What's In The Bottle? Demystifying the Art of Tasting True Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Posted on November 13 2015, By: Dina Fleischman

"Okay, so what am I supposed to be tasting?"  That's the most frequently asked question at the in-store demonstrations and tasting events that we do.  Our answer actually starts with another question:  "Do you like what you're tasting?"  With over 700 varietals of olives in the world, there cannot be one flavor, aroma or texture that is the correct one.  Many point to wine tasting as a good analogy because, like wine, EVOO (extra virgin olive oil) varies based on the varietal from which it was derived.

So, to some extent, it is a matter of personal taste.  However, no matter your particular preference, whether you prefer a milder flavor or a more bitter and robust one, or somewhere in between, there are some simple guides to follow that will give you clues as to whether or not the bottle you are holding contains EVOO and not something lesser.  Unlike wine, most of us use EVOO not just for the flavor and how it enhances our foods but also for its healthful benefits.  So when you buy a bottle of EVOO, you should know that that's what you paid for.

There is no shortage of advice from any number of experts to guide the consumer; the International Olive Oil Council is a great resource.  While we, at Oil Ladi, cannot get enough of reading and talking about EVOO, in reality, few people have the time to delve deep into the intricasies of the process of tasting EVOO, nor do they need to become "experts" to make good choices.

We've made up a handy little guide here for you, highlighting the more common and easily detected characteristics, both favorable and not.  But first, a quick note on the proper way to taste your EVOO (the method that will give you the most information).  Remember, we test for EVOO with two senses, our sense of smell and our sense of taste.  The color of the olive oil is not any indication at all of the quality.

First, read through the guide to familiarize yourself, then pour about a tablespoon into a cup or glass, (ignore the color!), then smell.  Now, sip a small amount, taking in some air as you sip so that you make that "slurping" noise your mom would've scolded you about when you were a kid.  Finally, swallow and make note of any stinging, peppery sensation in the back of your throat (that's a good thing).  Do you detect any of the desirable characteristics below?  Do you detect any of the negative?  Make note of each and pay particular attention to the balance, meaning no one characteristic should completely overwhelm the others.

We'd love to hear your comments and tasting experience.  Have fun and please, oil responsibly!   


Desirable Characteristics









Notes of almond or walnut

Usually found in the more robust EVOOs

A lively aroma with notes of grass and tomato leaf

Experienced retro-nasally

The absence of any one overwhelming characteristic

A peppery, stinging sensation in the back of the throat


Negative Characteristics







Indicative of oil made from damaged olives

Indicative of fermentation prior to milling

Oil had prolonged contact with reactive metals

A gasoline-like essence caused by bad storage

Neither a positive nor a negative quality

One quality overwhelms all others



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