Learn what great extra virgin olive oil should REALLY taste like and how to pair different flavour profiles with your favourite food and ingredients.
In this final part of a 3-part blog series we share about Taste and Extra Virgin Olive Oil from our perspective as certified olive oil tasters and home-cooks, like you. You will learn what great EVOO and infused olive oils should REALLY taste like so you can make better buying decisions. You will also find 2 comprehensive food pairing guides within the post, so you can start exploring Olivo New Zealand olive oils according to how you cook and prepare your meals. Also check out part 1 and 2 of this blog series for useful tips about Temperature and Time when cooking with EVOO.
Last Updated: 3 September 2021 | Cooking/Culinary
Taste and Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO)
EVOO is probably the only culinary oil that must go through both physicochemical and sensorial taste assessments in order to be certified as Extra Virgin. The protocols of taste analysis are well-documented and applied globally as standards of assessment. Sensorial tasting is a structured analysis done by a panel whose palates have been trained, honed and certified by the International Olive Council (IOC).
Differences in EVOO taste profiles are influenced by many factors that include ripeness of the olive fruit and varietal of olives. Even within equally high quality EVOOs there can be large variations of taste profiles, which open up myriad possibilities in home-cooking. Not unlike how we pair different wines or coffees with certain foods to enhance dining experiences, using the right EVOO with your ingredients and dishes can transform the synergy of flavours. To start developing appreciation for this nascent culinary discipline, we first should know what good EVOO should taste like!
Know what great extra virgin olive oil REALLY tastes like
Chances are the very first time you tasted a top quality EVOO, your taste buds experienced a small shock at how strong it tasted. The olive fruit is naturally bitter and peppery as true EVOO is simply the “juice” of the fruit, so it contains all the natural goodness straight from the fruit. You wouldn’t want it any other way much like you wouldn’t want your orange juice to taste nothing like real oranges!
As olive oil tasters, we look for three key sensorial indicators – Fruity, Bitter and Peppery (or Pungency), which are all positive attributes. Olive oil can only be labelled Extra Virgin if there is a presence of a fruity aroma. Fruity aroma of EVOO can smell like plants, vegetables, herbs, fruits or flowers in varying degrees of intensity and complexity. At the same time, olive oil tasters must not detect any defects caused by fermentation or oxidation that could have accumulated throughout the agricultural and production phases. After the smell assessment, tasters drink the oils to look for intensity of bitterness and pepperiness.
Once the olive oil is certified as Extra Virgin by tasters and all the physicochemical test indicators meet or exceed set standards, it’s then classified into three categories of taste intensity namely, Mild, Medium or Intense. Each category has their corresponding level of total polyphenol content (TPC) i.e., the 2% content of EVOO where much of the health properties and taste intensity come from. This means we can actually taste how healthy an EVOO is!
So, the next time you open up a bottle of olive oil that is labeled Extra Virgin, smell it for fruitiness, taste it for bitterness and pepperiness. If you can smell and taste a good level of intensity it's a good thing!
Practice Extra Virgin Olive Oil pairing when you cook
We couldn’t agree more with Rachel Roddy who recently wrote in one of her articles for the Guardian - “…olive oil is not just a cooking fat, it is a principal ingredient with a deep flavour, like liquid herbs.”. This is a firsthand acknowledgement by an experienced and seasoned chef cum culinary writer of the multitude of delicious flavours EVOO can impart to a dish and sometimes transforming it.
Pairing wine or coffee with various types of food flavours is something most people are familiar with, and know that it can enhance dining experiences. Similarly, EVOO’s natural complexity of flavours and aromas lends itself to this pursuit of optimal culinary enjoyment. Except when it comes to EVOO, it’s probably more useful to think of it like you would herbs or spices, in the sense that some EVOO taste profiles work better than others for the dish you’re making. While this requires some experimentation, there are simple ways to start appreciating how to pair using easily available and familiar foods.
How to pick the right extra virgin olive oil pairing for your dish
It is important to note that there is no right or wrong way, rather whether the EVOO chosen creates more or lesser flavour synergies. A good place to start is to understand the dominant and secondary flavours in the dish you’re making. Are the flavours subtle, balanced or bold? Is the dominant flavour vegetal, citrusy, earthy or spicy? Are there secondary notes of herbs, green peppers or sweet tomatoes that you want to highlight?
