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February 27, 2023

Starbucks' new olive oil-infused coffee may carry health benefits

The ingredient, a staple of the heart-healthy Mediterranean diet, helps reduce 'bad' cholesterol while increasing the 'good' kind

Healthy Eating Olive Oil
Starbucks olive oil coffee Provided Image/Starbucks

Starbucks' new Oleato line features several drinks that infuse coffee with extra virgin olive oil, which has been shown to help reduce LDL cholesterol and raise HDL cholesterol.

Starbucks is adding an unlikely ingredient to some of its drinks, and it may carry health benefits.

The new Oleato line features several coffee beverages that infuse Starbucks arabica coffee with a spoonful of cold pressed, extra virgin olive oil. Starbucks unveiled the line last week in Italy, and plans to roll it out elsewhere, starting with Southern California this spring.

The olive oil-infused beverages include a caffe latte, iced shaken espresso and cold brew. Customers in select markets will be able to add a press – equivalent to a spoonful – of extra virgin olive oil as a customization to some other beverages, too.

Starbucks teamed up with Partanna, an Italian olive oil brand that has been farming and crafting premium extra virgin olive oil in Sicily for more than 100 years, to create the "velvety smooth, delicately sweet and lush coffee."

Enjoying a spoonful of extra virgin olive oil each day is a daily ritual in some regions of Italy, though people don't necessarily drink it in their coffee. 

"I mean, in Italy, certainly no one's been adding olive oil to their coffee," said Alexa Dombkoski, a Montgomery County native who founded Bellemille extra virgin olive oil company and has spent years living in Florence.

"I'm not going to pretend that; I think Italians are pretty traditional. They don't really jump on the trend bandwagon too often. But while they don't take it in their coffee every day ... if you're with your grandmother or something, she's probably going to make you take a spoonful of olive oil in the morning with your breakfast. So that's definitely something that they've done forever."

Extra virgin olive oil has long been a hallmark of the Mediterranean diet, which is endorsed by the American Heart Association for its ability to prevent cardiovascular disease, the leading cause of death in the U.S. 

Research suggests that adults who consume more than a half-tablespoon of olive oil a day may have a lower risk of heart disease. They have lower rates of premature death from cardiovascular disease, Alzheimer's disease and other causes.

Olive oil has a high percentage of monounsaturated fat, which lowers LDL cholesterol – the "bad" kind – and increases HDL cholesterol, the "good" kind, according to the American Heart Association. It has been shown to lower blood pressure, and its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties are known to reduce the disease process. Olive oil also suppresses glucose absorption, helping with appetite management and boosting metabolism.

Adding the fattiness of olive oil to coffee can cut caffeine and acidity levels that sometimes cause people to experience stomach issues.

"So if you're someone that does have a lot of coffee in a day to sort of survive the day and maybe has some stomach problems, because (olive oil is) slowing the absorption of the caffeine, it's going to actually prolong the effects," Dombkoski said. "It's going to be a little bit steadier, and a little bit longer, the caffeine in your system. And so you'll be able to possibly cut down on how many cups of coffee you consume in a day, because you're feeling the effects of the caffeine for longer."

Olive oil in coffee is reminiscent of the butter coffee trend of recent years. People add unsalted butter to black coffee to cut cravings while boosting energy and brain power. A major difference is the type of fat being added: olive oil is mostly a monounsaturated fat, but butter is a saturated fat. 

Saturated fat raises "bad" cholesterol, which increases the risk of heart disease and stroke. 

"When you're adding olive oil to your coffee, it's obviously much healthier than adding butter to your coffee," Dombkoski said.

Olive oil is often used in cooking as a healthy substitute for fats like butter or margarine. 

It's unclear when the Oleato line will reach Philadelphia markets, but that doesn't mean people have to wait to enjoy the health benefits of olive oil, with or without coffee.

"If you think that's weird to put it in your coffee, you could also go old-school like the Italian Nonnas and just do a spoonful of it next to your coffee in the morning or next to your breakfast in the morning, and you'll get more or less the same benefits," Dombkoski said.

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