Co-author of 7 Wonders of Olive Oil, Cécile Le Galliard has been tasting olive oil professionally for over five years. She says you don’t have to be an expert to recognize good olive oil.
When blind tasting, professional tasters use blue glasses to hide the real color of the oil
Have you ever watched a professional olive oil taster blind tasting a sample of extra virgin?
Perhaps your olive oil merchant invited you to taste a few samples of olive oil - you declined because you had no idea what to do.
Olive oil tasting is a bit like wine tasting. You won't get it immediately, you have to learn what to look for and once you understand the basics you’ll start appreciating the subtle unique aroma and enjoy identifying the different tastes.
So where do you start?
Unlike wine tasting, fresh is important - ask when the olives were pressed into oil, it'll tell you about the quality of the oil. Try to avoid buying oils that were processed more than one year before.
Check the aroma
If it’s good olive oil, it will smell good. When you inhale your sample, you should get a fruity sensations; it could be floral or it could remind you of green aromas. Experts always use the word fruity to describe the aroma of olive oil. Be vigilant, don’t buy anything that smells (or taste) rancid, moldy, greasy, metallic or like cardboard.
Going deeper, you can decide whether your fruity oil is mild, strong or between the two. If the olives were picked early in the season, you might even detect aromas of herbaceous plants, grass, green olives and tomato plants.
Cup the container in both hands for a few minutes to warm the oil before taking in a good mouthful. You do need a good mouthful, enough so that the oil covers the whole mouth area: not only the front of the mouth but also the sides of the tongue, the palate support, and the throat.
Don’t swallow immediately but instead let the oil linger in your mouth for awhile. Pay attention to mouth feel, the oil should be crisp and clean.
Experts look for something they call the retro- nasal sensation. What they mean is that the aroma and flavors come together in our mouths which in turn connect with our nasal cavity at the back of the throat.
Your good quality oil will have these two qualities when you taste:
If you feel bitterness at the back of the tongue, this is a good sign; it means the oil has a lot of polyphenols, healthy natural antioxidants contained in this pure oil.
Pungency is a stinging sensation you feel in the throat when you swallow the oil, also a good sign showing strong polyphenol content. Did it make you cough? This is a sign of a good olive oil.
To sum up you must first smell the oil and decide if it’s pleasant and fruity. Secondly taste and look for pungency, that peppery bite when you swallow.
Above all, let tasting olive oil be a hedonistic experience - pleasurable and fun.
Remember too that not all olive oils are fresh; keep an eye out for oils that are rancid.
Want to learn more?
In 7 Wonders of Olive Oil, olive oil expert Cécile goes into more detail on this intriguing subject of tasting olive oil.