- Starbucks has introduced a new line of olive oil-infused coffee drinks.
- The health benefits of the concept haven’t been studied, but experts say that coffee and olive oil have health pros and cons individually that people should consider before trying these drinks.
- Experts suggest people with specific health conditions use extra caution before consuming coffee with olive oil.
You may have heard of fruit and herb-infused olive oil. You can find everything from blueberries and pomegranates to rosemary, garlic, and thyme in olive oil these days. The added flavor livens up the versatile oil, which you can use for cooking, baking, and salad dressings.
But what about coffee?
Starbucks has begun using olive oil to infuse coffees — at least in Milan.
The new line is called Oleato, and it hit menus in Milan on February 22. It’s scheduled to hit menus in Southern California, Japan, the Middle East, and the United Kingdom this year. The Starbucks recipe calls for coffee with cold-pressed extra virgin olive oil, and the drink is served hot or cold.
“Oleato represents the next revolution in coffee that brings together an alchemy of nature’s finest ingredients,” Howard Shultz, Starbucks’ interim chief executive officer, said in a statement provided to Food & Wine.
Starbucks already has a massive following and a menu full of novelty beverages. Why would the coffee giant come out with olive oil-infused coffee?
“Starbucks may be including olive oil into their coffee as part of a new marketing strategy and to pay tribute to the Italian culture,” says Beata Rydyger, BSc, RHN, a Los Angeles-based registered nutritionist and clinical nutritional advisor to Zen Nutrients.
Rydyger points out that Starbucks has been around since 1971 but only recently opened its first Italian location in 2018.
Rydyger hypothesizes that Starbucks — and coffee aficionados who fancy themselves home baristas — may also have some other factors in mind.
“They may also be considering the various health benefits of extra virgin olive oil and the rise in popularity of bulletproof coffee, which involves adding a source of fat to coffee,” Rydyger says. “Bulletproof coffee has become trendy in both cafes and at home because of its purported metabolism-boosting properties.”
But are there health benefits to olive oil-infused coffee? And, if you don’t live in a market slated to offer Starbucks Oleatos, serve should you try it at home?
Alexandra Domrongchai, a fellow with Food & Wine, got to taste Oleatos.
In a piece on the new coffee line, Domrongchai wrote that the Oleato Golden Foam Cold Brew boasted a “creamy, decadent olive oil ice cream.”
Overall, she said she enjoyed how the coffee and olive oil played off one another.
“The olive oil lends a nuttier, more complex flavor to the coffee blend, making it an ideal beverage to sip and savor in the afternoons rather than slug down as just a morning jolt,” she said.
But what about people trying it at home without going through Starbucks’ training or using the coffee juggernaut’s recipe or ingredients?
Just like some blueberries are sour and others are sweet, olive oil-infused coffee may taste differently depending on multiple factors.
“[Olive oil] can have a range of flavors depending on its quality, age, and origin,” Rydyger says. “Generally, high-quality extra virgin olive oil has a fruity, slightly bitter, and peppery taste. It may also have grassy or herbal notes and a slight nuttiness. Some people describe the taste as rich or complex, so adding it to coffee gives it a bit more body and flavor. Lower-quality olive oil, however, can have a bland or rancid taste.”
What are the health benefits of olive oil-infused coffee?
Olive oil-infused coffee is a new trend, so the benefits haven’t been studied. But experts can draw on research on olive oil and coffee individually.
Olive oil is packed with monosaturated fats, explains Vandana Sheth, RDN, CDCES, FAND, a registered dietitian nutritionist and author of My Indian Table: Quick & Tasty Vegetarian Recipes. As a result, Sheth notes that olive oil’s benefits include improvements in:
- heart health, including blood pressure and cholesterol
- brain health
- joint health
Olive oil is one of the main fats used in the MIND diet, which blends the Mediterranean and DASH diets.
Dr. Alex McDonald, MD, CAQSM, a family physician, also highlighted the benefits of using olive oil instead of other fats like butter in your cup of Joe.
“However, butter is poor in nutrients and high in saturated fat,” Dr. McDonald explains. “As a result, adding olive oil to coffee has become more popular.”
Coffee also boasts a bevy of benefits.
“Coffee contains caffeine, which can help improve alertness, attention, and cognitive performance,” Rydyger says. “Caffeine’s stimulatory effect on the brain may also improve mood and reduce the risk of depression.”
A 2020 paper suggested that coffee had mental health benefits, including reduced depression in women and suicidal ideation.
Does combining olive oil and coffee enhance benefits?
Health experts say there’s no evidence either way to answer this question.
“Adding olive oil to coffee is not that common, so there isn’t much scientific evidence to support the idea that adding olive oil to coffee offers any specific health benefits,” Rydyger says. “Both olive oil and coffee are individually associated with potential health benefits when consumed in moderation.”
Rydyger believes the answer is no, but that doesn’t mean that olive oil-infused coffee doesn’t have at least one perk.
“Combining them in this way does not necessarily enhance those benefits or offer any unique advantages, but it does ensure that drinkers are getting their daily dose of olive oil,” she says.”Purely a behavioral perspective, it’s a neat trick.”
“While olive oil is a healthy source of monounsaturated fats, it is still a high-fat food,” explains Rydyger.
Additionally, Sheth notes it’s high in calories — a one-tablespoon serving has 120 calories.
“[That’s something] not everyone needs,” she says.
Additionally, though olive oil has heart health benefits, people with cardiovascular disease will want to exercise caution.
“Individuals with high cholesterol levels or a history of heart disease may need to limit their intake of saturated and trans fats, which can contribute to elevated cholesterol levels and increase the risk of heart disease,” Rydyger says.
Additionally, coffee consumption also has its share of cons.
The American College of Gynecology (ACOG) advises pregnant people to limit caffeine consumption to 200 milligrams (about two cups per day). Too much consumption can lead to:
- increased heart rate
- decreased mental health
Dr. McDonald says olive oil-infused coffee is likely safe for most individuals.
“If people want to try adding olive oil to their coffee, they should,” he says. “In general, adding one tablespoon to 12 oz. of coffee is reported to increase the viscosity and produce a richer, creamier texture.”