How to experience Olive Oil by engaging all your senses.

The Tasting of Extra Virgin Olive Oil should be a sensual experience. All Virgin Olive Oils are unique and we can use these qualities to obtain different flavors and textures in our dishes. The differences and mainly due to the type of olive, production method and the olives degree of maturation.


Start with the nose

First we try to identify the aroma. Extra Virgin Olive Oil gives off an aroma of leaves, grass, nuts among others... in order to concentrate these aromas, you can use a glass and warm the oil inside with your hands to intensify the nose.  Move it very gently back and forth, or in a swirling motion before inhaling.  


Here are some terms often used to describe the aroma of EVOO

Floral: perfume/aroma of flowers

Forest: fresh aroma reminiscent of forest floor, NOT dirty

Fresh: good aroma, fruity, not oxidixed

Fruity: refers to the aroma of fresh olive fruit, which is perceived through the nostrils and retro-nasally when the oil is in one’s mouth.

Grass: the aroma of fresh-cut (mowed) grass

Green/Greenly: aroma/flavor of unripe olives

Ripely: aroma/flavor of ripe olive fruit

Spice: aroma/flavor of seasonings such as cinnamon, allspice (not herbs or pepper)

Next you can explore the taste

Taste identifies the flavors of the oil which can be fruity, bitter and spicy as well as light, medium or intense. The best attributes of Extra Virgin Olive Oil in the mouth are fruity, bitter and spicy.  Some of the worst attributes are described as atrophied, moldy or moist, vinegary or acid, metallic or rancid.

Olive oil also contains a great deal of polyphenols, which prevent the formation of free radicals, which are responsible for many health problems including many forms of cancer.  

You can taste for polyphenols by dipping the tip of your tongue in the oil and if it has a high content of polyphenols the taste will be bitter and peppery as opposed to smooth and oily.

It is helpful to have a simple white bread, ciabatta or baguette, to cleanse your palate in between tastings.  


Here is a helpful guide to flavors and aromas provided by the IOC, the International Olive Council.

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These are considered positive attributes to taste for...

Apple/Green Apple: indicative of certain olive varietals

Almond: nutty (fresh not oxidized)

Artichoke: green flavor

Astringent: puckering sensation in mouth created by tannins; often associated with bitter, robust oils

Banana: ripe and unripe banana fruit

Bitter: considered a positive attribute because it is indicative of fresh olive fruit

Buttery: creamy, smooth sensation on palate

Eucalyptus: aroma of specific olive varietals

Floral: perfume/aroma of flowers

Forest: fresh aroma reminiscent of forest floor, NOT dirty

Fresh: good aroma, fruity, not oxidixed

Fruity: refers to the aroma of fresh olive fruit, which is perceived through the nostrils and retro-nasally when the oil is in one’s mouth.

Grass: the aroma of fresh-cut (mowed) grass

Green/Greenly: aroma/flavor of unripe olives

Green Tea: characteristic of some unripe olive varieties

Harmonious: balance among the oil’s characteristics with none overpowering the others

Hay/Straw: dried grass flavor

Herbaceous: unripe olive fruit reminiscent of fresh green herbs

Melon: indicative of certain olive varietals

Mint: indicative of certain olive varietals

Pear: indicative of certain olive varietals

Peach: indicative of certain olive varietals

Peppery: stinging sensation in the throat which can force a cough (see pungent)

Pungent: stinging sensation in the throat which can force a cough (see peppery)

Ripely: aroma/flavor of ripe olive fruit

Round/Rotund: a balanced, mouth-filling sensation of harmonious flavors

Spice: aroma/flavor of seasonings such as cinnamon, allspice (but not herbs or pepper)

Sweet: characteristic of mild oils

Tomato/Tomato Leaf: indicative of certain olive varietals

Tropical: indicative of ripe olive fruit with nuances of melon, mango, and coconut

Walnut/Walnut Shell: nutty (fresh not oxidized)

Wheatgrass: strong flavor of some green olive fruit

Woody: indicative of olive varietals with large pits


These are undesirable characteristics...

