Taste of olive oil: how to recognise quality?
degustazione olio extravergine

What is the taste of olive oil? if you like olive oil taste it like a pro! Here is a short guide that will teach you the correct techniques to follow while tasting olive oil, to appreciate this precious and archaic food.


What is evoo? What is the taste of olive oil? Closing the circle, the last piece of a puzzle, the end of a path; tasting olive oil means this.

The journey begins in the lands of the Mediterranean in an imperceptible cosmos capable of giving complexity, the drupe of the olive tree. The work of years carried out by skilled hands is revealed at this precise moment, while tasting olive oil. An ancient process which, if carried out to the highest standards, evokes in olive oil tasters strong emotions and memories of this green gold.


olive oil taste


Indeed, the olive tree as well as the olive oil have always been present in the lives of most of us, Mediterranean citizens. The sensory analysis of olive oil pervades our senses. With its strong evocative power, it stimulates childhood memories of the olive harvest.


Olive oil taste test, why is it important?

The epithet “green gold” fully expresses the value of this food. The extra virgin olive oil taste test is a fundamental step to recognise its quality.

To be called extra virgin olive oil (olive oil evoo or evoo), it must meet certain standards. First of all, let’s start with the definition of olive oil: it is obtained by pressing the fruit of the olive tree (olea europeae) through mechanical methods such as pressure and physical methods such as washing, decantation, centrifugation and filtration.


tasting olive oil


The olive oil extraction must take place under controlled thermal conditions. In order to protect its high value, extra virgin olive oil undergoes strict analysis and tasting. The olive oil taste test will therefore be done on the basis of certain chemical-physical and organoleptic parameters:

  • Free acidity: in % of oleic acid, the main fatty acid in olive oil. The lower this value, the higher the quality.
  • Number of peroxides: in meq of oxygen/kg of olive oil. This parameter gives an indication of the state of degradation and ageing of olive oil.
  • Organoleptic testing by a panel: it is a sensory evaluation. A team of experienced tasters taste the olive oil to assess its merits and defects.


Tasting olive oil: the chemical-physical analysis

The extra virgin olive oil tasting, required by European Community regulations, is carried out to protect the product and the consumer. It results in a classification that allows the buyer to choose among different types of olive oil.


taste of olive


The classification of extra virgin olive oil, based on the results of laboratory analysis and olive oil tasting, is particularly important:


Extra virgin olive oil

It is the product category of superior quality. In fact, it has got a free acidity of less than 0.8 g per 100 g of olive oil (<0.8%) and a peroxide number not exceeding 20 meq of oxygen per kg of oil. With the extra virgin olive oil taste test, it is ascertained that the olive oil has no defects and that it has got superior organoleptic characteristics.


Virgin olive oil

This type of olive oil has got a free acidity not exceeding 2 g per 100 g of olive oil (<2%) and a peroxide number not exceeding 20 meq of oxygen/kg of oil. Tasting olive oil belonging to this category will lead us to perceive slight organoleptic defects.


Lampante olive oil

This is a type of oil with a free acidity of more than 2 g per 100 g of olive oil (>2%) and a peroxide number of no more than 20 meq oxygen/kg of oil. The sensory analysis will reveal defects.


What do you evaluate with the olive oil tasting?

Tasting olive oil requires concentration, experience and knowledge. Through a sensory evaluation, the taster will be able to discern between the health benefits and defects of olive oil. He will be guided in the discovery by his senses and awareness of the term “quality”.

The health benefits and defects of olive oil depend on a number of factors: olive variety, climate, geographical area, degree of ripeness, treatments carried out on the tree, harvesting methods, olive preservation (mode and time), olive oil extraction and processing technologies. Last but not least, the healthiness of the buildings where it is processed, i.e. the olive oil mill.

The positive attributes that are sought by tasting extra virgin olive oil are as follows:

  • Fruity: since extra virgin olive oil is a “juice” obtained from the fruit of the olive tree, it must have this olfactory characteristic which can be perceived directly and/or retronasally. It depends on the olive variety and the degree of ripeness at which they were harvested and processed. This taste of olive oil is defined as “green fruity” if the olive oil is obtained from green olives. It will be defined as “mature fruity” if obtained from ripe fruit.
  • Bitterness: it is the typical taste of olive oil obtained from green olives or olives that have turned colour. It must not be extreme in flavour, otherwise it will be considered a defect.
  • Spicy: this pungent taste of olive oil is perceived throughout the mouth and throat. It is typical of oils produced from unripe olives.

In addition to these three main qualities, which can be perceived while tasting olive oil, we can find other pleasant characteristics such as sweetness, maturity and roundness.


taste of olive oil


While tasting olive oil, it is equally important that the taster knows how to recognise defects.

Olive oil with defects cannot be classified as extra virgin olive oil or virgin olive oil. If imperfect, it is important that it is not placed in these categories, so as not to disappoint the consumer.

In addition, olive oil may undergo two alterations that change its taste:

  • Hydrolytic rancidity: it is caused by the enzyme lipase, which promotes the formation of free organic acidity.
  • Oxidative rancidity: it consists of the self-oxidation of fatty substances. The causes can be various, such as exposure to light or the presence of oxygen.

