The organoleptic analysis
Organoleptic analysis to assess food products exploits the ability of our sense organs to react to chemical, chemical-physical and physical stimuli. It is something we do unconsciously every day when we lift food or drink to our mouths. This tells us whether we like or dislike it, and within certain limits whether or not it is good and fresh.
In the case of extra virgin olive oil, it can become a tool that allows us to recognise the quality of a product based on its own unique characteristics, which are the expression of the people and the land where it is produced.
The organoleptic analysis of olive oil is based mainly on the sense of smell, which allows us to feel its aroma.
The olive oil aroma is the combination of all pleasant sensations perceived indirectly by the olfactory organ when tasting it.
It can be grassy, fruity, herbaceous, floral, according to a vocabulary that draws on other field to be immediate and descriptive. Thus each extra virgin olive oil is characterized by an aroma reminiscent of a vegetable, a fruit or another natural element: artichoke, grass, apple, almond, tomato, etc.
The complex combination of olfactory and gustatory properties perceived during tasting reveal the olive oil flavor.
Our taste buds are on the tongue, from the tip to the very back these perceive four sensory attributes: sweet, salty, acid and bitter. In the case of olive oil though, we can only identify bitterness.
We can’t taste sweetness or saltiness, because there are neither sugars nor salts in an oil, nor can we make out acidity, as our taste buds are not “calibrated” to recognise the presence of free acids, although they are present in an oil.
That only experts are able to define the organoleptic profile of an oil is a misconception.
We can all learn at the very least to recognise the desirable and undesirable qualities of an oil and, with a little practice, to discern a distinctive flavour specific to a particular area of origin.
Desirable flavors of extra virgin olive oil
Flavor of oil reminiscent of the smell and taste of healthy, fresh olives. Depending on the ripeness of the olives, the palate can distinguish between green and ripe fruitiness.
Typical flavour of oil obtained from green olives. It may be more or less intense. It indicates the presence of phenolic compounds that have a high nutritional value and allow the oil to be preserved over time. Together with pungency and fruity, it is the most valuable attribute of an extra virgin olive oil.
Biting tactile sensation, normally associated with fruity, grassy oils obtained from green olives. It is often associated with bitter sensation.
Positive descriptive attributes
Pleasing flavour of oil in which the bitter, astringent and spicy attributes don’t prevail. Typical of the oil obtained from ripe olives.
Harmonious / Well balanced
Description used when there is a pleasant balance among the oil’s characteristics with none overpowering the others.
Characteristic flavour of some oils, reminiscent of flowers’ scent.
A balanced, mouth-filling sensation of harmonious flavors.
Characteristic attribute of oils reminiscent of herbs or vegetables.
Typical aromatic sensations
Typical flavour of fresh almonds. Associated with sweet oils.
Characteristic flavour reminiscent of this fruit. It can be of green or ripe apple.
Very pleasant artichoke flavour. Associated with fresh oils.
Characteristic flavour of some oils, reminiscent of freshly cut grass.
Sensation reminiscent of the bitter taste of fresh leaves.
Typical flavour reminiscent of pine kernel. Associated with sweet oils.
Olfactory sensation typical of tomato leaves.
Undesirable flavors of extra virgin olive oil
Some of the defects that an oil may show upon tasting are associated with growing and harvesting, while others with the way the olives have been processed or the oil stored.
Characteristic flavour due to excessive and/or prolonged heating during pressing, particularly when the paste is thermally mixed, if this is done under unsuitable thermal conditions.
Dense, pasty, oral-tactile after-taste some oils leave in the mouth.
Characteristic flavour of oil obtained from olives harvested without taking care to brush off loose dirt or washing off the mud.
Characteristic flavour of oil obtained from olives pressed in dirty esparto mats (straw-like material in mats occasionally used in older mills).
Fusty / Dreggish
Characteristic flavour of oil from olives which have undergone an advanced stage of anaerobic fermentation or of oil left in contact with the decantation dregs for long periods.
Characteristic flavour of oil obtained from olives affected by olive fly larvae.
Characteristic flavour of certain oils produced from olives that have dried out.
Flavour reminiscent of metal. Characteristic of oil stored at length in contact with metal surfaces during processing.
Characteristic flavour of oil obtained from olives which have developed a variety of funguses and yeasts while stored in piles for many days in a damp environment.
Characteristic flavour shared by all oils affected by self-oxidation due to prolonged contact with the air.
Characteristic flavour of some oils, reminiscent of wine or vinegar, caused by olive fermentation.