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 Blue Glass
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 the 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°F. 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 characteristics 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.
*retro-nasal receptors are receptors at the back of your mouth where the nose meets the tongue. By (re)capturing aromas, retro-nasal receptors sends to the brain a second message of the oil’s flavor.
Attributes and Descriptors
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. The oil must also have fruitiness.
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 the 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.
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 buyers, chefs and consumers.
Material prepared with the assistance of Nancy Ash, Strictly Olive Oil