Besides the chemical analysis, a key quality control procedure for extra virgin olive oils is the tasting also referred to as the sensory or organoleptic analysis. At its most basic level, it divides olive oils into lampante, virgin and extra virgin olive oil. We focus only on extra virgin olive oil, which is the highest quality segment.
Tastings are carried out by groups of 8-12 trained tasters who evaluate an oil based on a grid of criteria aimed at identifying its defects and fruity attributes. If an oil presents a median of defects greater than zero, it fails the official classification as an extra virgin olive oil and is either classified as virgin or lampante oil. The tasting typically uses colored glass (frequently blue) to avoid any bias in the evaluation. Negative attributes such as fusty, musty, humid or rancid oils are frequently an indicator of errors in the production, extraction or storage.
Positive attributes are analyzed based on the degree of fruitiness (ripe or green, mild, medium or intense), bitterness and pungency, all of these being indicators for quality as they signal the presence of some of the most valuable minor compounds in extra virgin olive oils, the polyphenols.
Fruity: smells of fresh and healthy olive fruit, which can be green or ripe and of different intensities
Bitter: taste of green olives or olives changing colour, perceived in the back of the tongue
Pungent: typical sensation from olives harvested early, can be felt throughout the mouth, particularly in the throat.
Besides evaluating the general characteristics, a tasting reveals and identifies the extraordinary variety of flavours, which include the smells and tastes. We have listed below some of the most commonly found in premium extra virgin olive oils:
-Vegetal: artichoke, asparagus, chicory, herbs (mint, parsley, thyme, oregano, basil, coriander, lemon grass), lettuce, rocket, tomato, watercress
-Fruits: apple, banana, avocado, lemon, orange, peach, pineapple, strawberry
-Nuts: almond, pine nut, walnut
-Spices: pepper, chili, garlic, curry, radish,
Olive oil schools
A number of organizations provide tasting classes to increase your knowledge of premium extra virgin olive oils. We have listed below a number of organizations specialized in tasting courses in Spain, Italy, the US and in the UK depending on demand. Please contact us if you are interested in attending tasting classes in the UK and we would be pleased to assist you.