October 21, 2005
Picking a good olive oil is simple. Taste some and pick the one you like! Traditional Mediterranean oils are strong flavored. In the U.S., consumers are more accustomed to mild seed oils such as corn and soy oil. Olive oils encountered in the supermarket are often blended to be bland to appeal to the American palate. They may be labeled "lite" or "light", which refers to their flavor, not the caloric content. Newly pressed olive oil has some of the strongest flavors you will encounter. These oils are sometimes referred to as 1 or 2 cough oils. When the oil hits the back of the throat, the bitterness will force a cough (bitter is often considered a desirable trait). We have made up a special case of olive oils of different varieties and types just for a tasting party.
There is an elaborate official tasting procedure which professional tasters use to judge olive oil. The color cannot be observed and of course the tasters are blinded to the brand or producer.
|Below is a flavor classification and an excellent article on tasting olive oil by Guido Costa. You can have an olive tasting for friends without all the fuss. Sip the oil or dip a neutral white bread and compare your experiences.|
Olive oil is graded by its acidity and also by its flavor as judged by experts. Experienced tasters can discern a multitude of good or bad characteristics. Below - Red refers to undesirable, green to desirable traits.
Artichoke:a flavor which reminds one of artichoke.
Astringent: A puckering sensation in the mouth created by tannins
Bitter: Many new to olive oil are surprised to find that this is a preferred characteristic of olive oils; usually obtained from green olives or olives turning color.
Fresh:Good aroma, fruity, not oxidixed
Fruity:an oil is fruity when its flavor and aroma are similar to that of a mature olive.If you have stood over the olive grinder or press, fruity is what you smell. Many oils initially seem fruity. This characteristic may disappear in a few months in some oils, a truly fruity oil maintains this characteristic aroma through time.
Grass: the taste of grass - seen often in green olives or those crushed with leaves and twigs
Green: A young, fresh, fruity oil. Often mixed with bitter. Spicy-bitter cough sensation at the back of the throat.
Green leaf: a sensation obtained when in the press a small quantity of fresh olive leaves are added. This is a trick which is done to approximate the genuine green taste of green olives
Harmonious: all the qualities of the oil blend and work well with each other
Hay: Dried grass flavor
Melon, perfumy: (ethyl acetate)
Musky, nutty, woody: trace characteristics which are very pleasing when not overpowering.
Peppery: A peppery bite in the back of the throat which can force a cough
Pungent: A rough, burning or biting sensation in the throat - peppery
Soave: mature olives can produce this characteristic. Sweet, palatable aftertaste.
Rotund: is said of an oil with a pasty body to it which fills and satisfies without aromatic character - always from mature olives.
Sweet: The opposite to bitter, stringent or pungent. Found in mellow oils.
|Almond Associated with sweet oils with a flat scent.|
Bitter: a good trait in moderation but bad if overpowering. Produced by olives that are unripe and with little meat.
Brine salty taste - oil made from brined olives
Burnt: prolonged heating during processing
Cucumber: off flavor from prolonged storage, particularly in tin
Dirty: oils which have absorbed the unpleasant odors and flavors of the vegetable water after pressing which they have remained in contact for too long.
Dreggish: odor of warm lubricating oil and is caused by the poor or lacking execution of the decanting process.
Earthy: This term is used when oil has acquired a musty humid odor because it has been pressed from unwashed, muddy olives.
Esparto: Hemp-like flavor acquired when olive paste has been spread on Esparto mats. Flavors may differ according to whether the mates are green or dried.
Fiscolo: caused by the use of filtering panels which are not perfectly cleaned, and brings to mind hemp
Flat:Oils which have lost their characteristic aroma and have no taste.
Frozen: due to olives which have been exposed to freezing temperatures. When cooked, this oil gives off very unpleasant odors.
Fusty: due to olives fermenting in piles while in storage waiting for pressing
Greasy: a diesel, gasoline or bearing grease flavor
Grubby: flavor imparted by grubs of the olive fly
Hay-wood: dried olive taste
Heated: prolonged heating during processing, burnt taste
Impersonal: a serious defect for virgin oil, because it means it has neither character nor personality. It is a trait common in all manipulated oils.
