How to Taste Olive Oil
The best way to discover an oil’s flavor is to sip it “neat” – meaning on its own without bread or other food. This will allow you to savor the oil’s flavor without distraction.
The 4 S’s
Swirl – Swirling releases the oil’s aroma molecules. Keep the oil covered until ready to sniff.
Sniff – Uncover the oil and quickly inhale from the rim of the cup. Take note of the intensity and the description of the aroma.
Slurp – Take a small sip of the oil while also “sipping” some air. This slurping action emulsifies the oil and helps to spread it throughout your mouth. You should take note of the *retro-nasal aroma as well as the intensity of bitterness.
Swallow – An oil’s pungency is judged by a sensation in your throat so you must swallow at least a small amount to thoroughly evaluate it. If the oil makes your throat scratchy or makes you want to cough, it is a pungent oil.
*Our taste buds discern only 5 flavors – salt, sour, bitter, sweet, and umami. All other flavor sensations come from retro-nasal aroma, which is the smell of the food while it is in our mouths.
Attributes and Descriptors
Olive oil has both attributes and descriptors that are used to describe and classify different olive oils. Attributes are listed by how prevalent they are, usually listed from low to high. The three positive attributes of olive oil are fruitiness, bitterness, and pungency.
Fruitiness: The aroma of fresh, undamaged olive fruit in the oil, which is perceived through the nostrils as well as retro-nasally while oil is in the mouth.
Bitterness: A primary flavor component of fresh olives is perceived through receptors (taste buds) on the tongue.
Pungency: A biting tactile sensation noticed in one’s throat. Sometimes oils are referred to as one or two “coughers” as this is a common response to pungency.
Olive oils are usually listed on a spectrum of mild to robust; with mild olive oils usually consisting of low levels of the three attributes and robust oils mainly showing high levels of the three.
Descriptors on the other hand are very subjective and help describe the oil’s flavor through descriptive vocabulary. This mainly relies on the taster relating the oil’s flavor to that of another fruit, spice, or similar item.
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