Cooking with Castillo de Pinar Olive Oil

Tasting Olive Oil

Olive Oil Taste and FlavorOlive Oil - Taste the Difference

The official quality and grade of olive oil are determined by a Chemical Analysis and a Sensorial Analysis. The Chemical Analysis must be done by a certified independent laboratory. The Sensorial Analysis is done by an independent official panel, which is typically made up of eight certified olive oil tasting experts, each of whose skill is required to be evaluated annually. A member of the International Olive Oil Council is required to be present to verify that the tasting has been done correctly.

Sensorial Analysis

Olive Oil tastings are called Sensorial Analysis, because in addition to tasting the olive oil, the senses of smell and touch are also utilized. Sensorial Analysis allows us to define the complexity and finesse of the oil. This is one of the most important aspects of olive oil classification and value determination. Determining the complex aroma and taste of oil cannot be measured analytically in a laboratory. Human senses are much more accurate.

Conduct Your Own Tasting!

Olive Oil characteristics are influenced by several factors - the variety of the olive tree, the type of soil and climate, and the harvesting and milling methods. The purpose of tasting olive oil is to capture through our senses the organoleptic qualities of the olive oil in order to evaluate its positive and negative attributes. You don't have to become a certified expert to be a good judge of the quality and grade of your olive oil.

By learning to conduct your own sensorial analysis, you will be able to determine the quality and characteristics of the oil you purchase and use. This tasting process will equip you to objectively analyze the quality of an olive oil, and help you to cultivate your ability to appreciate positive attributes of high-quality olive oil. It will also train you to determine whether an olive oil meets the standards to be a Virgin or an Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Sensorial Olive Oil analysis is not used to define refined olive oil or Olive Pomace Oil.

Olive Oil Tasting Tools

A Professional glass which is small, round, and stemless. The shape and size of the glass is important so that it fits in the palm of your hand as your body heat warms the oil to release its aromas. You may use a wine glass or even a plastic cup. However, do not use a metal cup for tasting olive oil.

If you are planning on tasting several oils, you may want to have several tasting glasses. It is not recommended that you taste more than 3 to 4 oils at one time. Tasting the more robust oils last will allow your palate to be more discriminating. Between tasting oils, you may want to eat a slice of green apple or a piece of bread or drink some water to clean your palate.

Olive Oil Tasting Tips

  • Conduct your tasting in the morning or between meals so you have giving your senses time to refresh themselves.
  • Make sure that the tasting takes place in an odorless environment.
  • Wash your hands and clear your mouth with fresh water before starting
  • Do not wear perfumes, as the aroma will alter your perceptions.
  • Make sure that your tasting glasses are also odorless. Sometimes dish soap can leave a distinctive smell behind that will prevent you from having an unbiased experience.

Evaluating Olive Oil

Evaluate the oils attributes objectively, whether they are positive or negative factors; this will give you a more elaborate profile of the olive oil.

Tasting Instructions

  • Pour 4 to 5 Tablespoons of Olive Oil into your tasting glass.
  • Cover the glass with a lid or your hand.
  • Cup the glass in your hand for about a minute to warm the oil.
  • Hold the glass with two fingers at a 30⁰ angle while turning it with your other hand to distribute the inside walls of the glass with oil, this well distribute the aroma of the oil throughout the glass

1. Look at the Olive Oil Color

The the color of an Olive Oil is not considered an indicator of its quality, as olive spectrometry ranges from dark green to a yellow-green depending on when the olives were harvested. However, the color can be informative, and you should be informed if you are purchasing your olive oil from an untested source.

  • Green color is due to early harvest this means that the olives have been carefully picked before they are ripe. At this stage the olive shows an intense green color due to the chlorophyll, crucial in photosynthesis which allows plants to obtain energy from light. Their flavor is usually fruity and bitter.
  • Yellow oils are usually harvested when the olive is ripe, the olive darkens on the outside and in the inside the chlorophyll starts disappearing as carotenoids start to appear. Carotenoids are of orange color so depending of the stage in which the olives were picked the color spectrum ranges from a yellow to a yellowish-ocher color. This oil is usually sweet.
  • Red, White, or Dark Brown Oils are atypical and unusual and are considered to be defective oils are considered those which have atypical and unusual color such as red, white, and dark brownish.

