Although many are intimidated by the prospect of selecting quality olive oil, the process ought to be governed by personal taste. Mellow or spicy, delicate or robust, the wide range of delicious and authentic extra virgin olive oils produced in the United States with different types of olives is sure to have something for everyone. A great way to become acquainted with the many types of quality oil on the market is to have an tasting party. Though most people enjoy olive oil with other foods, a dedicated tasting allows you to focus on the olive oil’s flavor without the distraction of other flavors. Bear in mind, one’s perception of flavor relies strongly on both our senses of taste and smell.
Select several different types of EVOO. Try centering around a theme and noticing the differences--California grown vs. imported, one common variety from different producers, or one type of olive vs. another.
Pour a small amount of oil (about 1 tablespoon) into a small shot glass.
Gently warm the oil by cupping the glass in your hands and swirling gently. The heat will help release the flavors of the oil.
Once the sample is warmed, inhale deeply over the top of the glass, as you might with wine. Note whether the aroma is mild or strong and note the smells that come to mind.
Sip a small amount of the oil while gently sucking a small amount of air--this should make a slurping sound and will help to spread the oil throughout your mouth, giving you the chance to savor every nuance of flavor.
Finish by swallowing the oil and noticing if it leaves a stinging or warming sensation in your throat and mouth.
You will first experience a mouth-feel, which might taste fresh, smooth, or buttery. Next, you will notice the intensity of the oil as it sits in your mouth. You will then smell and taste some or all of these flavors - fruits, herbs, flowers, grass, straw and nuts - the intensity ranges from hints and notes, to a strong and obvious presence. Bitterness and pungency are positive attributes of EVOO--they indicate the presence of polyphenols and antioxidants in the oil which have important health impacts on the body.
Find out what oil profile you like and which variety of olive oil enhances your favorite food. Most importantly, have fun!
Grades of Olive Oil
Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO): This is the highest quality of olive oil in terms of flavor and health benefits. The olives are mechanically pressed into olive oil without the assistance of heat or chemicals to increase yield. In order to receive a extra virgin certification, the oil must contain less than 0.8% oleic acid, and receive an organoleptic rating of 6.5, which reflects its flavor qualities.
Virgin Olive Oil: This is a lesser, though still high quality type of oil. As with EVOO, no heat or chemicals are used in the creation of this oil, thus maintaining its health benefits. However, its flavor profile will be lesser than EVOO: Virgin Olive Oils have less than 2% oleic acid and may score between 5.5 and 6.5 for their organoleptic rating.
Refined Olive Oil: This is produced from olive oil which must be refined (cooked in a vacuum) to produce an edible product by methods which do not lead to alterations in the initial glyceridic structure--the result is an essentially tasteless olive oil.
“Pure,” “Natural,” “Light,” or “Extra Light” Olive Oils: These names are gimmicks used to sell poor quality oil. These oils are usually comprised of either vegetable or refined olive oil combined with a small quantity of olive oil, or a blend of synthetically made olive oils. They contain none of the flavor or health benefits of Virgin or Extra Virgin Olive Oils, but they are cheap.