Lampantino: oil which should be sent to a refinery. When it does not present awful organic characteristics, it can be edible.
Musty: moldy flavor from being stored too long before pressing
Metallic:Oils processed or stored with extended contact to metal surfaces.
Moldy: from unhealthy or fermented olives due to excessive storage in warehouses
Olearic Fly: oil from fruit stricken by this insect: the flavor is both rotten and putrid at the same time.
Phenic acid: pertaining to poorly kept very old oils.
Poor conservation: the oil absorbs the odors and flavors of everything surrounding it even if not in direct contact. A very common defect.
Rancid:Old oils which have started oxidizing due to exposure to light or air.
Rough: Pasty, thick greasy mouth feel
Vegetable water: Stored in contact with the juice from the olive
Warmth: due to the fermentation of olives kept too long in bags.
Winey High acidic taste
(The organoleptic assessment of Olive Oil) by Guido Costa
Unlike wine, olive oil is not normally consumed on its own, but rather as a dressing or ingredient in cooking. So why the interest in olive oil tasting? As with wine, there is a tremendous variability in product quality, and when one examines some of the (imported) products available locally, one wonders whether we are not being used as the dumping ground of the world. The situation is compounded by the lack of legislation (and even greater lack of policing) in controlling the quality of olive oil imports into S.A.
With all this variability in quality, the olive oil consumer runs quite a risk of purchasing a second rate product, which could easily end up completely ruining the very food it is supposed to improve. A good olive oil should subtly enhance the flavours of the specific dish, not distort or overpower them. One should thus get into the habit of tasting any untried olive oil before blindly using it over one’s food. The advantages of using a good olive oil in one’s everyday cooking are legion, not only from the flavour point of view, but also because of the associated health benefits.
Tasting olive oil is an art, but it can also be fun and worth learning. As in the case of the wine connoisseur and his wines, a certain amount of knowledge (and quite a lot of practice) isrequired to objectively classify olive oils according to taste. An appreciation of exactly how various factors affect the final product is essential in order to sensibly proclaim the merits of one oil above another. Such factors, including cultural techniques in growing the olives, maturity of fruit, soil type, climate, geographic latitude, cultivar mix, production methods, post-harvest storage of olives, etc., all play a part in producing high quality olive oil.
However, we aren’t going to take ourselves too seriously today. What I know about tasting oils is what I’ve picked up slowly over the years. I haven’t attended any formal tasting courses overseas, and don’t profess to be an expert taster, but I sometimes find it amusing to watch some of our local self-appointed “experts” score exactly the same oil completely differently in double blind tastings.
Classification of Olive Oil
Broadly speaking, international legislation divides the various classes of olive oil into (a) virgin olive oils (i.e. those which have not been refined) and (b) the chemically refined oils (called “olive oil” or “pure olive oil”). The situation is rather complicated by subdivisions within the classes, based on blends, the degree of acidity and other analytical and organoleptic parameters. A third class of oil, called (c) olive-pomace oil, is made by solvent extracting the residual oil from the presscake. This type of oil, however, cannot be called “olive oil” (or “pomace olive oil”, a term used by certain unscrupulous operators).
For the technically inclined, here’s the latest Trade Standard on Olive Oil by the IOOC (COI/T.15/NC no. 2/Rev. 6 of 5 June 1997), in which the following definitions are specified in the classification of olive oil and olive-pomace oil:
1. Olive oil is the oil obtained solely from the fruit of the olive tree (Olea europaea sativa Hoffm. et Link), to the exclusion of oils obtained using solvents or re-esterification processes and of any mixture with oils of other kinds. It is marketed in accordance with the following designations and definitions:
1.1 Virgin olive oil is the oil obtained from the fruit of the olive tree solely by mechanical or other physical means under conditions, particularly thermal conditions, that do not lead to alterations in the oil, and which has not undergone any treatment other than washing, decantation, centrifugation and filtration (i.e. only physical operations, not chemical refining).
