tasting process at work and tried out these bottles in their natural habitat: an impromptu dinner party in Brooklyn apartment, along with a few glasses of good wine.
First, I gathered olive oils most fit for an Instagram flat-lay post: Brightland, Oracle Oil, Mr. Pete’s, and Wonder Valley. Then, I assembled a group of people I know to be especially adept at voicing their opinions, including my boyfriend and his business partner (both of whom are chefs), and her girlfriend. We sampled each oil blind, and they gave me feedback as we tasted.
Then, without revealing which oil was in which sampling bowl, I brought the bottles in and my group of judges gave feedback on which bottle they’d most like to have on their shelf. This is a test of Instagram-friendly olive oils, after all. You’re not not paying for the fancy packaging when you buy a $50 bottle of olive oil. These are bottles that look just as ready to hold a freakebana arrangement as they are to hold cooking oil.
After I gathered feedback on flavor and bottle design separately, I had each judge text me their flavor rankings for the (still anonymous) oils.
The Best Olive Oil for Finishing: Brightland
Brightland won the blind taste test handily thanks to its fruity, spicy flavor and hints of green banana. Though in our official taste test at Epi we noted a bitterness that made this olive oil polarizing, none of my tasters felt this oil was overly bitter. The group agreed that of all the olive oils we tasted, Brightland left the nicest lingering flavor in their mouth. They also deemed it the “most useful” since they felt it could be used for finishing both sweet and savory dishes. My boyfriend Bill gushed, “I’d absolutely put this on ice cream.”
The Best Olive Oil for Cooking: Oracle
While the group loved Brightland even without seeing it, the Most Covetable Bottle Design Award went to another O.O. That would be Oracle Oil. There were audible oohs and aahs when I brought out the Oracle Oil bottle for feedback. Shouts of “Stunning!” and “Chic!” were immediate and unceasing. Above the din, one tester proclaimed, “Looks like it might be a whiskey.” Well, we did drink it straight.
And it didn't taste bad, either. My reviewers called Oracle Oil, "soft, mild, buttery and round." While Brightland struck us as a better finishing oil, the Oracle is one we'd be happy to cook with.
Other Oils We Evaluated
Wonder Valley: My tasters agreed that Wonder Valley’s flavor was the most aggressive of the bunch, as it tasted strongly of arugula and a fresh-cut lawn. The group agreed that it would make a great component of a vinaigrette. It's the sort of oil you could use for a bold, bracing vinaigrette or for dipping pizza crust or bread. The bottle is distinctive, even a little witchy, and one taster said she could see getting a tattoo of the logo.
Mr. Pete's: While we tasted a cornucopia of flavors in the other oils, like sage and greens, bananas and a whole fruit salad, this oil was milder and more mellow, like a really nice Canola. The design did impress, though; it would fit right in with today's hippest herbal remedies and natural wines.
Originally Appeared on Epicurious