Tasting Guide

A Guide to Tasting and Selecting Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)

Bella Oliva routinely carries twelve to fourteen traditional extra virgin olive oils. Where do you begin? What’s the difference? How do you decide on one?

No two olive oils are alike. Each has its own aroma and taste characteristics and is a unique product of soil, climate, olive varieties, and processing methods. When evaluating the flavor of EVOOs, there are three main characteristics to consider:

  • Fruitiness: Having pleasant spicy fruit flavors characteristic of fresh ripe or green olives. Ripe fruit yields oils that are milder, aromatic, buttery, and floral. Green fruit yields oils that are grassy, herbaceous, bitter, and pungent. Fruitiness also varies by the variety of olive.
  • Bitterness: Creating a mostly pleasant acrid flavor sensation on the tongue.
  • Pungency: Creating a peppery sensation in the mouth and throat.

The color of olive oil can vary from a light gold to a rich green. Green olives produce a green oil because of the high chlorophyll content. Ripe olives yield a yellow oil because of the carotenoid (yellow red) pigments. The exact combination and proportions of pigments determine the final color of the oil.

Here’s a guide to tasting extra virgin olive oil that will help you select the right olive oil for you:

Start your tasting with a mild oil. Olive oils are classified in three levels of intensity: mild, medium, and robust. Always start with mild and then work up to medium and then robust intensity olive oils.

Pour a couple of tablespoons of olive oil into a small tasting cup. You may use bread to taste extra virgin olive oils, but if you’re truly interested in the flavor of the oil, taste without using bread.

Warm the oil. Nest the cup in the palm of one hand, and cover the top with your other hand. Gently rock and twist the cup in your hand for about 20 seconds to warm the olive oil. The warming and the “swishing” release the fragrant aromatics in the oil – its “nose.”

Take a deep whiff of the oil. Raise the cup to your nose but only partially lift your hand from the cup; tuck your nose into the cup, then take a deep whiff. The first, fragrant “top notes” of the oil (its “nose”) are your clues to its flavor.

Make a note of the nose. Is it “big” (heavily fragrant), or is there little fragrance at all? Can you identify the characteristics? “Fruity?” “Grassy?” Or, is there something more subtle?

Taste the oil. Draw a long, slurpy sip into while curling your tongue upward, taking a fair amount of air into your mouth along with that first sip in order to aerate the oil. Roll the oil across your tongue and all the way to the back of your mouth, allowing your tongue to identify as many aspects of the flavor as possible.

Swallow the oil. By now your tongue and nose have all the information they need to tell you how it tastes. Note the flavor characteristics as well as descriptors and lingering sensations – even viscosity. Is it fruity? Peppery? Pungent? Bitter? What did you like most? These distinctions will point you toward your favorites, and rule out other oils. When you know how to taste and identify the flavors of an extra virgin olive oil, you can start to narrow your choices down to the varieties you like. And with the vocabulary to describe them, you can ask for the particular characteristics you enjoy most. You’re on your way to finding a favorite!