Aishwarya Iyer never thought she would found an olive oil company. At least her background in start-ups and venture capital never led her to thinking she would. But after realizing that the oil in her pantry was making her sick, she began researching the kitchen staple—and discovered that most of the olive oil consumed in America is rotten, rancid, or adulterated. It’s also perishable, one of many little-known facts about the ingredient.
So Iyer decided to make her own, and launched Brightland in 2018. Using olives from a family-run farm on California’s central coast, the Los Angeles–based company makes extra-virgin olive oil, including more adventurous lemon- and basil-infused versions, without the use of fillers or artificial preservatives. We caught up with Iyer to discuss the myths, truths, and outright lies about olive oil, and how Brightland sets the record straight.
Debunk some false truths about olive oil for us.
One of the biggest misconceptions is that olive oil is just like wine—that it ages beautifully and should be saved. That’s not the case at all. Ultimately, an olive is a fruit. It is pressed and turned into oil and absolutely has a shelf life.
Another myth is that you can pour olive oil into a clear glass container and keep it out on your kitchen counter. When you do that, it will go bad within a week. Light is one of olive oil’s biggest enemies. You never want light to hit the product in any way.
Most people think there’s just one kind of olive oil, but there are actually hundreds of varieties. There’s a specific region and process by which the olives are picked, a specific time they were harvested, a specific blending of them. All of those things have an impact on how the oil ends up tasting.
How can the average person know if their olive oil is fresh?
Look for a harvest date. Unopened, it’s fresh for eighteen months from then. Or grab a spoon, and taste it. Good olive oil tastes grassy, fruity, layered, nutty—it is alive, a product of agriculture. If it tastes like waxy crayons or plastic, it’s not good.
In the U.S., extra-virgin olive oil is not regulated by the FDA. A 2015 investigation by the National Consumers League found that six out of 11 national brands misrepresented quality grades to consumers. Common forms of fraud include blending olive oil with other vegetable oils like soybean or sunflower oil, and refining oil made from rotten olives at a very low temperature, which removes the taste of rancidity. Why has so much deceit happened in the industry?
It’s been happening for thousands of years. In ancient Rome, when they put harvest dates on pots of olive oil to prevent deception, people would cross out the dates to lie about when it was made. Olive oil was liquid gold. Because there was such a demand for it, people cut corners.
Have things gotten any better?
We have started to ask more tough questions about food. It’s not like olive oil is the only fraudulent food out there—there’s honey, salt, saffron, wine, and many others. When you don’t ask questions, you don’t really know. The last few years have definitely been an unraveling of that [kind of scam].
I don’t know if anything has really changed, though. What I do know is that when I started Brightland, people told me, “Oh, nobody cares about how olive oil tastes. They don’t want anything super bold or pungent or peppery. They just want something buttery.” I took the exact opposite approach. I can only speak to my own experience, but it’s been amazing to see people get excited by the nuances and flavor profiles of our products.
How does Brightland respond to the bad things you’ve seen happening in the industry?
We put the harvest date on the label of each bottle, which has a white, organic UV casting that protects the oil inside. From a content standpoint, we do as much education as possible on social media and on our blog. That means talking about the olive varieties we use, where our olives are harvested, why a glass bottle is better than a plastic bottle, why the bottle should not be clear—no one was really discussing those things before.
This past summer, you ventured into vinegar with Parasol, a raw, double-fermented champagne vinegar made from California chardonnay grapes and navel and Valencia oranges, and Rapture, a double-fermented balsamic vinegar made from California zinfandel grapes and Triple Crown blackberries. Is there fraud happening in the vinegar industry, too?
There are common vinegar additives, like GMO brown sugar, caramel coloring, thickeners, and corn syrup. Most people don’t realize that many manufacturers do not use real fruit. We were lucky: There’s a vinegar farm in the same area as the olive farm we work with, so we get the fruit to make our vinegars from them.
What’s the most surprising thing you’ve learned about olive oil since starting Brightland?
I didn’t go to culinary school, so it’s amazing to see how people use olive oil in recipes. I saw someone make this incredible ice cream. Someone else posted that she used one of our spicier oils to make pancakes. I’ve seen every type of application. We also have a chef-in-residence named Noreen Wasti. Her latest recipe uses Brightland products to make a flaky South Asian flatbread called parathas. I grew up eating that bread, but we never made it with olive oil. Noreen incorporated it beautifully.
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Lexie Smith is an artist and baker, though it’s only relatively recently, after years of working in restaurant kitchens and balanciBread on Earth. Her work often takes on various forms, from performance and installation to photography, writing, and publishing, all
After years in various kitchens, working his way up from dishwasher to cook, and ultimately chef de partie at Eleven Madison Park, Matt Jozwiak left the fine-dining world behind in 2017 to start Rethink Food NYC, a nonprofit organization that partners with restaurants and grocery stores to reduce excess food and make nutritious, Ghetto Gastro and Jozwiak’s former boss, chef Daniel Humm—as collaborators in its mission to fight food insecurity and foster a more
Extolled by New York City’s finest restaurants, from Daniel to Eleven Madison Park and abcV, as well as a growing coteriDavocadoguy, is seemingly everyone’s go-to guy for the best avocados. He keeps his supply consistently stocked and perfectly ripene
Supermarkets put billions of pounds of perfectly fine, edible food to waste each year for the very silly, Goldilocks reanearly half of all harvested produce is never eaten. The home-delivery start-up Misfits Market aims to right the wrong of this senseless global food crisis, selling only produce that is certified organic, non-GMO,
Marfa may be known as a site of pilgrimage for lovers of minimalist art—its expansive desert sky, open landscape, and ofCooking in Marfa: Welcome, We’ve Been Expecting You (Phaidon). The collection of essays and recipes, featuring local ingredients and dishes, from prickly pear to chicharrón
The idea of “pantry cooking” connotes a sense of resourcefulness—the humble term focused on the shelf lives of whatever Esquire food and drinks editor Jeff Gordinier told us on Ep. 10 of At a Distance, canned food can be every bit as delicious as the fresh stuff, if not exceedingly so. Conservas, tinned seafood products from Spain and Portugal, can last for months, if not years, in the cupboard, but that seems topiquillo peppers stuffed with bonito tuna. Chicken of the Sea, these are not. Fortunately, you can browse and find all sorts of conservas online from grocers such as La Tienda and Chicago’s Wixter Market, and fuel those wanderlust dreams of a trip to the Iberian coast. “The other day I tried zamburiñas,” Gordinier told us on the podcast, with excitement. “Have you heard of that? See, this is interesting. I'm still seeki
First came the sourdough craze; next, homemade cheese. Ricotta, to be specific. Since pandemic times, home cooking has ta recent episode of At a Distance. “For me, it was so wild how far away we had come from that, as a species—the fact that most people don’t know how to htry this recipe), requiring only two ingredients: milk and lemon. Add a bit of patience, which is something we could all stand to pract
Dr. Brian Fisher, an entomologist and curator at the California Academy of Sciences, has studied and identified countless species of antadvocating for an insect-focused approach to nutrition and natural conservation. Here, Fisher tells us why eating insects is a healthy practice for both our bodies and the planet.
Whetstone Magazine Co-Founder and “Origin Forager” Stephen Satterfield on Food, Culture, and Identity
The co-founder of Whetstone magazine and host of the food anthropology podcast Point of Origin, food writer Stephen Satterfield spent more than a decade working as a sommelier before venturing into the world of medEsquire, Food & Wine, New York magazine, and other publications, Satterfield tells us about his role as a self-described “origin forager,” and why the