How to Taste Olive Oil
The most logical place to start your education about olive oil is to start learning how to taste olive oil. Sure, you can read about olive oil but, to really appreciate the wonders of olive oil, you need to connect to the sensory experience – its varietal aromas and tastes. Professional olive oil tasters sip the oil straight from small cobalt blue glasses that look a bit like a votive candle or a large shot glass. Ultimately, the intention is for your olive oil to be an ingredient in your favorite dish so tasting it straight gives you the advantage of experiencing the completely undisguised taste of the oil. It will help you learn to recognize important characteristics of your oil — both good and bad — without the complication of the flavors of the other ingredients in your recipe. The extra virgin olive oil definition – the olive oil has been processed by simple pressing of the olives using no chemical means of extraction and has passed chemical tests for purity and taste tests to assure the absence of spoilage flavors – means you should be able to count on getting a healthy, tasty olive oil, possessing the flavors of the olive fruit. EVOO must have a certified acidity of less than .8% with some of the best EVOO offerings having less than .3% acidity. Because of these stringent standards, EVOO accounts for less than 10% of oil in many producing countries. Little Angel’s 2014 harvest was tested at .27% acidity. We are very proud parents and we love to taste olive oil – especially, Little Angel !
Let’s start learning how to taste olive oil. Don’t worry. It’s not an unpleasant experience. In fact, it’s kinda fun! There are four basic steps to the process:
|SWIRL Pouring some olive oil into a small glass; a tapered glass similar to a large shot glass is best. Cup the bottom of the glass in your hand to warm the oil with the other hand and swirl gently to begin releasing the aromas from the oil.||SMELL Bring the glass to your nose and smell the oil. Take a note of the aromas. Is it fruity? Are there any odors that surprise you or trouble you? Can you detect more of the aroma? Does it smell like fresh olive oil?||SLURP Now, for the fun. Take a slurp from the glass. As you do so, touch your tongue to the back of your teeth and inhale. This is similar to how you might taste a wine for the first time. This helps release the flavors of the olive oil. You’ll make a funny noise, but it’s ok!||SWALLOW Finally, go ahead and swallow the oil. Do you detect any bitterness in your mouth? If you do, this is great! Do you get a burning sensation in the back of your throat? That’s good too! That’s from the polyphenols and antioxidants. The healthiest part of the oil.|
Let’s Talk Swirl, Smell, and Slurp
The aroma of olive oil is actually a significant element of its flavor. The best way to appreciate the magnificent aromas is to pour a little bit of olive oil (a tablespoon or two) into a small wineglass (or a cool blue tasting glass if you have one).
Cup the glass in one hand and cover with the other to keep the aromas inside while you warm it. Hold it, swirl it, warm it for a minute or two. Don’t be in a hurry. Let the oil warm up a bit. Then stick your nose into the glass and inhale the aroma of the olive oil. You may sense the smell of fresh-mown grass, tropical fruits or other aromas of ripe or green olive fruit. This is a good time to point out the word “fruity” in olive oil lingo refers to vegetable notes, i.e. green olive fruit, as well as to ripe fruit notes. So think of artichokes, grass and herbs as “fruit” when you taste olive oil. You’ll soon be able to tell the difference between fresh olive oil and oil that is getting old.
Now take a sip of the oil. Take a good sip! If you don’t get a reasonable amount of oil you can’t appreciate all of the qualities because it will only be getting on the tip of your tongue. Suck in a little air through the oil to bring aromas out of it, and then – this is very important – close your mouth and breathe out through your nose. This creates what is known as retro nasal perception which will give you a whole new set of flavors and aromas.
The aroma of the oil is the first of the three most important attributes of any good olive oil.
Now for Swallow
OK, go ahead and swallow. Not bad. Not bad at all.
