How to taste olive oil. Step by step guide

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The olive oil tasting is much more than a simple act of tasting; it’s a sensory experience that immerses us in the fascinating world of flavors and aromas of liquid gold. If you’ve ever done a wine tasting or a food tour, you’ll more or less know what the experience entails. However, an oil tasting will open the door to a new world that has always been in front of you, in your kitchen, and you’ve probably never stopped to explore.

In this step-by-step guide, we’ll take you through this exciting journey, from the basics as a beginner to the most refined details as a professional. Become a real olive oil sommelier!

At Oliveo Escapes, we invite you to join us in person for our tastings and tastings with one of our experts. In addition to tastings, we organize various experiences for you to enjoy oil in an idyllic setting: Andalusia, in southern Spain. We offer everything from week-long gastronomic and rural tours to day visits to an oil mill or press or tastings in Granada, Córdoba, Málaga, and Seville. Check out the experiences here.

What is olive oil tasting?

You may have been wondering this since the beginning of the article, and the answer is yes.

It’s very similar to a wine tasting, but with oil. The most appropriate definition for an oil tasting is a rigorous process of sensory evaluation that involves the detailed analysis of its organoleptic attributes. Using specific techniques, aspects such as aroma, flavor, texture, and balance of the oil are evaluated. The goal is to identify desirable characteristics such as fruity, bitter, and spicy, while detecting possible defects such as rancidity, vinegariness, or mold.

But at Oliveo Escapes, we explain how to host an oil tasting at home with family and friends.

4 Steps to correctly taste extra virgin olive oil EVOO

1. Preparation of space and materials

Before starting, it is important to prepare the appropriate space and necessary materials. Look for a well-lit place, as light affects the perception of the oil’s color, and without strong odors that may interfere with the oil’s aromas.

What do you need to prepare the tasting at home?

  • Small tasting glasses or cups. They should be made of glass so that they do not transfer flavor, and ideally dark in color.
  • Absorbent paper
  • Unsalted bread, if the taste or texture of the oil is too intense, although we recommend tasting the oil directly in the mouth, without any bread.
  • And, of course, a selection of extra virgin olive oils from different varieties

2. Aroma evaluation: discovering the aromas of olive oil

Aroma evaluation allows us to detect a wide range of nuances and characteristics that influence its flavor. Follow these instructions to properly appreciate the aromas of the oil:

  • Warming the oil: Before smelling it, cover the tasting glass with one of your hands and gently swirl it to lightly warm it. This will help release the volatile aromas of the oil.
  • Slow and deep inhalation: Bring the glass close to your nose and smell the oil with a slow and deep inhalation. Take your time to detect the different aromas present.
  • Identification of nuances: Pay attention to the different aromatic nuances, which can be fruity, herbaceous, floral, or even spicy. Try to identify the specific aromas you perceive, such as freshly cut grass, almond, banana, or tomato.
  • Swirling the glass: After inhaling the initial aroma, gently swirl the glass to allow the oil to move and release more aromas. Smell again and see if you perceive new nuances.
 

By following these steps, you will be able to appreciate the aromas of olive oil and enjoy its sensory richness more fully.

3. Taste evaluation: discovering the flavors of olive oil

Tasting is the culmination of the olive oil tasting process, where the complex and delicious notes that characterize each variety are revealed. Follow these steps to properly appreciate the flavors of the oil:

  • Take a small amount: Pour a small amount of oil into your mouth and swirl it gently to cover the entire surface of your tongue. This allows the flavors to distribute evenly and allows you to perceive all their characteristics.
  • Identify the flavors: Pay attention to the flavors you perceive in the oil. You may find notes of ripe fruits, fresh herbs, nuts, spices, or even a slight bitterness or spiciness in the background.
  • Evaluate the intensity: Determine the intensity of the oil’s flavor, which can vary from mild and delicate to intense and robust. This characteristic is influenced by factors such as the variety of olive, the time of harvest, and the production process.
  • Texture and body: Consider the texture and body of the oil in your mouth. Some oils may be light and fluid, while others may have a thicker, creamier texture.
  • Persistent finish: Observe the persistence of the flavors in your mouth after swallowing the oil. A high-quality oil will leave a pleasant and long-lasting sensation, while a lower-quality oil may fade quickly.
  • Record your impressions: Take notes of the flavors you perceive and how you would describe them. This will help you remember and compare your impressions during the tasting.
 

Are you starting to discover the enormous differences between one oil variety and another? In the next step, we’ll explain how to distinguish them.

