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Vol. 17, no. 4
August/September 2014


Essential Oil 

Story by Tiffany Hill

Photo by Matt Mallams

It’s 9 a.m. on a Thursday, and Dana Bergman is knocking back shots. The cups are only half full, though, and not with booze but with pure olive oil. This is Bergman’s second serving today; at breakfast he scrambled his eggs with olive oil, and he’ll probably find a way to slip some into his dinner.


On the surface, Bergman’s not the sort of guy you might expect to know the ins and outs of the olive oil industry; he works construction. Olive oil is a fascination that became a hobby that ended up becoming a side business. He spent more than a year reading up on the world of olive oil production and traveled the world—another one of his hobbies — before opening Hawai‘i’s first olive oil boutique in Ward Centre in October 2012. “Everyone talks about how good olive oil is for you,” he says, “but it’s only good when it’s fresh. It’s one of the most corrupted food products.” Some manufacturers, he explains, have been known to use rotten olives or even no olives at all.


You won’t find any such junk at Island Olive Oil, which is filled wall to wall with stainless-steel urns containing small batches of freshly pressed premium olive oils from places like Australia, Peru, California and, of course, Italy. There are bread samples at the tasting bars — though if you want to impress Bergman, forgo the bread; true connoisseurs taste-test their olive oils sans carbs.


Island Olive Oil also features a line of flavored balsamic vinegars from Modena, pesto sauce, jams, soaps and Hawaiian sea salt, but olive oil is the raison d’être. There are hundreds of varieties of olives in the world, and like wine grapes, each “produces distinct flavor profiles,” says Bergman, who’s more than happy to guide customers through his oils to find the right one. Perhaps a mild oil redolent of green banana? Or a pungent oil with a peppery finish? To jumpstart favorite recipes, the boutique offers fifteen flavored olive oils, including blood orange (great for pancakes, says Bergman), Tuscan herb (for fish) and black truffle olive oil. “That,” says Bergman with a smile, “is what I use in my eggs.”