Acetone: aroma of nail polish remover, associated with winey defect

Blue Cheese: aroma associated with muddy sediment defect

Brine: salty taste indicating that oil was made from brined olives

Bacon: smoky essence that may indicate oxidation

Burnt/Heated: caused by processing at too high a temperature

Cucumber: off flavor from prolonged storage, particularly in tin

Dirty: oils which have absorbed unpleasant odors and flavors of dirty waste water during milling

Dreggish: odor of warm lubricating oil caused by the poor execution of the decanting process

Esparto: refers to straw-like material in mats occasionally used in older mills that may create a hemp-like flavor in oil

Fiscolo: refers to coconut fibers in mats occasionally used in older mills that may create a hemp-like flavor in oil

Flat/Bland: oils which have no positive or negative aroma or flavor characteristic of olive oil; may indicate presence of refined olive oil

Frozen/Wet Wood: sweet, dry, and untypical aroma/flavor derived from olives which have been exposed to freezing temperatures

Fusty: anaerobic fermentation that occurs when olives are stored in piles too long before milling

Greasy: flavor of diesel or gasoline caused by equipment problems

Grubby: flavor imparted to oil by olive fly damage to olives

Hay-wood: flavor of dried olives

Muddy Sediment:barnyard-like aroma caused by olives' prolonged contact with dirt before or after milling

Musty: moldy, humid flavor created by wet olives that have been stored too long before pressing

Metallic: oils that have had prolonged contact with reactive metal surfaces either during processing or storage

Rancid: the flavor of oxidation that occurs as the oil ages, often described as “stale nuts”

Rough: pasty, thick, greasy mouth feel

Sour Milk: aroma associated with muddy sediment defect

Stale Nuts: flavor of oxidized oils, rancidity

Unbalanced: oils with overwhelming flavors of bitterness and pungency

Vegetable Water: oils that have been stored in contact with the water content of the olive after processing

Winey: sour/vinegary flavor caused by aerobic fermentation of olives during processing (see vinegary)

Vinegary: sour/vinegary flavor caused by aerobic fermentation of olives during processing. (see winey)

Yeasty: aroma of bread dough; associated with winey defect

Here is a pocket guide to some of the most common attributes to keep in mind…Feel free to print it for yourself or your friends :)

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Judging by color!

Extra virgin olive oil comes in various colors from golden to green, but that should not sway your judgment about the actual quality of the oil itself. It would be like judging a book by its cover.  Freshly pressed extra virgin olive oil color isn’t an accurate indicator of quality or taste, says olive oil expert Fran Gage in her excellent book The New American Olive Oil.

Professional olive oil tasters will often use a blue glass when they taste oils to mask the color so that it won’t influence their judgement.

That said, an olive oil’s color can tell you many other things... for example, olives harvested early in the season are very green, and produce greener oil as they contain higher levels of chlorophyll.  While olives harvested late in the season will typically produce more golden colored oil due to a higher level of carotene. 

Light is among the enemies of EVOO, so try not to purchase younger greener oils in a clear bottle.  The combination of heat, light and oxygen promote oxidation and can make the oil rancid in short order.


On Texture

A good fresh EVOO made from sound olives has not only a pleasant aroma, but a thin to medium texture to accompany the fresh flavors.  These flavors can range from delicate to intense, depending on the olive variety and ripeness, as well as on the milling technique. 

In contrast, an olive oil that is too old will taste rancid or stale, and have a noticeably greasy texture. An oil made from low quality olives will have unpleasant aromas, disagreeable flavors and a thick or even waxy texture; while overly refined oils, which have been stripped of aroma and flavor will be all together too thin for most purposes.

The healthiest and most flavorful way to use a good olive oil is raw, which is why texture is so important.  As a condiment in most any dish, from salads, to soups, steamed vegetables, breads and grains, fish, poultry, or red meats, light to medium textured extra virgins are perfect.  These EVOOs can partially or completely replace butter, even in baking, and can be heated up to 400°F for frying. 


The things we hear about Olive Oil

Besides the generally recognized effect of olive oil to reduce “bad” LDL cholesterol, olive oil is the only vegetable oil that contains polyphenols. Polyphenols are a class of antioxidants found in olive oil, red wine, green tea and chocolate, and EVOO has more than 30 different polyphenols that are especially bioavailable because they are dissolved in oil, not water. These strong antioxidants reduce cardiovascular risk factors, and have anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties that benefit a host of other conditions and chronic diseases, including skin and digestive problems, low-grade inflammation and age-related diseases, obesity and weight loss, metabolic syndrome and diabetes as well as certain cancers and neurodegenerative diseases. For a summary report of over 100 studies, see this report.

Extra Virgin Olive Oil tastes spicy, peppery, pungent and bitter because of the antioxidants (polyphenols and tocopherols), and these are positive attributes, especially when balanced with other olivey flavors. When an oil does not have these peppery and bitter notes, it is too low in antioxidants to have any health benefits. 

So there you have it, some of the key factors to consider when experiencing an Olive Oil... don't forget to share your thoughts in the comments below.  Buon Provecho! Enjoy!