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How to recognise a good Extra Virgin Olive Oil

The quality of oil is determined by the evaluation of a set of characteristics: colour, aspect, subtlety, richness, balance and character. By tasting it, you can identify some very important chemical components without any laboratory analysis.

For example:

Polyphenols organoleptic flavour is bitter and spicy: the more polyphenols there are, the bitter the oil is. Polyphenols are good for health:  they are antioxidant substances that act both on oil, avoiding oxidation and rancidity, and on the human body cells. They are numerous in fresh oils, which in fact lose hotness (and therefore polyphenols) as time goes by.

Identifiable by the oil intense green colour. Together with polyphenols, they help to give antioxidant and protective virtues to the food.Chlorophylls tend to degrade with light, which is why it is recommended to keep oil in dark packages in dark places. An oil exposed to light may turn yellow because it loses chlorophyll; when this change takes place we say the oil is oxidised.

Along with the chlorophylls, carotenoids are the pigments responsible for the oil colouring: carotenoids give yellow and orange reflexes. As the other two elements discernible through tasting, carotenoids too are antioxidant substances.


Tasting in 5 moves

  1. Pour a small amount (about 15 ml) of olive oil into a round-bottomed glass (to be held in the palm of the hand to warm it up) and narrowing at the mouth level (to trap the aromas and facilitate their recognition).
  2. Bring the oil to body temperature by tightening the glass and keeping it covered with a hand to warm it and concentrate the aromas.
  3. Shake the glass trying to scroll the contents on the entire surface.
  4. Carry out the odour test: slow deep whiff for no more than 30 seconds. In this way, you can make out the distinctive traits: both the quality of nice flavours (fruity, greenly, apple), and the less pleasant ones, that could reveal some flaws (such as musty and burnt).
  5. Proceed gustatory test: take a tiny sip and spread it throughout the oral cavity until the palate, then start quickly inhaling air. The tasting has either to confirm or not the olfactory sensations, and to broaden the perceptions of oil aromatic traits.

The smell and taste sensations come together in the final judgment, which describes and defines the extra virgin olive oil. For this, they use the universal terms that describe the characteristics and defects as directed by Reg. (EC) n.2568 / 91.


Main features

  • Bitter: typical of an oil obtained from the pressing of still green olives, or of some specific varieties of olives with a high content in phenolic substances. The bitterness is believed to be a pleasant note, but only in the right intensity and balance.
  • Sweet: found in oils with not very stressed flavour, and without too much aroma. Sweet is not bitter or spicy.
  • Grass: the aroma of fresh-cut green grass.
  • Fruity: typical sensation whose taste and aroma remind the fresh and healthy olive, harvested at the right time of ripeness, it can be small, medium intensity or intense.
  • Almond / Apple / Artichoke / Asparagus / Tomato: the aromas that recall these fruits; hints that the oil collects in the base to nearby crops. Therefore, it depends on the production area, the oil of the Trevi area, usually has the grass hints of artichoke, almond and asparagus. The tomato, for example, is a typical Sicilian oil scent.

Some Defects

Winey: unpleasant flavour caused by the prolonged storage of the olives after harvest, which appears as a result of the formation of acetic acid. It is clearly recognisable by the strong vinegary flavour.
Fiscolo: unpleasant flavour, rancid, typical of oils obtained from the pressing of the olive paste by the extraction system with dirty presses using dirty and full of fermented residues baskets
Leaf: bitter flavours typical of oils obtained from pressed olives with leaves and olive twigs.
Musty: flavour typical of a badly stored oil, remained too long in contact with its lees.
Mold: unpleasant flavour created by olives stored for several days in humid conditions.
Rancid: unpleasant flavour due to a prolonged contact with the air and extended ageing.
Reheating: the shortcomings of oils obtained from olives pressed at high temperatures.