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Sensorial analysis of table olives: where are we?

The International Oil Council has defined guidelines to evaluate not only olive oil, but also table olives, through sensorial analysis. Andrea Giomo describes the newly introduced innovative methodologies as part of a regulatory framework

Luigi Caricato’s - whom I would like to thank - article on Teatro Naturale (http://www.teatronaturale.it/strettamente-tecnico/l-arca-olearia/11670-l-analisi-sensoriale-delle-olive-da-tavola-il-punto-della-situazione.htm) is useful to discuss where we are at now, as far as the official method for the sensorial evaluation of table olives introduced by the International Oil Council (IOC) in a regulatory framework. The method has been existing and consolidating for two years and it has constituted an official rule of IOC since the IOC decision DEC-21/98/V/2010.

The specific procedure to evaluate table olives can be downloaded from the COI website, in English or French (both official languages of IOC and EU). The method has the same structure of the sensorial evaluation already adopted by IOC and EU for virgin olive oils. Its goal is the sensorial classification of table olives according to the intensity of potential defects through the judgment of 8-10 expert and instructed referees, who have to go through a selection process. The method defines necessary criteria and the procedure for the sensorial evaluation of smell, taste, and olive consistency, and it also defines the limits for their commercial classification. It is uniquely applicable to the fruit of olive trees (Olea Europaea L.) after being treated and/or elaborated for commercialization and final consumption as table olive, in compliance to the reference Commercial Rule COI/OT/NC n.1 (December 2004).

The rule defines:
- objective and field of application;
- prescriptive definitions and references;
- evaluation tools;
- terminology for the definition of sensorial descriptors of table olives;
- selection process of referees;
- methodological references;
- sampling of olives;
- management and preparation of samples to analyze;
- place and conditions of the evaluation;
- specific analytical procedure;
- classification procedure;
- evaluation forms;
- statistical appendix;
- sampling tables;
- MS-Excel worksheet (™).

The evaluation is carried out only through smell, taste and synesthesia; the visual test, although included in the commercial rule, is not considered, as it purely has a commercial value, and it is therefore typical of specialized technicians in the test laboratory.

The methodological innovations which were introduced for the first time in a normative context are downloadable at the link page of the IOC website, and describe the “Guidelines for the training of tasters (referees) and panel leaders in the framework of sensorial evaluation of table olives and management of panels according to the norm COI/OT/MO n.1 - 2010”.

Such guidelines address the control of the training on the methodology for referees and relative panel leaders. IOC prepared a program and olfactory and synthetic standards which will be made available to member countries which will be express interest for the constitution of a panel national system for the evaluation of table olives. It has also been scheduled a Fall session in Madrid for the managers of the system, who have been invited from member states.

It can be noted that the model adopted for the sensorial refereeing of table olives is slightly different from the one adopted for virgin olive oils, especially from the point of view of management and training, which is supposed to prevent the risk of local variations in the methodology thanks to the an adequate control that every method should have, most of all as far as the proficiency is concerned (EA-03 04 Proficiency Test Guideline).

by Andrea Giomo
05 september 2011, Technical Area > Olive & Oil

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