episode 7 >> TASTING
When tasting olive oil, much of the oil’s characteristics are perceived through the sense of smell. Though most people enjoy olive oil with other foods, the following steps allow us to focus on the olive oil’s flavor without distraction:
- Pour a small amount of oil (about 1 tablespoon) into a small tapered (wine) glass.
- Hold the glass in one hand and use your other hand to cover the glass while swirling the oil to release its aroma.
- Uncover the glass and inhale deeply from the top of the glass. Think about whether the aroma is mild or strong. You may want to write down descriptions of the aromas that you detect at this point.
- Next you slurp the oil; this is done by sipping a small amount of oil into your mouth while “sipping” some air as well. (When done correctly, you will make that impolite noise that would cause you to be scolded when you were a child!) Slurping emulsifies the oil with air that helps to spread it throughout your mouth – giving you the chance to savor every nuance of flavor with just a small sip of oil.
- Finish by swallowing the oil and noticing if it leaves a stinging sensation in your throat.
Each of the above actions focuses our attention on a specific positive attribute in the oil. First we evaluate the olive fruit aroma (fruitiness) by inhaling from the glass. When the oil is in our mouths we further evaluate the aroma retro-nasally as well as determine amount of bitterness on our tongues. Lastly we determine the intensity of the oil’s pungency in our throats as we swallow it.
Perhaps you noticed that the oil’s color is not addressed during sensory assessment. The reason is that contrary to the common belief that golden oil is mild and dark green oil is robust, color is NOT an indicator of either the oil’s flavor or quality. In fact, in scientific assessments, we sample from specially designed blue glasses that obscure the color of the oil. Tasting from a dark glass prevents us from having preconceptions about the flavor of the oil before we actually smell or taste it.
TRY THIS EXERCISE Once you are comfortable with the above tasting method, try the following exercise. Select three oils labeled as extra virgin, including an inexpensive imported brand from the supermarket. In between samples, clean your palate by eating a small piece of tart, green apple (preferably Granny Smith) and then rinsing your mouth with water. Consider the following as you evaluate each sample:
- Is the aroma pleasant or unpleasant?
- Is the aroma mild, strong, or somewhere in the middle (we’ll call that medium)? When assessing the second and third oils, note if the aroma’s intensity is weaker or stronger than the previous sample.
- Note 3 words (or phrases) that describe the aroma.
- Is the oil bitter, which is primarily sensed towards the back of the tongue? Would you describe the bitterness as mild, medium or strong? Is the intensity of the bitterness in balance with the intensity of the aroma?
- When you swallow the oil, how does it feel in your throat? Did the oil leave a mild impression, or did it sting your throat or make you cough? Is the intensity of the oil’s pungency in balance with the oil’s aroma and bitterness?
When you have completed the above exercise, take a few moments to review your notes. What were the characteristics that you enjoyed the most? Were there any characteristics that you didn’t enjoy? How did the supermarket brand compare to the other oils? Even without an experienced taster sharing their thoughts about the oils with you, there is much you can learn by tasting olive oils on your own.
Using this same tasting method, you can sample another set of oils on another day, and still be able to compare your responses to the first set; this is how we build our personal olive oil “vocabulary”. You will begin to recognize flavors and may even discover which varietals produce the flavors you prefer. You will learn to compare the level of intensity for fruity aroma, bitterness and pungency, and will begin to identify oils as mild, medium and robust (intense). It’s a good idea to organize your tasting notes in a binder so you can review your past tasting experiences with new ones.
Worldwide over 1,000 varieties of olives are grown, which should give consumers a wide range of flavor possibilities. Taste is personal, so not everyone will agree on which varietals, and other factors, produce the best oil. However, tasting oils in a methodical fashion will help to educate your palate, and you will be able to select oils with flavor characteristics that you enjoy and enhance your meals.
The International Olive Council (IOC) has developed a system for the objective organoleptic (tasting) assessment of olive oil in order to determine an oil’s quality and commercial trade value. This assessment method is based on panels of trained tasters recognizing the absence and/or presence of specific positive and negative (defective) attributes.
While the IOC assessment offers an objective method to determine if an oil has defective flavors or not, this method does not allow for descriptions of flavors because descriptive language is subjective.
|DESIRABLE TRAITSApple/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
|UNDESIRABLE TRAITSAcetone: 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