Olive Oil Tasting 101: How to Appreciate and Evaluate Quality

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Not all olive oils are created equal. They have distinct differences in many aspects, everything from taste to texture to price. Top-notch olive oil can be used in a vast array of dishes, from salad dressing to fried chicken and many dishes in between.

Tasting olive oil is the most obvious way to discover its quality. Many people assume that color alone is the key way to judge the quality of olive oil. Not true! In actuality, the color of olive oil is almost irrelevant. Some people assume that golden olive oil is gentle tasting, and green olive oil is tangy and sharp. Again – that’s simply not always true. Connoisseurs of olive oil know that color doesn’t mirror quality.

Evaluating quality by hosting an olive oil tasting is rather like trying fine wine, or eating superb chocolate. Those who have a knowledgeable palate know that the only real way to discern fine olive oil is by enjoying olive oil tastings. In this blog post, we offer you an easy guide to hosting your own olive oil tasting and suggest ways in which you should pair certain foods with the different olive oils you try.

The basics of olive oil

It’s vital that you are familiar with the key features of this wonderful product before hosting an olive oil tasting. For example, one of the most fundamental basics we’re referring to here is the variety of olive oils on the market today. That variety includes extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) which is the tastiest, highest quality type available. EVOO is mechanically extracted from the source olives without the producer using any heat or chemicals.

Extra virgin olive oil

EVOO is extracted solely by mechanical means and without the use of chemicals or heat. Because of the way in which EVOO is made, the final product has low acidity and a superbly natural taste.

Virgin olive oil

This type is also produced mechanically, but the acidity level is marginally higher. Nonetheless, it has an excellent flavor profile that is somewhat milder in taste than EVOO.

Olive oil

This type is occasionally called “classic” or “pure” olive oil. It is light in taste and is a mix of virgin and refined olive oil. It’s lighter in both colors, too, than EVOO and VOO.

Olive oil pomace

This type is considered the lowest grade of olive oil. Pomace is what’s left behind, so to speak, after the olives are first pressed. It then goes through extra refining in order to remove impurities. It’s used mostly in industrial settings, and sometimes in cooking – but it’s not the type best suited to olive oil tastings. Stick with the other types of olive oil we’ve noted here.

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Understanding olive oil tasting

This term refers to how you assess olive oil. It’s not just the taste you consider; it’s also the texture, aroma, and mouth feel. Acquiring this skill allows you to choose just the right olive oil for whatever you’re cooking. Furthermore, hosting an olive oil tasting is great fun! Let’s take a closer look at what each of these categories means.


As with all foods, aroma plays a huge role in assessing olive oil’s quality. An experienced taster learns a lot about olive oil just by smelling it – is it fruity? Is it reminiscent of grassy fields and a warm climate? Is it peppery, with a little hint of heat? These factors can tell you, the taster, what kind of olives were pressed, how ripe they were when harvested, and how the olives were processed. The aroma of olive oil tells the knowledgeable taster many things, all of which reveal a great deal about its quality.

The flavour profile

This category includes many revealing aspects of the olive oil you’re tasting. Some oils might be fruity and rich, while others have a hint of bite. When you’ve done several olive oil tastings, you’ll begin to distinguish aspects such as balance, depth, and even where the olives were grown. Knowing these things helps you choose just the right olive oil for any given culinary pairing. For example, which olive oil is best for making homemade salad dressing? Knowing an oil’s flavor profile means you learn whether you should use EVOO or simply a classic variety when whipping up dressing for your family’s salad at dinner time.

Mouth feel

This term refers to the way the olive oil sits on your palate. High-quality olive oil feels smooth and soft in your mouth, without a hint of grease. Knowledgeable tasters come to know things like how fresh the olive oil is, just by letting it roll around on their tongues.

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Steps and tips for conducting an olive oil tasting

Hosting an olive oil tasting – or simply attending one – is not just educational, it can be an incredibly fun experience. Here are some tips for making the most of the event when it’s your turn to welcome guests and begin pouring this golden liquid.

Use the correct vessels

Just like sommeliers insist the proper glass enhances the enjoyment of fine wine, so too do the containers the olive oil is served. Purchase the proper receptacles – yes, there are such things! – so you can offer your guests olive oil tastings in the correct fashion. These containers are usually narrow at the top end and wider at the base. Like a goblet for red wine or a brandy snifter, the shape allows you to swirl the olive oil around before tasting it. Clear glass vessels allow you to rate the color and consistency of the product at olive oil tastings.

Warm up the oil

Warming up the oil before tasting it improves the flavor. Simply cup the vessel between your hands – like you would a brandy snifter before having that first taste. Warmth releases aroma and increases other elements of the olive oil as well. You can also place the bottle of olive oil in a large bowl filled with warm water and let it rest there for several minutes before pouring it out to each guest.

Small sips are important

Take a tiny sip of oil and let it play on your tongue and palate. Let it evenly coat your taste buds. This ensures you enjoy every feature of the oil – taste, texture, density, and much more.

Notice the nuances

While the olive oil is rolling around on your palette, take note of its unique characteristics. Is it fruity? Is it at all bitter, and what is the consistency like? Think about how these features combine to give the oil its own flavor profile.

Cleanse between tastings

In order to keep the flavor of each type separate from the next, cleanse your palate with a little water and munch on a small piece of bread or a cracker. Just make sure both the liquid and the foods are plain; otherwise, a strong, new flavor will intermingle with the oil and make it harder to distinguish its unique features.

Try different varieties

Try an array of oils at your olive oil tasting – one from Spain, another from Italy, one that’s EVOO, and one that’s called a classic. Experimenting with different products at your olive oil tasting will broaden your knowledge of each one, as you learn how they differ and which ones you prefer.

Record your experience in a journal

Tracking your olive oil tasting experiences in a journal is a good way to remind yourself of products you’ve tried, and what you enjoyed about each one. Review your notes each time you’re participating in a tasting, to refresh your memory about flavor notes and personal preferences.

Check out the helpful wheel on the site “Olive Oil & Beyond” before you host your next olive oil tasting:

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The importance of olive oil storage

Keeping your olive oil stored properly ensures that its freshness remains at its peak for as long as possible. Store it in a dry, cool, and dark location – a pantry shelf is ideal – which will maintain its flavors and avoid it turning rancid. If you don’t have a separate pantry, place your olive oil on a cupboard shelf that’s as far from the heat of the oven as possible.

Consider purchasing containers with an opaque design, as these help prevent light from penetrating the exterior and affecting the olive oil. Stainless steel is best, as it’s a durable material and the containers come with airtight seals in the lid. Those features are key to avoiding oxidation, which degrades the quality, nutritional value, and lifespan of the olive oil.

Furthermore, make sure that you seal the container’s lid tightly after each use. You don’t want air getting at the oil – that’s just as detrimental to its taste and lifespan as light and heat.

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In summary

If you’ve never experienced an olive oil tasting, now is the time to start! These events are a great way to celebrate the incredible ways in which olive oil makes food so wonderful, and the more you learn about it, the more wonderful it becomes.

Gather a group of friends and start with a tasting of two or three types of olive oil. As you learn about flavor profiles, country of origin, texture, and depth, your knowledge will grow. Let all your senses take you through your journey of olive oil tastings, and of course bring along your sense of fun, too! Make it an occasion, and don’t forget to take notes for next time. Happy tasting!

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