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Learning to taste olive oil: swirl, sniff, slurp, swallow...

The reason for the sensory tasting is that there is no good lab test that will come up with those attributes. So the humans, with their flaws, are the best tools.

Does olive oil have to taste peppery?

What color is good olive oil?

The 4 Ss in summary:

  1. Swirl--this releases the oil's aroma molecules. Keep the oil covered until ready to sniff.
  2. Sniff--uncover the oil and quickly inhale from the rim of the glass. Take note of the intensity and the description of the aroma.
  3. Slurp--take a small sip of the oil while also "sipping" some air. This slurping action emulsifies the oil and helps to spread it throughout your mouth. Take note of the retro-nasal aroma as well as the intensity of bitterness.
  4. Swallow--an oil's pungency is judged by a sensation in your throat so you must swallow at least a small amount to thoroughly evaluate it. If the oil makes your throat scratchy or makes you want to cough, it is a pungent oil.


First, you gently cup the glass of oil in your hand and swirl it gently. You stick my nose into the glass and inhale deeply. Just like tasting wine, swirling the glass helps to release the aromas in the oil. You think you detect whiffs of grass and, um, olives. You sniff a few more times--maybe there's some eucalyptus in there as well!

After sniff comes slurp, the most humorous of the tasting steps. Instead of simply gulping down the oil, you take a bit of oil in the front of our mouths and suck in a couple of short bursts of air. Yes, it sounds funny, and it feels even funnier. But slurping and sucking is an important step in tasting oil. The mouth and nose identifies different flavor components (or aromas) in different locations. Spreading the oil all around the mouth makes it possible for you to look for multiple aromas at once. Depending on the part of the mouth and nose, you get different positive fruitiness.

Swallowing the oil is the final step in tasting, so at least you're getting something right. This step is all about evaluating an oil's pungency. Pungency is most often recognized as the sharp flavors that cause coughing and a bit of burn when the oil is swallowed. A good olive oil will have some amount of pungency; depending on the time of harvest and milling, it will be more or less mellow.

Now that you've swirled, sniffed, slurped, and swallowed...make your selection from our may. many exotic Extra Virgin Olive Oils, Flavored, Fused and Infused Olive Oils and Flavored Balsamic Vinegars....

Attributes and Descriptors

Attributes: The sensory assessment of olive oil uses scientific methodology to evaluate the quality of an oil. Tasters are trained to recognize specific attributes, which are measured and then statistically analyzed to determine if the oil is free of negative attributes (flavor defects), or not.

Fruity: refers to the aroma of fresh, undamaged olive fruit in the oil, which is perceived through the nostrils as well as retro-nasally while oil is in the mouth.

Bitterness: which is a primary flavor component of fresh olives, is perceived through receptors (taste buds) on the tongue.

Pungency: is a biting tactile sensation noticed in one’s throat. Sometimes oils are referred to as one or two "coughers" as this is a common response to pungency.

Descriptors: Descriptive language that depicts the oil's aroma and flavor are subjective and therefore not scientific.

Green Fruit Ripe Fruit Other
Artichoke Buttery Black Pepper
Cinnamon Floral Cherry
Eucalyptus Nutty Citrus
Grass Ripe Apple Hay-straw
Green Almond Ripe Banana Other spices
Green Apple Ripe Olive Walnut Shell
Green Banana Stone Fruit Woody
Green Olive Tropical
Green Tea
Tomato Leaf