Discover the best extra virgin olive oil…by tasting it!

- Categories : Olive Oil

Olive oil bowls for tasting
Photo: Olive oil bowls for tasting

Learn how to taste Italian extra virgin olive oil in three easy steps. Recognise if an olive oil is of good quality and choose the fruitiness that best suits what you eat.

Want to learn how to taste an Extra Virgin Olive Oil? Follow these three simple steps.

Index:

First of all, pour a small amount of your extra virgin oil (about two teaspoons) into a small transparent glass.

Extra virgin olive oil is poured into blue tasting glasses
Photo: Extra virgin olive oil is poured into blue tasting glasses

The first stage of tasting: what is the olive oil colour?

A man performs a colour analysis of olive oil
Photo: A man performs a colour analysis of olive oil

Look carefully at the colour of your extra virgin olive oil. The colour of a good EVOO (the acronym stands for extra virgin olive oil) should be somewhere between yellow and deep green. Unfortunately, however, the colour alone is not enough to distinguish a good quality oil because it can be chemically altered, e.g. by the addition of chlorophyll.

In parallel with the colour, observe the clarity and density of your oil. Clarity depends on the filtration processes. The filtered olive oil is clear. Filtration preserves it from possible defects such as sludge.

The density of the EVOO, on the other hand, depends on the variety of olives used. In general, a higher density corresponds to a better extra virgin olive oil.

Odour analysis: how does extra virgin oil smell?

A woman performs olfactory analysis of olive oil
Photo: A woman performs olfactory analysis of olive oil

Odour is a great measure of the quality of an EVO oil. Thanks to the odour analysis of the extra virgin oil in your glass, you will immediately recognise if it is a quality extra virgin oil.

To release all the aromas of the extra virgin oil, you have to warm it to a temperature of about 27/28°C.

In fact, this is the ideal temperature to allow our sense of smell to perceive all the aromas.

Does it sound difficult? Not at all: just place the small glass in the palm of your hand and cover it with the other and swirl it gently in the air for a few seconds. Thanks to the warmth, the extra virgin oil will release all its scents and odours.

Then remove your hand from the glass and bring it closer to your nose, repeating the operation two or three times, but no more because otherwise you might confuse your taste buds.

Congratulations! You have just completed the second phase of your olive oil tasting.

The scent of the best Italian olive oils

Surprisingly, the most persistent smell of a good Italian extra virgin olive oil is that of the olive. It is a fresh, herbal scent.

When you smell a quality extra virgin olive oil, your sense of smell will also perceive other, characteristic, more- or less-marked scents. The most important of these are:

  • almond
  • artichoke
  • tomato
  • freshly cut grass

You will only smell fresh aromas reminiscent of herbaceous, vegetable and floral notes.

Trust your nose: if you do not smell any of these odours, or if the smell is unpleasant, your olive oil is of low quality.

The palate: it's time to taste the oil!

A woman sips extra virgin olive oil from a small glass during a tasting sessionl
Photo: A woman sips extra virgin olive oil from a small glass during a tasting session

The third and final stage of extra virgin olive oil tasting is the most fun and interesting: it's time to taste your olive oil!

Bring the extra virgin oil into your mouth, taking care not to swallow it, and, keeping your chin down and your teeth clenched together, inhale air, gently at first and then more vigorously, so that it spreads throughout the mouth.

With this process, which in jargon is called stripping, the oil is brought into direct contact with your taste buds.

Moreover, the flavour of a high-quality extra virgin oil persists in the mouth even after tasting, leaving a pleasant, fruity and fresh flavour.

Conversely, if you experience a bad taste or a so-called 'oily mouth' you are tasting a poor quality olive oil.

What are the flavours of extra virgin olive oil?

One of the parameters that characterises extra virgin olive oil is its fruity flavour: the set of scents that the oil exudes, i.e. the presence of the fragrance typical of healthy, fresh, cold pressed olives picked at the right stage of ripeness. Extra virgin olive oil can be light fruity, medium fruity or intensely fruity.

Light, medium and intense fruity: what does that mean?

The terms light, medium and intense fruitiness refer to the strength of the fragrance and are the result of many variables, primarily the cultivar (variety of olive) and the processing method.

Let us discover the characteristics of the various types of fruitiness:

  • Light fruity extra virgin olive oil: this is a delicate oil with a slight presence of spicy and bitter hints. It is particularly suitable for simple dishes with a flavour that is not too pronounced
  • Medium fruity extra virgin olive oil: medium fruity oil provides an excellent balance of spicy and bitter flavours. This EVOO goes well with many different foods, as long as they have a balanced flavour
  • Intensely fruity extra virgin olive oil: this is an EVOO with a strong flavour, particularly suitable for dishes and specialities with a strong taste

The other two parameters that characterise the taste of the best extra virgin olive oils are:

  • bitterness
  • spiciness

The best olive oil? It is extra virgin, bitter and spicy!

Of all the different types of Italian olive oil, extra virgin is definitely the best. The taste of a good EVO oil is always bitter and spicy.

The bitter taste can be felt on the tongue when tasting. Coratina and Moraiolo are two Italian olive varieties with a particularly bitter taste.

The spicy taste is felt in the throat and is due to the presence of polyphenols, phenolic compounds that are the natural antioxidants in extra virgin olive oil and have a high nutritional value.

So what is the best Italian EVOO?

Bitter and spicy olive oil? Bitter oil is an indication of good quality.

Light fruity oil is a delicate oil that goes well with dishes with a not too intense flavour, such as white meat.

The intensely fruity oil goes very well with dishes with strong flavours, such as red meat, shellfish, spaghetti alla carbonara and all Italian ragùs. For example sugo all'arrabbiata, sugo all'amatriciana, the excellent Chianina ragout or even the lesser known but extremely tasty wild boar ragout.

The odour of the EVO oil must be fresh and natural. Trust your nose: herbivorous animals graze grass or eat a vegetable only after having examined it with their nose.

The colour of extra virgin oil should be between yellow and green: unfortunately, however, there are oils on the market whose colour is altered by the addition of chlorophyll. Follow the three simple steps in this guide to taste an EVO oil: you will be able to distinguish a better extra virgin olive oil from a low-quality one.

Professional olive oil sommeliers and tasters

We often hear about sommeliers and extra virgin olive oil tasters.

The taster establishes the quality of extra virgin oil on the basis of specific, predefined parameters. The oil sommelier is responsible for defining the best match between the fruitiness of the oil and the food.

There are various training courses to become an official professional taster, but to choose the best extra virgin oil one does not need to be an expert in the field. Official tasters are listed in a register. In Italy there are several unions of oil tasters. The best known is the ONAOO .

Why do professional tasters use a blue glass?

Professional tasters use a blue glass in order not to be influenced by colour when evaluating EVO oil. Colour, in fact, is not a parameter for evaluating oil defects.

Follow the simple practical tips in this guide and you will be able to distinguish the best extra virgin oil from a low-quality one.

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