1.1.1 Virgin olive oil fit for consumption as is (i.e. “natural”) includes:
i) Extra virgin olive oil: virgin olive oil which has a free acidity, expressed as oleic acid, of not more than 1 gram per 100 grams, and the organoleptic characteristics of which correspond to those fixed for this category (i.e. median of defects = 0; median of fruity attribute greater than 0)
ii) Virgin olive oil: (the qualifier “fine” may be used at the production and wholesale stage): virgin olive oil which has a free acidity, expressed as oleic acid, of not more than 2 grams per 100 grams and the organoleptic characteristics of which correspond to those fixed for this category (i.e. median of defects greater than 0, but less than or equal to 2,5; median of the fruity attribute greater than 0)
iii) Ordinary virgin olive oil: virgin olive oil which has a free acidity, expressed as oleic acid, of not more than 3,3 grams per 100 grams and the organoleptic characteristics of which correspond to those fixed for this category (i.e. median of defects greater than 2,5 but less than or equal to
6,0 and fruity attribute greater than 0, or where median of defects is greater than 0 but less than or equal to 6,0 and the median of fruity attribute = 0)
1.1.2 Virgin olive oil not fit for consumption as it is, designated lampante virgin olive oil, is virgin olive oil which has a free acidity, expressed as oleic acid, of more than 3,3 grams per 100 grams and/or the organoleptic characteristics of which correspond to those fixed for this category (i.e. median of defects greater than 6,0). Such olive oil is intended for refining or for technical purposes
1.2 Refined olive oil is the olive oil obtained from virgin olive oils by refining methods which do not lead to alterations in the initial glyceridic structure
1.3 Olive oil is the oil consisting of a blend of refined olive oil and virgin olive oil fit for consumption as it is (normally ordinary virgin olive oil)
2. Olive-pomace oil is the oil obtained by treating olive pomace with solvents, to the exclusion of oils obtained by re-esterification processes and of any mixture with oils of other kinds. It is marketed in accordance with the following designations and definitions:
2.1 Crude olive-pomace oil is olive-pomace oil intended for refining with a view to its use in food for human consumption, or intended for technical purposes
2.2 Refined olive-pomace oil is the oil obtained from crude olive-pomace oil by refining methods which do not lead to alterations in the initial glyceridic structure
2.3 Olive-pomace oil is the oil comprising the blend of refined olive-pomace oil and virgin olive oil fit for consumption as it is (usually ordinary virgin olive oil). In no case shall this blend be called “olive oil”
Factors affecting the quality of olive oil
In the major olive oil producing countries of the Mediterranean, adequate control of olive fruit quality is impossible, due to the massive scale of operation. At present over 50% of the olive oil produced in these countries has high acidity and poor organoleptic
characteristics, and is unsuitable for human consumption unless refined. Extra virgin oil accounts for barely 10% of the oil produced in many of these countries. South Africa, in contrast, produces a very high proportion of the extra virgin quality, due to the small scale of the local industry, and the much tighter control of fruit quality.
The following factors play a role in the quality of olive oil produced:
- Health of fruit (degree of pest and disease infestation)
- Method and period of post-harvest fruit storage
- Oil extraction system ( including extraction temperatures)
- Method and period of oil storage prior to packing
- Cultivar of olive
- Climate (latitude of production area)
- Cultural techniques (irrigation, drainage, pesticide residues, etc.)
- Soil type
- Harvesting method
- Maturity of fruit (time of harvesting)
- Method of fruit transport
- Type of packaging
- Period of storage in final pack prior to use
Any weak link in the chain from the fruit on the tree to the oil in the final retail pack will impact upon the quality of the oil.
The above factors affect both the quality and keeping quality of olive oils by altering one or more of the following chemical components or indices of the oil:
- Free fatty acidity (the degree of chemical breakdown of the triacylglycerols)