The Flavors of Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Countless factors influence the flavors in extra virgin olive oils. Understanding the basics can lead to satisfying results.

Fernando Martinez Roman (NYIOOC)
By Paolo DeAndreis
Oct. 25, 2022 14:01 UTC
Fernando Martinez Roman (NYIOOC)

Extra vir­gin olive oil (EVOO) is much more than just the health­i­est edi­ble oil. It is also a vehi­cle to dis­cover thou­sands of dif­fer­ent fla­vors.

It is pro­duced in dozens of coun­tries at dif­fer­ent ele­va­tions and cli­mates from hun­dreds of olive vari­eties, each pro­vid­ing a spe­cific and unique fla­vor pro­file.

See Also:Olive Oil Basics

Along with geog­ra­phy, dozens of other vari­ables impact the fla­vor expres­sion of an extra vir­gin olive oil; cli­mate, prox­im­ity to other plants, farm­ing tech­niques, pro­cess­ing tech­nolo­gies and stor­age facil­i­ties all affect fla­vor.

Furthermore, pro­fes­sion­als can blend the oils of dif­fer­ent vari­eties, or cul­ti­vars, to cre­ate a poten­tially infi­nite num­ber of aro­mas and tastes.

Understanding EVOO fla­vors

While any­one can learn to taste and appre­ci­ate extra vir­gin olive oils and all the poten­tial fla­vors, they are also eval­u­ated by pro­fes­sional tasters, usu­ally orga­nized in pan­els.

Their work is tra­di­tion­ally coor­di­nated by a panel leader who sum­ma­rizes the results of the tast­ings and ulti­mately con­firms the cat­e­gory of the olive oil in ques­tion and whether or not it deserves to be called extra vir­gin.

See Also:Cooking With Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Producers use pan­els to decide which mono­va­ri­etals (oils made from a sin­gle olive vari­ety) to com­bine into blends. Tasting pan­els are also formed to eval­u­ate the qual­ity of EVOOs sub­mit­ted for com­pe­ti­tions.

Two of the most rel­e­vant char­ac­ter­is­tics of high-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil are the pres­ence and inten­sity of bit­ter­ness and pun­gency, which indi­cate the pres­ence of phe­no­lic com­pounds.

Our first mis­sion is to record the iden­tity card of the extra vir­gin olive oil, con­firm it is free of defects, eval­u­ate the pres­ence of fruity notes, which we can also describe as being green or ripe, or for their inten­sity, and eval­u­ate the pres­ence of bit­ter­ness and spici­ness,” Simona Cognoli, a pro­fes­sional olive oil taster and founder of Oleonauta, told Olive Oil Times.

See Also:Olive Brine, a Secret Kitchen Ingredient

Tasting EVOO is at least as rel­e­vant than the phys­i­cal-chem­i­cal analy­sis of the prod­uct,” she added. When I bring them to my courses, con­sumers start by tast­ing some bit­ter extra vir­gin olive oil, which most of them find unpleas­ant.”

Then I bring them on a guided tour of dif­fer­ent extra vir­gin olive oil fla­vors,” Cognoli con­tin­ued. As the last step, they go back to that bit­ter EVOO, which might be bit­ter indeed but is also well har­mo­nized with its spe­cific notes, and they do not even find it bit­ter any­more, as they have come to per­ceive the full range of its aroma and its taste.”

That is how many of them dis­cover that bit­ter­ness is part of the EVOO char­ac­ter and end up lov­ing it,” Cognoli said.

Aroma and taste

All con­sumers can fol­low the steps of olive oil tasters and chefs to learn how to taste and com­pare extra vir­gin olive oils, dis­cover their scents and exper­i­ment with their use as a raw dress­ing or cook­ing ingre­di­ent.

They do not only give value to a spe­cific recipe; the aroma and taste also deliver new emo­tions to a dish,” Cognoli said.

See Also:Use Extra Virgin Olive Oil for Healthy and Delicious Baking

Depending on their char­ac­ter­is­tics, pro­fes­sional chefs and ama­teur cooks alike can add fla­vors to their dishes rang­ing from aro­matic herbs to trop­i­cal fruits and much more.

There is an entire world of scents and tastes to explore,” Cognoli said.

These notes can con­tribute to fla­vor depend­ing on the par­tic­u­lar EVOO and how it is included in the dish. In addi­tion, aro­mas will be affected by the tem­per­a­ture of the dish when the oil is employed.


Shrimp with Sun-Dried Tomatoes, Garlic, Olive Oil

Such a vari­ety of pos­si­ble out­comes means that chefs and ama­teurs should rely on more than one EVOO in the kitchen.

If we con­sider extra vir­gin olive oil as a recipe ingre­di­ent, then we can­not use the same EVOO for all our dishes,” Cognoli said. That is some­thing that not all chefs have explored yet, maybe because many have yet to dis­cover the out­stand­ing vari­ety of EVOOs we have at our dis­po­si­tion.”

There’s more to taste than fla­vor

Given the grow­ing bank of knowl­edge sur­round­ing the health ben­e­fits of polyphe­nols, many pro­duc­ers now focus on craft­ing EVOOs with the high­est pos­si­ble quan­tity of these organic com­pounds.

Still, those high lev­els do not nec­es­sar­ily trans­late into high-qual­ity prod­ucts.

Many focus on the early har­vest to strengthen the pres­ence of polyphe­nols,” Cognoli said. But pro­duc­ers have to be care­ful as the early olive is not only more dif­fi­cult to remove from the tree, it also can lead to an unbal­anced prod­uct.”

See Also:Tips for Selecting High-Polyphenol Olive Oils

Some early har­vest EVOOs can lose their aro­mas more quickly, which are an essen­tial part of the plea­sure and the qual­ity of tast­ing, while EVOOs pro­duced with riper fruits will still main­tain an ade­quate vol­ume of polyphe­nols for some time.


Lina Smith (NYIOOC)

It is true that EVOO pro­vides rel­e­vant health ben­e­fits, but it is not a phar­ma­ceu­ti­cal, per se, which means that its healthy pro­file should accom­pany the plea­sure of con­sum­ing it,” Cognoli said. It is not a food inte­gra­tor or a pill to con­sume daily.”

Still, high-qual­ity extra vir­gin olive oil pro­duc­tion is under­go­ing major changes over time, as new tech­niques and pro­ce­dures are applied in the field and the fol­low­ing trans­for­ma­tion phase.

See Also:Extra Virgin Olive Oil Shelf Life

Thanks to a grow­ing knowl­edge base and the devel­op­ment of new tech­nolo­gies, we are now more capa­ble of pro­duc­ing extra vir­gin olive oils which per­form from both a sen­so­r­ial and healthy point of view,” Cognoli said.

On top of that, many high-qual­ity EVOOs come from regions where cul­ture and his­tory are inte­gral to the prod­ucts.

There is a whole world of scents and taste that can be explored, but there is also a world of beau­ti­ful sto­ries to know about pro­duc­ers and their lands,” Cognoli said.

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