How to taste Olive Oil like a Pro

Tasting Extra Virgin Olive Oil is amazing! EVO Oil can be analyzed under three aspects: visual, olfactory and gustatory.

How to taste Olive Oil
Visual analysis

The visual analysis is perhaps the most fascinating part of the process – it’s up to your creativity to identify all the many different shades of yellow and green the oil may present, and then to give each tone its name. That said, be aware that this type of analysis and its results are not indicators of EVO oil quality: throughout their analysis, official panel tests, groups of expert EVO oil tasters, use blue glasses, to avoid any form of preconception. 

Which is better? Gold or Green?

The differences in colour between different varieties of extra virgin olive oil mainly depends on their respective levels of carotenoids and chlorophyll, which are characteristic to each olive variety (cultivar), while also depending on the ripening phase of the olives at the time of collection. The perfect harvesting time is at the beginning of the so-called veraison, when the olive drupe colour begins to turn from green to black and olives contain the maximum concentration of polyphenols and pigments.

It has to be noted though that sometimes the EVO oil appears of a bright green colour not because of a particular attention put in choosing the adequate harvest time, or thanks to a highly efficient working capacity of the oil mill, but on the base of the addition of leaves to the grinding, which thus increases the presence of chlorophyll and green pigments in the EVO oil.

Another important consideration regarding EVO oil appearance is linked to the unstoppable degradation of oil over time: the vividness and brilliance of EVOO, with its lustre and richness of colour, will change of intensity as pigments degrade day by day; as a result, the EVO oil colour will always tend more and more to yellow tones as time goes by. That is why it is thus essential to protect the oil from light, to increase its shelf life.

During the EVO oil visual evaluation, you can also appreciate the oil brightness in light and the potential presence of suspended particles, which is especially notable in unfiltered oils.

How to taste Olive Oil
Olfactory analysis

The olfactory analysis is the first key step to sensory evaluation. Olfaction is one of the five senses (along with sight, hearing, taste, and touch), one which is nowadays underestimated in its importance. “Eating is dangerous. While food contains nutrients and calories that animals need to produce heat and energy, it may also contain harmful parasites, bacteria, or chemicals. To guide food selection, the senses of taste and smell have evolved to alert us” [1]

Scientists say “Olfaction has a unique and potent power to influence mood, acquisition of new information, and use of information in many different contexts…: social interactions… in behaviours essential for survival… Odours are also critical for learning and memory about events and places and constitute efficient retrieval cues for the recall of emotional episodic memories” [2]

Our olfactory memory is fundamental for the identification of olive oils perfumes. EVO Oil experts begin to recognize potential olive oil flaws from this analysis. However, surely anyone can smell the oil purchased on discount from the market and notice at least one of the most frequent Olive Oil defects: rancidity, a mainly age-related defect that gives the oil a “sweet” sensation.

To perceive EVOO perfumes you have to slightly heat the glass of oil used for the analysis, to facilitate the volatilization of the aromatic compounds, and then cover the glass with your hands for a few seconds. Then uncover the glass, inhale deeply and let yourself be inspired by the richness of the aroma, to discover the soul of that specific EVO oil (each has its own particularity and intensity).

Once you start to feel confident about the process, you will start to be able to recognize more and more perfumes. Those scents are connected to the chemicals found in each EVO oil, which can remind you of:

  • vegetables such as olive, artichoke, grass, tomato and green pepper, just to name a few;
  • flowers;
  • fruit (berries, citrus fruits, apple and more);
  • spicy tones, such as potted herbs (basil, rosemary, sage, peppermint, thyme) pepper and cinnamon.

Thanks to the olfactory analysis, we can classify EVO oils as light, medium or intense. Each category of EVO oil is paired with specific categories of foods, by similarity criteria.

How to taste Olive Oil
Tasting analysis

EVO Oil tasting is performed through the so-called “stripping” technique. Difficult to understand on paper, but easy to put in practice! Take a sip of a small amount of EVO Oil and then hold it in your mouth for 3-5 seconds. Before swallowing, inhale the air inside your mouth – in this way, you will nebulize the EVO Oil particles, in a way which allows you to perceive all the notes of bitterness, astringency, pungency and aroma of the EVOO. 

A bitter and pungent taste may be perceived as too strong, making you think of the potential presence of defects. On the contrary, those are important EVOO quality parameters: they are indicators of the presence of healthy substances (e.g. polyphenols) in the EVOO, and so the higher levels of them in the EVO Oil, the more intense will be the bitterness and the pungency at the taste.

If you start coughing don’t worry, it’s normal (it happens to us too!) – you are simply fueling your body with nutraceuticals and healthy compounds.

Bitterness and pungency aside, the taste of high-quality EVO oils will explode in the mouth with flavours similar to those perceived during the olfactory analysis, leaving the mouth clean (non-greasy) after the tasting.

[1]: Genetics of Taste and Smell: Poisons and Pleasures
[2]: Olfactory memory networks: from emotional learning to social behaviors