2. Smell the Olive Oil - Retronasal Sensations

Lift the cover and bring the glass very close to your nose; smell the oil and note its aromas. Sniff it for a brief time; you do not want to create sensory fatigue. When sniffing look for the oil's positive attributes as well as negative.

3. Taste the Olive Oil - Gustatory Sensations

Slurp the oil; this is done by sipping a small amount of oil into your mouth while inhaling some air to break up the oil. This allows the aromas to spread all over your mouth. If done correctly you should hear a slurping noise. Then Swallow the oil to better understand the complexity, viscosity, and feeling of the oil.

Taste is perceived through sensory organs called Taste buds, which are located throughout our mouth. These structures are involved in detecting the five (known) elements of taste perception: Sweet, sour, salty, bitter, and savory. When tasting olive oil we can clearly detect four of those flavors, the last one, savory, is not present in olive oil.

  • Sweet is detected with the tip of the tongue. However, olive oil does not actually taste sweet; the characteristic of sweetness is generally noted when olive oil has a lock of spiciness and bitterness.
  • Sour is detected on the front sides of the tongue, and it usually detects acidity. When tasting the oil, think if it reminds you of natural sour fruits such as lemon, orange, grape, or tamarind
  • Salt is detected on the back sides of the tongue
  • Bitter is detected on the back of the tongue. It is the most sensitive sense of the tastes. Common bitter foods and beverages such as coffee, unsweetened cocoa, or tonic water.

4. Sense of Touch “Tactile or Kinesthetic Sensations”

You do not touch the oil with your fingers - we touch it with our mouth. The oil's spiciness is determined by swallowing it. This is called an oral tactile sensation. Touch can be active or passive: when we touch something with our hands we can define that as active; but in this case when we swallow the oil it touches our palette and that is where we 'feel' the spiciness, pepperiness or pungency of the oil, which we refer to as passive touch.

When you swallow the oil, does it leave a mild impression, or does it sting your throat? Do the oil's aroma, bitterness and spiciness come together?

Kinaesthetic sensation

Also referred to as 'muscle sense' or 'tactile learning', this refers to how the flow and viscosity of oil stimulates the mechanical receptors found in our mouth during tasting. We call this Fluidity.

Is the oil good or not?

Positive attributes* of a good olive oil

  • Fruitiness: This is your first step and one of the most important attributes evaluated by tasting panels. To identify whether the oil is Ripe or Green. Ask yourself; are the Aromas fresh and healthy? Does the aroma remind me of the olive fruit? These can be perceived when sniffing directly or postnasal.
    • Ripe Fruit: Oil has generally and off odor.
    • Green Fruit: Ask yourself if the oil's aroma reminds you of a vegetable
  • Bitterness: Extra Virgin Olive Oil is the natural juice of a bitter fruit. Bitterness can be a positive attribute, depending on its intensity. The goal is a pleasant bitterness not a harsh or tannic bitterness. It may be more or less pleasant depending on your preference. Bitterness is caused by a high level of Poly-phenols, which is a type of antioxidant. Poly-phenols have been shown to prevent cellular aging and the formation of cancerous substances. This characteristic is prevalent in the Picual variety which has an average of 500ppm of antioxidants.
  • Pungency: Pungency may cause an itching sensation in the throat. It is characteristic of oils produced at the start of the year, primarily from olives that are still green; we also refer to it as Peppery.
  • Astringency is the dry, puckering mouth feel caused by the Tannins. These are polyphenols or antioxidants found in olive oil. This is a very positive attribute detected by sliding your tongue through your upper palate which will leads to a rough sand-papery feeling.