The defects we may encounter while tasting olive oil are as follows:

  • Rancid: this flavour is perceived when the olive oil is affected by an oxidative process caused by exposure to light, oxygen and heat.
  • Winey-vinegary-acid-sour: it is a flavour due to partial fermentation caused by improperly stored olives. It is reminiscent of the smell of wine or vinegar, caused by the formation of acetic acid, ethyl acetate and ethanol.
  • Muddy sediment: this is a characteristic flavour of badly preserved oils. These are usually olive oils recovered from settling sludge or presses.
  • Musty: due to poor storage of the olives, on which fungi and yeasts will have developed.
  • Fusty: piling up the olives leads to the appearance of this defect. It is not easily detectable, unless it is particularly strong.
  • Frostbitten olives (wet wood): defect belonging to olive oils from olives that have suffered from cold.
  • Heated or burnt: olive oil subjected to excessive heating during the olive oil extraction.
  • Metallic: when the olive oil has been in contact with metal surfaces for a long period of time during crushing, pressing or storage.
  • Soil: If the olive oil has this defect, it means that the olives have not been properly washed before processing.
  • Grubby: flavour of oil obtained from olives which have been heavily attacked by the grubs of the olive fly (Bactrocera oleae).
  • Pomace: perceived when the olive oil is kept for a long time with pomace.
  • Hay–wood: when the olive oil is produced from olives that have dried out.


Taste of olive oil: how does the olive oil taste test take place?

As we have already said, the olive oil classification must be precise and accurate, so tasting olive oil is an essential step. Given its centrality, the sensory analysis is regulated by EEC REG 2568/91.

Organoleptic analysis is based on the panel test method: a standardised analytical method involving a group of trained professional tasters (8 or 12 people), led by a panel leader. The panel members use a codified procedure to make a judgement using a specific vocabulary.


olive oil taste test


The olive oil is tasted in purity. There are no more than four samples per session and, between each one, the taster wipes his or her mouth with sparkling water or an apple wedge to avoid overlapping.

Before the olive oil tasting, it is recommended: not to smoke, not to drink coffee, not to eat within the previous hour, not to use perfumes that may interfere with the sensory analysis, to be in appropriate psycho-physical conditions.

If the olive oil is free of defects and has got the positive attribute of fruitiness, it will be marketed as extra virgin olive oil.

Let’s take a look at the steps involved in the olive oil tasting! First of all, we distinguish two main phases:


Olfactory examination

  • The olive oil is poured into dark glass beakers, covered and swirled with the hand.
  • The purpose of this step is to warm it up. The olive oil thus releases its aromas and the taster can perceive them.
  • Particular attention is paid to the perception of fruitiness.


Taste-olfactory examination

  • The olive oil is then distributed throughout the mouth, so to ensure that it reaches all the receptors.
  • This is followed by the stripping phase, i.e. a series of aspirations through the mouth to allow extension into the oral cavity and perception via the retronasal route.
  • Finally, the olive oil is swallowed to perceive the tactile characteristics.
  • The sensations perceived at this stage are bitter and spicy.


olive oil evoo


Tasting olive oil is a fascinating and original experience. Surrender to your senses and let yourself be transported into the world of olive oil aromas.

Here are some of the food experiences offered by Italia Delight in different regions of Italy:


Has the olive oil taste test inspired you? Choose your favourite food experience and discover the tatse of olive oil like a pro! If you want to know more about the different types of oil, read also “Types of oil to use in the kitchen”.


About Author

Flavia Biondi
Ciao, sono Flavia! Aspirante enogastronoma, appassionata di cibo, vino e territorio. Studio Scienze e Culture Enogastronomiche presso l'università Roma Tre. Proseguirò gli studi per comunicare il legame indissolubile tra cibo e ambiente e creare cultura.


Alessandro Vujovic
10 January 2023
Distinguerei il piccante sulla lingua legato principalmente all'OLEACEINA dal pungente nel retrogola legato principalmente all'OLEOCANTALE. Una caratteristica importante è quella che tra le sensazioni di amaro, piccante e pungente non ci sia una preponderanza dell'una sull'altra e che ci sia una continuità in queste percezioni senza un solco tra l'una e l'altra. Un esperto assaggiatore, che conosce la chimica, riesce a distinguere tra gli aromi la presenza di aldeidi, primo stadio della LOX PATHWAY, quella degli alcoli (un loro eccesso dà la sensazione di olio vecchio) e quella degli esteri (aromi floreale). Gli aromi legati agli esteri sono il culmine delle reazioni a catena della Lox pathway quindi si ottengono quando le operazioni di estrazione sono state condotte secondo accorgimenti particolari, ma dipendono anche molto dalla cultivar utilizzata e dal grado di maturazione enzimatica del frutto. A parte le tecnologie estrattive e la gestione del freddo in frantoio, il frantoiano può fare oli diversi giocando su tre fattori: temperature, tempi e presenza di ossigeno.

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