Olive Oil Tasting 101

Olive Oil Tasting 101

Olive Oil Tasting 101 – The Science of Taste

The term “taste” can simply be described as the things we experience when we eat or drink.  However, there is more to taste than this.

When we drink or eat something, it is detected by taste cells which are located on the front and back of the tongue, and on the sides, back and roof of the mouth. These cells, also known as taste buds, bind with molecules from the food or drink we consume and send signals to the brain.

It is the way that our brain perceives these stimuli that translates to what we know as taste.

In the past, there were four designated areas in the tongue that perceive particular tastes:

  • Salt taste buds are on either side of the front of the tongue
  • Sweet taste buds are on the tip of the tongue
  • Sour taste buds are behind where the salt taste buds are
  • Bitter taste buds are at the back of the tongue

However, recent studies have proven that this is all a myth. In.  In fact, aside from these four, one can add another distinct taste, umami.  This is a Japanese word that translates as “pleasant, savory taste”.

olive oil tasting 101 bottles

What’s more, the entire tongue can sense all of these tastes more or less equally.

Here’s a question – is taste and flavor the same?  While people may interchange them, there is a whole world of difference between the two.

We know from experience that these five – sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami (savory) do not give the complete picture. This is where flavor comes in and much of this comes from our sense of smell.

The thing that we perceive as flavor is a result of a process called ‘retronasal olfaction”.  In simple terms, the molecules of whatever we eat or drink travel into the nasal cavity via a passage that connects it to the back of our throat.

It is said that only a small part of what we perceive as the taste of food comes from our taste buds.  The whole picture of how a particular food or drink tastes is a result of this “backward smelling”

It is for this reason that wine tasters hold wine in their mouths and swirl it around before spitting out.  This is meant to encourage as much flavor as possible to get into the nose to get a better sense of the “bouquet” of the wine.

In much the same way, this is how olive oil tasting is done.

Swirl, Sniff, Slurp and Swallow – The Art of Tasting Olive Oil

Recently, there has been a controversy regarding olive oils – that some of the brands available in the market that mark their product as Extra Virgin Olive Oil may not be as virgin as claimed.  There are real issues of adulteration, mislabeling and regulation.

What can you do to protect yourself as a consumer?  Instead of just relying on pretty bottle labels and bottles, it is important to learn how to distinguish what makes an olive oil “good” and what makes it “bad”.

To do this, you must experience the aroma and taste of olive oil, not in combination with other food but on its own – pure and simple.

Professionals follow a process that includes these 4 S’s, namely:

1. Swirl

olive oil tasting 101 swirl


To begin, a tablespoon of olive oil is poured into a small glass.

Here’s the trivia: Professionals use a small blue glass (similar to a votive candle holder) to obscure the color of the oils they are tasting so their opinion is not swayed by the mere color of the oil being sampled.

Cup the glass in the hand to heat up the olive oil for a minute or two. With the other, cover the top while swirling the glass to release the aromas.

2. Sniff

olive oil tasting 101 sniff

When the oil is sufficiently warmed and aromas released, bring the glass to your nose to smell the oil.

What aromas are characteristic of “good” olive oils? It should smell “fruity” and this can range from having the smell of fresh-cut grass, tropical fruits, artichokes and herbs or other aromas of ripe or green olive fruit.

3. Slurp

olive oil tasting 101 slurp

The next crucial step is the slurp. This means taking a small sip of the oil while “sipping” in some air at the same time. You do this by touching the tongue to the back of the top teeth and inhaling.

What is the logic behind the slurping?  This emulsifies the oil and spreads it in the mouth. This also releases the flavors of the olive oil.

It is important to close your mouth and breath through the nose while doing this to get the “retronasal” perception. This makes it possible to to experience the whole range of flavors that the oil has.

4. Swallow

olive oil tasting 101 swallow

Olive Oil Tasting 101 – The “Good” and the “Bad”

According to the International Olive Oil Council, here are the attributes in terms of taste, flavors and characteristics of a “good’ olive oil.

The Good

Fruity Notes

As mentioned above, fruitiness is a good sign. Olives are fruits after all, so the resulting olive oil should have some degree of fruitiness.  Olive oil should taste fresh as opposed to tasting heavy or “oily”


While bitterness in some food may not be appetizing, this is the opposite for olive oil. Bitterness means the olive oil is fresh.  As a fruit, olives are bitter and the degree of bitterness in the resulting oil depends upon how ripe the olives are.

However, it is still a matter of preference.  Some consumers find that an olive oil that has a balance of fruity and bitter is better for them.


Again, as already mentioned, pungency in olive oil is good. It indicates that the olive oil is from unripe olives and is fresh.  Pungency also signifies the presence of certain antioxidants.

The Bad

If you find your bottle of olive oil has these characteristics, you may have one that is not the “good” kind:


When olives are stored for several days under humid conditions, yeast and fungi may develop. This imparts a moldy flavor to the resulting oil extracted from these.


A winey flavor may be good for some things but your olive oil should never taste or smell like wine.  This indicates that olives underwent fermentation before oil extraction.


Again, this results when olives have undergone fermentation while stored in piles before oil extraction. The best way to describe “fusty” is if it smells or worst, tastes like swampy vegetation or sweaty socks!


If your oil tastes like you’re eating something stale like crackers past their prime or old nuts, then you know it has gone rancid.


This defect is a result of prolonged contact with a metallic surface, either during production or while in storage.

Armed with the knowledge of how to distinguish the good from the bad, you’re now better equipped to make a choice. Rather than just relying on pretty packaging and fancy labels, you can confidently reach for that bottle of choice because it has the right taste or more specifically, flavor for you.

Cibaria International – We Take Quality Seriously

CIBARIA INTERNATIONAL has been a leading supplier of quality wholesale olive oils and balsamic vinegars. We supply every segment of the food industry from bulk buyers to food service companies to specialty olive oil retailers.

We carry the highest quality certified extra virgin olive oils sourced from reputable growers and producers from all over the world. We carefully choose our partner artisan growers so we can bring unique, varietal olive oils at their peak quality.

To ensure this, we strictly adhere to the NAOOA Standards and guarantee that our producers adhere to the highest possible quality assurance stipulations.

If you are interested in carrying our products in your store, or private labeling, reach out to us today.  We also sell in bulk. And we are always happy to answer all of your questions.

Contact us at  (951) 823 8490 or email us at customerservice@cibaria-intl.com

Tags: Olive Oil Tasting, 4 S’s of olive oil tasting, Olive Oil Facts, Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Quality Olive Oil, good Olive Oil, Olive Oil Information, EVOO

Copyright © 2020 Cibaria International - All Rights Reserved