Katerina (Katina) Mountanos grew up in Long Island, the child of Greek immigrants with roots in a small fishing village called Koroni. Inspired by extra virgin olive oil from her family’s olive trees in southern Greece, she realized that the United States needed a Greek EVOO on the market. The name of her company, Kosterina, is a combination of her name with that of her husband Kostas. We chatted with Katina to learn more about the health benefits of olive oil and what she does when she isn’t working.
How did you start Kosterina?
After getting my career start in investment banking in New York and London, I attended Harvard Business School and later worked as the Marketing Manager at L’Oreal. After L’Oreal, I launched a beauty e-commerce site called BeautyBar.com for Quidsi and Amazon, and then founded my first venture, Manicube. I then joined Jet.com which was acquired by Walmart, and started the first consumer brand incubation group at Walmart eCommerce. During this time, I noticed a gap in the American market for authentic, high quality olive oil, and recognized that most mass-produced olive oils here are poor quality, negating both the health benefits and flavor (over 69% of olive oils here are mislabeled as ‘extra virgin’!). Kosterina was born as a side hustle in 2016, and in 2019, I left my corporate career behind and officially launched the emerging wellness brand centered around high-polyphenol, extra virgin olive oil produced in my native home in Southern Greece.
What is the most important thing you’d like people to know about your products?
I grew up with olive oil as an integral part of daily life, stemming from my family’s generational farms in Southern Greece. Kosterina olive oil is created from single origin, early harvest Koroneiki olives, and is harvested, farmed and cold-pressed to maximize natural polyphenol (antioxidant) content. Kosterina has a polyphenol content of 470 mg/kg as measured at the time of harvest, making it one of the healthiest olive oils available. Polyphenols have been proven to reduce inflammation, help to maintain brain function, reduce blood sugar and cholesterol levels, and fight infection and bacteria.
What are your favorite ways to use EVOO when preparing food?
I am not exaggerating when I say we literally pour it over everything. We make our eggs with it in the morning, pour it over salads for lunch and over fish and steaks and veggies for dinner. I love our Original EVOO and our flavored varieties for roasting and sautéing, making salad dressings and sauces, drizzling over popcorn and more to add depth of flavor to any dish! I am also obsessed with our Kosterina Olive Bread recipe. There are only 7 ingredients and it’s so easy. I never thought I could bake bread that tastes that good.
What’s something interesting about you that Kosterina customers might not know?
I love to dance and sing and at one time in my life thought I would be a Broadway star. I was never good enough but that didn’t stop me from trying.
What else do you do to stay healthy and well?
I am a true believer in the Mediterranean lifestyle. I focus on clean, balanced eating 80% of the time but I do indulge too. I love long dinners with family and friends with wine and cheese and chocolate. I do believe that movement is also critical to wellness — some days it’s the Peloton and other days it’s long walks. I have three young children and so I also prioritize getaways with my husband and friends where I can feel like myself again. My favorite local spot is a spa called the Lodge at Woodloch in PA. It’s an incredible spot for rest, relaxation, cooking classes, health and wellness lectures, long hikes, long dinners and lots of good food and wine. Finally, I am a big believer in functional medicine and actively track all my health markers. I stay on top of testing to ensure I minimize foods or activities that cause inflammation.
Are there any wellness or healthy eating myths that you wish would disappear?
Many consumers have been told not to cook with olive oil. Research shows that high quality EVOO is actually much more stable than other oils when heated, and significantly healthier than vegetable oils with higher smoke points. High quality, pure EVOO can actually sustain temperatures up to 475 F without chemical breakdown. That being said, the quality of the oil is what makes the difference in high-heat cooking. Quality of olive oil depends on several factors: harvest date, polyphenol count, unrefined / acidity levels and storage location.