How to Taste

Sensory Evaluation of Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Understand what it means to be considered “extra virgin” and hear members of the COOC Taste Panel describe the best technique for tasting and evaluating extra virgin olive oil.

The best way to discover an oil’s flavor is to sip it “neat” – meaning on its own without bread or other food. This will allow you to savor the oil’s flavor without distraction.

Professional tasters use specially-made blue glasses that are tapered to concentrate the oil’s aroma; a wine glass is a good substitute when tasting at home. The blue color ensures that tasters aren’t influenced by the color of the oil, which is not an indicator of quality or flavor profile. Cover the glass and allow it to gently warm in your hand; optimal tasting temperature 82°. It is important to evaluate the oil in an odor-free environment.

The 4 Ss

Swirl —this releases the oil’s aroma molecules. Keep the oil covered until ready to sniff.

Sniff —uncover the oil and quickly inhale from the rim of the glass. Take note of the intensity and the description of the aroma.

Slurp —take a small sip of the oil while also “sipping” some air. This slurping action emulsifies the oil and helps to spread it throughout your mouth. Take note of the retro-nasal aroma as well as the intensity of bitterness.

Swallow—an oil’s pungency is judged by a sensation in your throat so you must swallow at least a small amount to thoroughly evaluate it. If the oil makes your throat scratchy or makes you want to cough, it is a pungent oil.

If tasting a series of oils, be prepared to clean your palate between tastes with a bite of green apple (preferably Granny Smith) followed by either still or sparkling water.

Attributes and Descriptors

Attributes

The sensory assessment of olive oil uses scientific methodology to evaluate the quality of an oil. Tasters are trained to recognize specific attributes, which are measured and then statistically analyzed to determine if the oil is free of negative attributes (flavor defects), or not.

Fruity refers to the aroma of fresh, undamaged olive fruit in the oil, which is perceived through the nostrils as well as retro-nasally while oil is in the mouth.

Bitterness, which is a primary flavor component of fresh olives, is perceived through receptors (taste buds) on the tongue.

Pungency is a biting tactile sensation noticed in one’s throat. Sometimes oils are referred to as one or two “coughers” as this is a common response to pungency.

Descriptors

Descriptive language that depicts the oil’s aroma and flavor are subjective and therefore not scientific, yet these descriptors are helpful in differentiating extra virgin olive oils from one another. Descriptors play an important role when marketing oils to chefs and consumers.

Green Fruit Ripe Fruit Other
Artichoke Buttery Black Pepper
Cinnamon Floral Cherry
Eucalyptus Nutty Citrus
Grass Ripe Apple Hay-straw
Green Almond Ripe Banana Other spices
Green Apple Ripe Olive Walnut Shell
Green Banana Stone Fruit Woody
Green Olive Tropical
Green Tea
Herbaceous
Mint
Pine
Tomato Leaf

 

Material prepared with the assistance of Nancy Ash, Strictly Olive Oil