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Introduction to tasting extra virgin olive oil

The secret of tasting? Memory, of course. Some basilar information about the sensory analysis and the vocabulary of professional tasters

Sensory analysis makes use of the ability of our sense organs to react to stimuli of chemical, chemical-physical and physical origin.
The sensory analysis use smell organs and taste organs.

The sensation of smell is determined by the presence of volatile molecules in the nasal cavity. These stimulate the olfactive mucous membrane which is covered in a thin layer of mucus and is made up of sensory, basic and supportive cells and is also innervated with trigeminal terminations.
In the case of nasal inspiration, the time the molecules spend on the membrane is minimal since the air travels very fast through the nasal canals. In order to increase this time, retronasal inspiration is usually used, that is to say inspiration through the mouth with the consequent stripping of the odorous and aromatic molecules, and expiration through the nose.

It is possible to distinguish four main characteristics of taste: savoury, sweet, sour (or acidic) and bitter.
Taste is stimulated initially by the contact of a watery solution of chemical compounds with the taste buds of the tongue, soft palate, and pharynx, epiglottis and the mucous membrane of the cheek. Therefore saliva plays an important role in tasting, as it dissolves or dilutes the sapid molecules (of taste) and transports them to the taste receptors. Inside the mouth there is a hierarchy of sensory receptors.

The importance of “memory” that an individual accumulates during his life is therefore obvious. The senses which are most deeply involved in the perception of organoleptic characteristics of food are taste, smell and sight, while hearing and touch often play a secondary role. The various organoleptic properties are evaluated through the five senses: appearance, colour and form through sight, consistency and related characteristics (fluidity, viscosity, friability) through touch and hearing, aroma through sense of smell, flavour through that of taste, and of the combined senses of smell and taste.

Give words to sensations: extra virgin olive oil vocabulary

Positive attributes

Fruity: range of smells (dependent on variety) characteristic of oil from healthy fresh fruit, green or ripe, perceived directly and/or retronasally. Fruitiness is qualified as green if the range of smells is reminiscent of green fruit and is characteristic of oil from green fruit. Fruitiness is qualified as ripe if the range of smells is reminiscent of ripe fruit and is characteristic of oil from green and ripe fruit.

Bitter: characteristic primary taste of oil from green olives or olives turning colour. It is detected by the circumvallate papillae in the ‘V’ region of the tongue.

Pungent: tingling sensation characteristic of oil made at the beginning of the season mainly from olives that are still green. It can be perceived throughout the mouth cavity, particularly in the throat.

Negative attributes

Fusty/muddy sediment: characteristic flavour of oil from olives that have been piled or stored in such a way as to have reached an advanced stage of anaerobic fermentation, or of oil which has been left in contact with the sediment that settles in underground tanks and vats and which has also undergone a process of anaerobic fermentation.

Musty/humid: characteristic flavour of oil from olives in which large numbers of fungi and yeasts have developed as a result of storage for several days in humid conditions.

Winey-vinegary/acid-sour: characteristic flavour of certain oils reminiscent of wine or vinegar. This flavour is mainly due to the aerobic fermentation of the olives or of olive paste left on pressing mats which have not been properly cleaned, leading to the formation of acetic acid, ethyl acetate and ethanol.

Metallic: flavour reminiscent of metal, characteristic of oil that has been in prolonged contact with metallic surfaces during crushing, mixing, pressing or storage.

Rancid: flavour of oil that has undergone an intense process of oxidation.

Heated or burnt: characteristic flavour caused by excessive and/or prolonged heating during production, particularly by thermo-mixing of the paste in unsuitable conditions.

Hay/wood: characteristic flavour of certain oils from dry olives.

Rough: thick and pasty mouthfeel produced by certain old oils.

Greasy: flavour reminiscent of diesel, grease or mineral oil.

Vegetable water: flavour acquired by the oil as a result of prolonged contact with vegetable water which has undergone fermentation.

Brine: flavour of oil extracted from olives which have been preserved in brine.

Esparto: characteristic flavour of oil from olives pressed in new esparto mats. The flavour may vary depending on whether the mats are made of green or dried esparto.

Earthy: flavour of oil from olives collected with earth or mud on them and not washed.

Grubby: flavour of oil from olives heavily attacked by grubs of the olive fly (Bactrocera oleae).

Cucumber: characteristic flavour of oil kept too long in hermetically sealed containers, notably in tins, attributed to formation of 2,6-nonadienal.

Wet wood: characteristic flavour of oil extracted from olives damaged by frost while on the tree.

by R. T.
02 february 2009, Food & Fun > Knowledge