By Katherine Reseburg
Olive oil tasting is a sensory experience similar to wine tasting. The two often go hand in hand at the dinner table, so the next time you’re cooking up a feast, don’t forget to select an olive oil that is complimentary to your choice in cuisine as well as a bottle of vino.
Not sure how to taste olive oil? The process is quite simple to learn, and pleasurable to master. Each olive oil has its own unique character, which varies according to numerous factors, including the varietal, or type of olives used, where the olives are grown, their ripeness when harvested, the type of climate and soil in which they grew, and the handling and care of the fruit from their growth as young olives to their storage in the form of an oil.
First, you should pour about 1 tablespoon into a small wine glass. Place one hand over the top of the glass while holding it at the stem with your other. Gently swirl the glass to release the oil’s complex aroma. Notice the color of the oil – is it a lighter, yellowish green color, or a deeper mossy color? Olive oils vary in color and quality oils will not be too light, or clear.
Next, you will sniff the oil. Lift the rim of the glass under your nose and take short, deep sniffs. Is the smell mild or very aromatic? You want to detect the fruitiness of the oil. It may smell like freshly cut grass, olive fruit, vegetables, herbs, nuts, flowers – there is quite a range of aromas to pick up on both when you sniff and swallow the oil (see our Glossary of Tasting Terms for more info).
When you smell and taste the oil, you should also pay attention to pick up any flavor defects. Defects can be caused by bruised fruit, freezing, improper handling, or a number of other factors. An alcoholic smell indicates that the oil is rancid, and should be discarded.
Finally, it’s time to taste! You will “slurp” the oil by sipping a small amount and allow some air in as you sip. You might make a bit of noise – properly sipping olive oil requires that you make slurping noises because it emulsifies the oil in your mouth and allows you to taste every little nuance.
The oil’s flavor should erupt out of your throat, and the taste will linger in your mouth, releasing all sorts of flavor profiles. Bitterness is a positive attribute – it is indicative of olive oil’s healthy wonders, polyphenols. High-quality olive oil should have a pungent taste.
No two olive oils are created equal. Tasting allows you to discover which oils you like best, and which ones you prefer in your favorite recipes, or with your favorite bread or vegetables. Salute!