Negative Attributes*

Recognizing a Defective Olive Oil

  • Vinegary, Fusty, or Musty: In the old days mills use to work at a slower pace than they do today, and due to their slow methods of pressing the olives, sometimes olives that had already been harvested would sit for many hours waiting to be pressed. As they sat, they often began to ferment. There are three different fermentation processes which olives can undergo, each of which results in a different negative characteristic.
    • Vinegary: On the outside of the pile the olives went through an oxidation process called ‘Aerobic Fermentation’ which creates ‘acetic acid’ that has a distinctive sour taste and pungent smell.
    • Fusty: Fustiness occurs when olives are stored in piles too long before milling. As Vinegary is achieved through aerobic fermentation, fusty is achieved through a lack of oxygen, called "anaerobic fermentation", also referred to as Lactic acid fermentation. Fustiness has become such a common characteristic of olive oil that many people who do not know better consider it a positive attribute. Olives which come from cans or which are used on pizza's often have this taste.Fustiness can also be described as the lack of the bitter or peppery taste.
    • Musty: This negative attribute appears when the olives begin a biological fermentation process causing the oil to have moldy, mildewy, humid, earthy flavor. Mustiness is due to storing olives in humid conditions for several days, where they develop fungi and yeast; and in olives which have not been properly washed. It also occurs during harvest when farmers pick up the olives which have naturally fallen off of the olive tree. Since harvest season takes places in the middle of winter, olives on the ground are exposed to rain and humidity, so by the time they arrive at the mill they already grown musty. Farmers who wish to avoid mustiness have to forego harvesting olives from the ground and take only those still on the tree.
  • Frostbitten - Frozen: Taste of wet wood. Characteristic flavor obtained from injured olives caused by experiencing heavy frost or prolonged cold temperatures before being harvested and pressed.
  • Rancid: This is a common defect due to an advanced stage of oxidation, which most commonly occurs when olives are not pressed soon enough after harvest.Oil can also age and become rancid in your house. As we all know oil is affected by exposure to light, oxygen and heat which causes oxidation that shows in nose and palate as rancid also referred as “stale nuts”. The ideal temperature for storing Olive oil is 57°F or 14°C, although a normal room temperature of 70°F works very well if the olive oil is stored in a dark area where the temperature remains fairly constant.
  • Muddy sediment: is an aroma associated with muddy sediment defect. After separating the oil from the vegetable water and solids it is left to rest in tanks where a final separation, if needed, happens by gravity. This is called 'racking' the oil. If these solids are not properly drained they will begin a process of fermentation.

Additional Defects which are less common

(As specified by the International Olive Oil Council)

  • Acetone: aroma of nail polish remover, associated with winey defect.
  • Bacon: smoky essence that may indicate oxidation.
  • Blue Cheese: aroma associated with muddy sediment defect.
  • Brine: Flavor of oil extracted from olives which have been preserved in brine.
  • Cucumber: Flavor produced when an oil is hermetically packed for too long, particularly in tin containers, and which is attributed to the formation of 2,6 nonadienal.
  • 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.
  • Earthy: Flavor obtained from olives with dirt or mud on them that have not been washed prior to pressing.
  • Esparto: Characteristic flavor of oil obtained from olives pressed in new esparto mats. The flavor may differ depending on whether the mats are made of green esparto or dried esparto.
  • 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.
  • Greasy: Flavor of oil reminiscent of that of diesel oil, mechanical grease or mineral oil.
  • Grubby: Flavor of oil obtained from olives which have been heavily attacked by the grubs of the olive fly (Bactrocera oleae), which causes disintegration of the olives before they are harvested.
  • Hay–wood: Characteristic flavor of certain oils produced from olives that have dried out.
  • Heated or burnt characteristic: flavor of oils caused by excessive and/or prolonged burnt heating during processing, particularly when the paste is thermally mixed, if this is done under unsuitable thermal conditions.
  • Metallic: these are oils that have had prolonged contact with reactive metal surfaces, such as steel, iron or a material which is not inert, either during processing which usually occurs after the oil has come out of the horizontal mixer, or storage, causing the oil to oxidize quicker and giving it that characteristic metal flavor.
  • Rough thick, pasty mouth-feel: sensation produced by certain old oils.
  • 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: Flavor acquired by the oil as a result of prolonged contact with the liquid non-oil fraction of the olive (also called fruit–water).
  • Winey characteristic: flavor of certain oils reminiscent of wine or vinegar. This vinegary flavor is mainly due to a process of aerobic fermentation in the olives or in acid-sour olive paste left on pressing mats which have not been properly cleaned and leads to the formation of acetic acid, ethyl acetate and ethanol.
  • Yeasty: aroma of bread dough; associated with winey defect.

