How to taste olive oil – Organoleptic assessment

Organoleptic assessment

Olive oil is the only food product which is evaluated based on two separate criteria:

  1. Chemical analysis

  2. Organoleptic assessment (smell, taste)

According to the IOC*, organoleptic assessment or sensory analysis, is a process by which trained tasters evaluate the aroma and taste of an olive oil while also detecting its sensory defects and their intensities in order to classify it.

The organoleptic assessment concerns the following:

  • It locates and describes the characteristics (positive or negative) of an olive oil using the senses of smell and taste from a specialized tasting panel.

  • It is a necessary qualitative criterion for the classification of an olive oil in the categories of extra virgin or virgin or lampante depending on its organoleptic characteristics.

  • It is equivalent to the other quality parameters and irreplaceable.

  • It uses a group of selected, qualified testers (recognized by the IOC) to classify virgin olive oils according to the perceived intensity of the predominant defect and the presence or not of fruity.

*IOC standards are stated in document COI/T.20/Doc. No 15/Rev. 10 2018

How to taste olive oil - Learn how to taste olive oil in 4 steps!

Organoleptic characteristics

Organoleptic characteristics of an olive oil

The organoleptic characteristics of an olive oil are divided into two categories as they derive from the general basic vocabulary of the IOC (IOC/T.20/Doc. No.15) and are incorporated in the European Economic Community (EEC) Regulation No.2568/91 and its amendments (Annex XII 1991/2568/2016 p.71).
The following figure shows the organoleptic characteristics of the two categories which refer to the positive and negative attributes of an olive oil.

Positive attributes
Fruity: it involves all olfactory sensations. It derives from healthy, fresh olive fruits and it is the first thing we can directly perceive through the nose. It is the most important attribute in the assessment process, because if it is not detected, an olive oil cannot be classified as extra virgin or virgin.

Bitter: characteristic primary taste of olive oil obtained from green olives or olives turning colour. It results from the action of phenolic substances (mainly oleuropein) and we can perceive it, depending on its intensity, through the entrapped tasting nipples on the V region of the tongue. It gradually disappears after tasting and in no case can it be considered as a defect.

Spicy: biting tactile sensation characteristic of early harvest olive oils deriving from olives that are still unripe. It results from the action of certain phenolic substances (mainly oleochantal), can be perceived in the entire oral cavity, starting with the pharynx, and gradually disappears after tasting.

Negative attributes (a few examples of the most common negative attributes)
Fusty: smell and taste characteristic of olive oil derived from fruit stacked in piles or stockpiled in poor conditions and in an advanced stage of anaerobic fermentation.

Muddy: smell and taste characteristic of olive oil that has remained in contact with the sediment that precipitates in the tanks.

Musty-humid: smell and taste characteristic of olive oil derived from olive fruits which are infected by fungi or are stored for long in a humid environment.

Winey-vinegary: smell and taste characteristic of olive oil that reminds us of wine or vinegar.

Rancid: smell and taste characteristic of olive oil that has undergone an intense process of oxidation.

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