Olive oil, the pride of the Mediterranean, is a delicious, healthy food that provides many health benefits. Find out more about the ‘liquid gold’ and how it acquires the unique flavour, colour and aroma that characterise it.
1. The colour of olive oil is not crucial.
The colour of virgin olive oil varies from the brightest golds to the darkest greens, but the colour is not indicative of its quality. Its quality is determined by the level of acidity (expressed as oleic acid). In fact, tasting glasses are made of translucent blue glass that masks the colour of the oil in order to avoid influencing tasters.
Green, black and purple olives and all of the shades in between can be turned into oil; black olives giving a sweeter finish and green olives offering more robust and fresher aromas.
2. Olive oil does not taste like olives.
There are more than 2,000 varieties of olive; each with a different flavour and aroma. Olives take on the mineral notes (terroir) of the variety, but the flavour can vary from one year to the next depending on the weather. If the weather is too dry, it will be more bitter and if it is too damp, it will be less fruity.
3. The best way to taste olive oil is not delicate.
“You have to be aggressive,” says Anna Cane, Chief Officer of Public and Scientific Affairs at Deoleo, whilst swirling the oil quickly and warming the blue tasting glass with her hands. “The oil must impregnate the mouth and tongue. Then you inhale through the oil to extract its unique aromas, close your mouth and exhale through the nose. By doing this you capture other flavours,” she adds.
With the first intake of air, your memory combs through your mental catalogue of thousands of varieties of oil. In a few seconds you can define the flavour.
4. Olive oil is more difficult to make than you think.
Olive oil can only be extracted from the fruit of the olive tree, a cousin of jasmine and lilac in the Oleaceae family. Five kilogrammes of olives are needed to make one litre of oil. Olive trees don’t even produce olives for the first ten years of their life. Although once they start producing olives, they can continue producing them for centuries!
5. Blending oils is a science and also a complicated art.
The distinctive flavour of an oil derives from blending many types rather than from the specific variety or region.
That’s why the complex flavours can’t be achieved with a specific variety; because the flavour of the olives, even from the same region, can change with the weather. Even if the variety has a unique aroma and flavour, you need to be part artist and part scientist to create the perfect blend. Therefore, blenders must carefully choose olive oil from different olive trees and at different stages of maturity.
6. Don’t be afraid of a little flavour.
The number of notes in an olive oil tasting is very surprising, from apple, artichoke, walnut and citrus to flowers, grass and exotic fruits. Extra virgin olive oil must have a “robust green fruitiness,” explains Anna, “high pungency and bitterness levels, which means it is high in antioxidants, and softer notes of apple, ripe fruit, grass and a subtle sweetness.”