You should notice ranges of bitterness and pungency and you should be able to taste the olive. Bitterness is an acquired taste. As anyone who has ever tasted and olive right off the tree can attest, bitterness is a characteristic taste in fresh olives. Curing olives for the table actually starts with a process intended to de-bitter the olives. But, olive oil is made from fresh, uncured olives so varying degrees of bitterness can be expected and is a good thing. The bitterness can be an indication of the age of the olive fruit when the oils was made. Olive oil made from older or riper fruit will have little to no bitterness, whereas oil made from early harvest greener fruit can have a very noticeable bitterness. Little Angel Greek Extra Virgin Olive Oil® is made from the very early harvest and you will notice a measurable bitterness to our oil that adds to the foods you pour it on. Remember, bitterness is part of the desired extra virgin olive oil taste and is a positive attribute of good, fresh olive oil.
The third positive attribute of fresh olive oil is its pungency. This is a peppery sensation, detected in the back of the throat, so you have to swallow the olive oil to sense it. It is a chemical irritation similar to the sensation of hotness of chili peppers. The good news is that pungency comes from the polyphenols and antioxidants in fresh olive oil so, if it’s pungent, it’s healthy for you. Pungency can range from mild (just hint of tingle) to “Holy Smokes” (enough to make you cough a little). Little Angel olive oil is just about in the middle of pungency range, perfect for any dish.[/twocol_one_last]
The Attributes of a Good Olive Oil
Fruity: Olfactory sensations characteristic of the oil, which depends on the variety and comes from sound, fresh olives, either ripe or unripe. It is perceived directly or through the back of the nose (retro nasal) and is a characteristic of fresh harvested olive oil like Little Angel Greek Extra Virgin Olive Oil.
Bitter: Characteristic taste of oil obtained from fresh, unripe olives. Fresh olives are bitter and so is the freshest of olive oils! Perceived on the back of the tongue.
Pungent: “Picante” or biting tactile sensation characteristic of certain olive varieties or oil produced from unripe olives. Perceived in the throat. Properly extracted and processed extra virgin olive oil will definitely be pungent!
The Attributes of a Bad Olive Oil
Fusty: Characteristic flavor of oil obtained from olives stored in piles, which have undergone an advanced stage of anaerobic fermentation. Associated with chemical byproducts produced from the decomposition acids and alcohols formed from fermentation.
Musty: Characteristic moldy flavor of oils obtained from fruit in which fungi and yeast have developed as a result of its being stored in humid conditions for several days.
Muddy sediment: Characteristic flavor of oil that has been left in contact with the sediment in tanks and vats following extraction or oil that has not been well filtered.
Winey-Vinegary: Characteristic flavor of certain oil reminiscent of wine or vinegar. This flavor is mainly the result of aerobic fermentation in the olives leading to the formation of acetic acid, ethyl acetate, and ethanol.
Rancid: Flavor of oils that have undergone a process of oxidation and a fragmentation of hydroperoxides into compounds with characteristic disagreeable odors such as varnish, was, putty, crayons, old paint, and so forth. Rancid olive oil taste is never forgotten once you experience it.
Heated and Burnt: Characteristic cooked or burnt flavor of oils incited by excessive or prolonged heating during processing or while cooking.
Hay and Woody: Characteristic flavor of certain oil produced from olives that have been allowed to dry out or become frozen prior to milling and processing.
Greasy or Metallic: Flavor of oil reminiscent of that of diesel oil, grease, or mineral oil. The metallic flavor can often come when the newly processing oil is allowed to come in contact with metal machinery.
Vegetable Water: Flavor acquired by the oil as a result of prolonged contact with the liquid, nonoil fraction of the olive (also called fruit-water).
Briny: Flavor of oil extracted from olives that have been preserved in brine. This is a desirable flavor for fresh brine-soaked olives but not for fresh olive oil.
Earthy: Flavor from olives that have been collected with earth or mud on them and not properly washed before milling and processing.
Learning how to taste olive oil and detect fresh olive oil is easy and fun!