List of Descriptors for Designation of Origin of Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Direct or retronasal aromatic olfactory sensations (As specified by the International Olive Oil Council)

  • Almond: Olfactory sensation reminiscent of fresh almonds.
  • Apple: Olfactory sensation reminiscent of the odor of fresh apples.
  • Artichoke: Olfactory sensation of artichokes.
  • Chamomile: Olfactory sensation reminiscent of that of chamomile flowers.
  • Citrus fruit: Olfactory sensation reminiscent of that of citrus fruit (lemon, orange, bergamot, mandarin and grapefruit).
  • Eucalyptus: Olfactory sensation typical of Eucalyptus leaves.
  • Exotic fruit: Olfactory sensation reminiscent of the characteristic odors of exotic fruit (pineapple, banana, passion fruit, mango, papaya, etc.).
  • Fig leaf: Olfactory sensation typical of fig leaves.
  • Flowers: Complex olfactory sensation generally reminiscent of the odor of flours, also known as floral
  • Grass: Olfactory sensation typical of freshly mown grass
  • Green pepper: Olfactory sensation of green peppercorns
  • Green: Complex olfactory sensation reminiscent of the typical odor of fruit before it ripens
  • Greenly fruity: Olfactory sensation typical of oils obtained from olives that have been harvested before or during color change.
  • Herbs: Olfactory sensation reminiscent of that of herbs.
  • Olive leaf: Olfactory sensation reminiscent of the odor of fresh olive leaves.
  • Pear: Olfactory sensation typical of fresh pears.
  • Pine kernel: Olfactory sensation reminiscent of the odor of fresh pine kernels.
  • Ripely fruity: Olfactory sensation typical of oils obtained from olives that have been harvested when fully ripe.
  • Soft fruit: Olfactory sensation typical of soft fruit: blackberries, raspberries, bilberries, blackcurrants and redcurrants.
  • Sweet pepper: Olfactory sensation reminiscent of fresh sweet red or green peppers.
  • Tomato: Olfactory sensation typical of tomato leaves.
  • Vanilla: Olfactory sensation of natural dried vanilla powder or pods, different from the sensation of vanillin.
  • Walnut: Olfactory sensation typical of shelled walnuts.

Olive Oil Tasting Regulations

The International Olive Council (IOC) based in Madrid, Spain is the only intergovernmental organization in the world which has developed a system based on organoleptic assessment, olive oil processing, agronomy and olive oil chemistry to determine its quality and commercial trade value. The words and their definitions are the end result of a lengthy process of selection and discussion in which the emphasis has been on clarity and precision so we can determine if an oil has positive or defective flavors.

Optional Terminology for Labeling Purposes

Upon request, the panel leader may certify that the oils which have been assessed comply with the definitions and ranges corresponding to the following adjectives according to the intensity and perception of the attributes.

Positive attributes (fruity, bitter and pungent): According to the intensity of perception:

  • Intense - when the median of the attribute is more than 6;
  • Medium - when the median of the attribute is between 3 and 6;
  • Light- when the median of the attribute is less than 3.
  • Mild - Oil for which the median of the bitter and pungent attributes is 2 or less.

*Positive and Negative Attributes by International Olive Council (IOC). Used with permission.