4. Distinguishing varieties: recognizing unique characteristics

Distinguishing between olive varieties is essential for appreciating the diversity and complexity of olive oil. Here’s how to recognize the distinctive characteristics of the most common varieties in Spain and around the world:

  • Picual: Hailing from Andalusia, Picual is known for its intensity and robustness. It has a fruity and spicy flavor, with a pronounced bitterness. Ideal for dishes with strong flavors and stews.
  • Arbequina: This variety, native to Catalonia, is characterized by its smoothness and delicacy. It presents fruity and sweet notes, with a slight touch of almond. Perfect for salads and mild dishes.
  • Hojiblanca: Originating from the region of Andalusia, Hojiblanca stands out for its balance between bitterness and spiciness, with notes of fresh herbs and tomato. It is versatile and adapts well to a wide variety of dishes. It is also one of the most widely consumed olives as a table olive. It is also one of the most widely consumed olives as a table olive.
  • Cornicabra: This Spanish variety offers a smooth and slightly sweet flavor, with a touch of almond and a slight spiciness at the finish. Ideal for dressing salads and fish dishes.
  • Empeltre: Its flavor is smooth and sweet, with notes of nuts and a slight hint of bitterness. Empeltre is versatile and is used both for the production of extra virgin olive oil and for table consumption.
  • Manzanilla: This variety is widely used in the production of high-quality extra virgin olive oil and is also popular as a table olive, especially in pickles. Its flavor is smooth and delicate, with fruity notes and a slight hint of bitterness.
  • Verdial: Dark green in color and with an intense and fruity flavor, with herbal notes and a slight touch of bitterness. Verdial is appreciated for its high oil content and is mainly used in the production of premium quality extra virgin olive oil.

 

In our post: The 7 Best Olive Varieties for Making Olive Oil we tell you all the differences and characteristics of these types.

How to differentiate between good and bad olive oil?

We’ve explained how to properly taste olive oil, but how do you know if it’s of good or bad quality? A good olive oil is characterized by a series of attributes that make it stand out in terms of both flavor and overall quality. Professional tasters look for several characteristics that distinguish high-quality extra virgin olive oil from other oils.

Good qualities in olive oil

  • Freshness: A good olive oil should be fresh and fruity, with notes of freshly harvested olives. Any hint of rancidity or oxidation should be avoided.
  • Aroma: The oil should have a fresh and fragrant aroma, ranging from fruity notes like apple, banana, or freshly cut grass to more complex notes like almond, tomato, or artichoke.
  • Flavor: In the mouth, the oil should be balanced, with a fresh and fruity flavor, a slight bitterness, and a touch of spiciness in the throat. A harmonious balance between these three characteristics is sought, without any one dominating over the others.
  • Texture: The oil’s texture should be smooth and silky in the mouth, without leaving a heavy or viscous sensation.
  • Color: Is not a good reliable indicator of quality, although early harvested olive oils, where the fruit is very fresh, has a high content of chlorophyll and tend to have a greener color.

Bad qualities in olive oil

  • On the other hand, some undesirable characteristics in olive oil include:

    • Rancidity: Rancid oil will have an unpleasant odor and taste, similar to old oil or mold.
    • Acidity: Excessive acidity may indicate that the oil has not been processed properly or that the olives used were not in optimal condition.
    • Smoky flavor: It may indicate that the oil has been exposed to high temperatures during the production process.

     

In summary, good olive oil should be fresh, aromatic, balanced in flavor and smooth in texture. Undesirable characteristics include rancidity, high acidity, and strange flavors such as smoke.

Helpful tips for tasting: don't miss anything!

When you’re ready to conduct an olive oil tasting, whether at home or elsewhere, keep these tips in mind to make the most of the experience:

  • Use dark glasses: Use opaque dark glasses to prevent the color of the oil from influencing your perception of the flavor. This will allow you to focus on aromas and flavors without visual distractions.
  • Warm the oil: Before starting the tasting, gently warm the oil between your hands to release its aromas. This will help the flavors to express themselves more fully.
  • Smell the oil: Bring the glass to your nose and take a deep breath to capture the aromas. Look for fruity, herbal, and spicy notes. Close your eyes to focus on the scents and visualize the aromas.
  • Taste on the palate: Take a small sip of oil and swirl it around your mouth to cover all taste buds. Pay attention to the texture, flavor, and sensation in your mouth. Identify primary, secondary flavors, and the finish.
  • Assess quality: Consider the quality of the oil based on its balance, complexity, and flavor persistence. Look for oils with a harmonious balance of bitterness, spiciness, and fruitiness, with a long and pleasant finish.
  • Take notes: Make notes of your impressions during the tasting, including aromas, flavors, and sensations. This will help you remember your experiences and compare different oils.
  • Experiment and enjoy: Don’t be afraid to experiment and try different varieties and styles of olive oil. As you explore and discover new oils, you’ll immerse yourself in a world of unique flavors and aromas that will leave you amazed. Enjoy the journey and keep exploring the wonderful world of olive oil!

If you still want more, at Oliveo Escapes, we organize tastings and samplings. One of our experts and olive oil enthusiasts will tell you firsthand how to differentiate and appreciate all the nuances of liquid gold. And what better place to taste the oil than an olive grove on hills at sunset or an ancient olive mill that maintains centuries-old tradition. Contact us if you want us to tell you more about our experiences and tours in Andalusia.

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