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The Taste Testing Methods of Olive Oil

Taste Testing Methods

In the Mediterranean lands, which are the world’s biggest olive oil producing countries, there are two types of taste testing to class the oil as extra virgin.

1. Chemical Test

This test simply finds out the acidity level in the oil. For any oil to be classed as extra virgin, it must not be more than 1 percent. If the level is more than that, no further test are conducted for this grade and the oil does not qualify for being labelled as extra virgin.

2. Taste Test or Organoleptic Testing

Viktoria Hassouna rightly points out that it is not enough to demonstrate the quality of the virgin olive oil simply by measuring the free fatty acid contents and other tests conducted in laboratory analysis. Olive oil is natural and its the only oil which directly comes from the fruit. Any foreign contact can easily contaminate its quality, aroma and flavour. It is, therefore, important to conduct Organoleptic tests to determine its true taste. Organoleptic test is a way of testing which involves sense organs. In other words, it is a sensory analysis of the quality of oil while assessing its flavour, taste, feel and smell.

People who conduct the official taste test are experts and especially trained in this field. They are professionally trained people who have the skill to distinguish between similar samples according to the high standards set by International Olive Oil Council. These trained and “schooled in the art of distinguishing” people are called degustators. The tasters must follow some strict rules and regulations set by the International Olive Oil Council. According to Viktoria Hassouna, the degustators are people who are mostly non-smokers. They try to avoid spicy foods and rarely eat out in restaurants. All this is done so that they do not damage their vocational tools. They will keep their sense of smell and taste receptors as sharp as possible. Peggy Knickerbocker summarises the rules which each degustator must observe before he or she is involved in Organoleptic test.

  1. No smoking, at least, 30 minutes before the test starts.
  2. No use of any perfume, cosmetic or scented soap whose scent may linger and alter the results of the test.
  3. Nothing to eat or drink (complete fast) one hour before the test time.
  4. The experts must report to the official if they are ill or under any psychological stress as it might affect the results.

How is the organoleptic quality determined?

Organoleptic quality refers to the characteristic rating for odour and taste. There are some official words (jargon, terminology) which are used by the trained and professionally expert tasters to determine its quality. Mostly, this terminology is flavour based because it is assessed through the sensory assessment.

How to do an Olive Tasting Test at Home?

As a layperson, you can conduct your own testing at home. Although, we may not be able to pass sound judgement as accurately as the trained experts, but the home test will still give us a clear idea of the quality, taste, flavor and feel of the oil. Also, skill and perfection comes with experience which itself comes with the passage of time. Constantly testing a few varieties at home will sharpen your skill until you become a good taster. If you are passionate about the use of extra virgin olive oil, always keep a few brands or types and carry out the test. Here are few simple steps to help you get started.

  1. Select about 4 to 5 different types or brands of oil for tasting.
  2. Pour a little oil in a small glass.
  3. Wrap around your fingers and hand around the glass. This warms it up.
  4. Put the other hand on top of the glass to completely cover it.
  5. Swirl it around for a couple of times. When you remove the covering hand, you will feel the aroma of the oil.
  6. Sniff the oil. If it smells like grass, almond and fruity, the oil is good.
  7. Extra Virgin Olive Oil should be fruity. It means that it should bear the flavor of the fruit from which it is made.
  8. Take a sip.
  9. Suck in some air so that it spreads the flavour all around in your mouth.
  10. You may also then swallow it and feel it in your throat.
  11. You may find flavours like almond, apples, grass, artichoke etc.

Olivier Baussan & Jacques Chibois in their landmark book, Olive Oil –A Gourmet Guide, describe three ways of home or unofficial testing. The first method is almost the same as above. The second method is oiling the bread. Just take a piece of bread and pour the beautiful liquid on a white saucepan. (The white saucepan just makes it more aesthetic and enhances pleasure). The third tasting method is to dip a sliced steamed potato in the oil.

What are the positive and negative attributes?

Positive

Negative

Fruity: perceived through the back of the nose. It is lively, attractive and fresh. It reminds of fruit and vegetables.Bitterness: It is felt at the back of the tongue and in the throat. It depends on the type of cultivar. Characteristics of olives obtained from green or unripe olives.

Pungent or Pepperiness: It is characteristic of olives at the beginning of the crop which are immature olives.

 Greasiness: Fresh, taste and smell like grass. Made of semi-ripe olives.

Nuttiness or Almond: A sweet taste of nuts when obtained from mature olives. With the passage of time, most oils become nutty.

Fusty Muddy Sediment: Characteristics of oil obtained from olive which are not stored properly and may have undergone the process of fermentation.Matter or dregs may be found at the bottom of the bottle.Musty humid. If olives are stored in humid conditions it may develop yeast and fungi. The oil of such fruit is called musty humid. Also known as mould, fustiness or mustiness.

Winey-vinegary: It happens when pressing mates are not properly cleaned which leads to the formation acetic acid due to aerobic fermentation. Also referred to as acid sour.

Metallic: It is reminiscent of metallic flavour and taste. It happens of the fruit or past is direct contact with metals for longer period.

Rancid: It is the result of oxidization.

Heated or bunt: Caused by excessive or prolonged heat.

Hay-wood: caused by prolonged exposure to sunlight which may have caused it dried out.

Greasy: caused by contact of olive with mineral oils or grease.

Vegetable Water: Caused by prolonged contact with fermented vegetable water.

Ten Questions and answers about professional olive taste test

1. Why it is necessary to do sensory analysis?

Because chemical tests alone cannot determine the quality, flavour and aroma of the oil.

2. Do degustators have to be professionally trained?

Yes. If the test is an official one, they must all be professionally trained and schooled in the art of sensory analysis

3. Do the professional degustators take the test in the same place?

It normally takes place in one large room with cubicles for each tester. The reason that each taster is given a cubicle is to avoid interference and keep the taster focused.

4. How many tasters are involved in the official test?

There are normally eight to twelve people.

5. Which sense is first used?

First smell, then taste.

6. How do the tasters record their observations?

Once they smell and taste, they record the intensity of both negative and positive attribute in the profile description.

7. Does color matter?

No, Color is immaterial. According to Charles Quest-Ritson, if you are doing home tasting, it is always good to look at the color. This will not determine the quality, but if the color is too deep golden, the oil might be rancid. Opaques are fresher and fruity.

8. Why are the tasting glasses rust-brown or cobalt-blue?

As color is not judged so it does not matter which color the oil is? In these glasses all colors shall look similar.

9. Is there any interval or gap between tests?

A minimum of 15 minutes is necessary to pass before another test is taken.

10. Does the first test affect the second one?

Tasters eat a piece of apple and wash their mouth after the test and do not take another test at least 15 minutes after the first one. This ensures that there are no effects left on their senses.

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