An olive oil sommelier's guide: How to taste EVOO?
Here is our olive oil sommelier Hasan Siber's introductory guide to olive oil tasting. He was trained by the International Olive Oil Academy back in 2017. We are preparing his much longer bio.
Why (should you do it in the first place)?
This is how you fight fraud in the olive oil industry. You can imitate a lot about olive oil, but you can't imitate the taste. We, as humans, have a complex culinary system that is hard to deceive. When you taste Colive oil, or any other 100% extra virgin olive oil directly from farms you will definitely notice the difference and you won't be going back to tasteless supermarket or white label brands.
First - perceive through your nostrils!?
If you have a Colive oil bottle next to you; perfect! If not - no worries, we will wait for you to grab it...
We also suggest that you hold off the coffee and food for about 45 mins - 1 hour before you do this so as not to mix up flavours.
Pour a small amount of Colive oil into an espresso cup or similar small liquid holder.
Close the cup with your hand and start swirling it.
After about 30 seconds, open your hand and smell all the oil vapours; get your nose in there! The trick here is that the warmth of your hands and the swirling motion will warm the oil and help it release its smell into the cup.
Do not smell more than 30 seconds as your nose gets “used to” the vapours and adjusts to the “environment of smell”. Take a couple of minutes and try again
When you are done with smelling, please do not throw the olive oil away. We will proceed to the sipping stage in a bit. If you have any supermarket brands at home, feel free try these steps with that oil to compare and see the difference for yourself.
This is the main criteria that olive oil sommeliers use to tell olive oils apart in their main quality; if it is extra virgin or not. If any of these formal characteristics shows deformity, that olive oil cannot be categorised as EVOO.
These characteristics are also frequently used by organoleptic (tasting) tables but these tasting tables don't often test olive oils that come to your table.
In a competition setting or when you want to rank multiple olive oils, you can assign a number between 1 to 5 for each criteria to rank them.
Positive Attributes - List of characteristics an EVOO needs to have:
This characteristic should definitely exist. Olive oil is the juice of olive fruit after all! It is also one attribute that cannot be imitated by chemical processes. It is deliberately vague as fruitiness vary depending on the type of olive (cultivar) and its ripeness
One of the primary characteristics of olive oil. It is attributed to phenols, an antioxidant, same active ingredient that is in a pain killer like Ibuprofen, Panadol etc. Intensity of this characteristic depends on the cultivar, and picking time and olive ripeness.
Fresh olive oil has a strong fruity smell.
Negative Attributes: List of characteristics that an olive oil should not have, defects:
It can also be described as acidic and you will notice it right away. This characteristic is mostly the result of gradual oxidisation of olive oil.
Musty - Humid
A fermentative defect that is used to describe the flavour of olive oil made from olives that were stored in humid conditions and have large fungi and yeast content.
Winey / Vinegary
Another fermentative defect.
Often due to olives that have not cleaned properly.
Again a fermentative defect. This defect was largely eradicated by replacing the stone olive mills. Using stone mills starts the oxidation process much earlier and it occurs faster. This oxidisation naturally results in fermentation and this fusty taste.
Non-fermentative, this could be the result of unripe olives.
When one or more of these negative traits are present, that oil is often branded as virgin or “lampante” - italian for lamp oil.
This list is quite personal and depends on what you have tasted growing up. There are first memories of food that are seared into our brains. These are what we fall back on when we have a culinary challenge in front of us.
As a side note, we love the fact that a wide range of great chefs in the World were farm people, such as Daniel Boulud (4 Michelin Stars), Carme Ruscalleda (7 Michelin stars) and Alain Passard (3 Michelin stars). If you don't recognise them do check them out! These ladies and gentlemen know the aroma of fresh olives and fresh vegetables.
So, when we smell olive oil it can remind us of different tastes depending on our past taste experiences. For example, an earthy note can be described as smelling like artichoke, asparagus by one person whereas another person from a different part of the world can label it as having a bean-like taste.
List of informal characteristics that olive oil can have is endless and it includes fresh cut grass, citrus, almonds, earthy leaves, nutty, tomato, banana, artichoke etc.
Would you like to know more about EVOO and how it is made? Check out What is EVOO™ ? (and why the label matters)
Sipping and Tasting
Now that you have some more insight about tasting olive oil, let's do another experiment.
Sip the olive oil, just enough to roll around your tongue. Our goal is to get the oil all over the tongue so that you can experience the full spectrum of taste notes it has to offer.
A trick you can use here is to open the sides of your mouth and inhale fast with a hissing sound. This will help spread the olive oil on your tongue to get the full spectrum of notes
Keep rolling your tongue and wait while you keep sensing or 'tasting' the different notes
It should end with a bitter taste, the level of bitterness changes according to cultivar but it will be there regardless. This bitterness comes from phenols, the antioxidant we mentioned before.
Don't forget to type in the comments below what you thought of Colive oil and what its taste reminds you of.