Once you know this, you can select the EVOO taste profile to enhance, highlight or complement them. Here are some tried and tested flavour synergies created with Olivo New Zealand extra virgin olive oils, we offer in Singapore in Table 1.
TABLE 1: Olivo New Zealand extra virgin olive oils food pairing guide Note: This guide is relevant to Olivo’s 2020 harvest EVOO’s. There may be slight differences from year to year depending on climate conditions that can produce minor differences in taste profiles.
Add adventure to your home dining experiences with top quality infused extra virgin olive oils
In our previous post we shared how we can save time and whip up quick meals with Olivo infused extra virgin olive oils. In this post, we further elaborate on quality tips and food pairing. Similar to “straight” EVOO, really good infused olive oils should taste robust and full of natural flavours.
Know what REALLY good infused extra virgin olive oils should taste like
Most commercial infused olive oils can taste mediocre or insipid and do not deliver the expected labelled flavour, further reinforcing the poor reputation infused olive oils has unfortunately earned as a flavoured version of lesser quality EVOO to begin with. Very good infused olive oils should start with a base of equally high quality EVOO as you would find in their “straight”, celebrated versions. Natural and high-quality ingredients are then steeped or infused in the EVOO for several weeks towards a desired flavour intensity that synergises with the inherent flavours of the EVOO and NOT to mask them.
This means when we taste very good infused olive oil, the base EVOO’s natural flavours should be present alongside the tastes that the infused ingredient imparts. For example, in the case of Olivo Lemon infused olive oil, the product should taste bold and zesty with a hint of pleasant bitterness (like real lemons) instead of weak and sweet. The reason for this, as mentioned above, top quality EVOO are naturally bitter and pungent, and should not disappear with the addition of infusions.
At Olivo, the recipes for infused olive oils are proprietary and have been selling in the New Zealand market for nearly two decades. Olivo offers a dazzling array of unique infused olive oils from essentials like Lemon, Porcini and Smoked Chilli to the more adventurous like Smoked Paprika, Fennel, Cumin and even Vanilla!
How to pick the RIGHT Olivo infused olive oils for your meals
It is likely most people would be drawn to infused olive oil versions of flavours they already like, for example, if one loves earthy mushroom flavours the idea of Porcini infused olive oil would be instantly appealing even before tasting it. Why not take it a step further to make sure the flavours you choose work well and frequently with the meals you cook. Here’s a simple starter guide in Table 2 below. For more recipes, visit Olivo’s website.
TABLE 2: Olivo New Zealand Infused olive oils food pairing guide Note: only selected Olivo infused olive oil flavours are available in Singapore.
In a nutshell
Knowing what good extra virgin olive oils REALLY taste like is essential for optimizing the taste and health benefits of cooking with EVOO. Good EVOO should taste fruity, pleasantly bitter and peppery, like the olive fruit in its natural state. Practicing EVOO and food pairing can transform the dishes you cook because natural flavours of high quality EVOO creates flavour synergies with certain ingredients.
Choose medium intensity EVOO’s like the Olivo Tuscan Estate for dishes with subtle flavours like tender salad greens, mild white fish and tofu-based Asian flavours, to enhance them with creaminess, texture and umami. Olivo Estate EVOO is versatile in dishes which are balanced yet distinctive, such as hardier greens like kale and broccoli, oily fish like salmon and tuna and it works especially well for dishes that are sautéed or slow-roasted. Both Olivo Estate and Olivo Koroneiki work fabulously with bold, rich and spicy dishes that are grilled or stewed, such as grilled meats, aubergine and okra and aged cheeses.
High quality infused olive oils should taste bold and flavourful, and not weak and insipid. The reason for this is the base EVOO used in the making of the infused olive oil must be of high quality so you should taste hints of the EVOO’s natural fruity, bitter and peppery flavours, despite the infusion of various ingredients. Both the infusion and the EVOO’s natural flavours should synergise to create unique yet familiar taste experiences.
When pairing Olivo Infused Olive Oils with food, choose flavours that you like but also those that work well and frequently with the meals you cook. While we offer some starting ideas in Table 2, the possibilities are endless! We also have some easy recipes for Olive Oils for your convenience, do check them out. So go ahead, add a little adventure to your home-cooking with Olivo!
Look out for more stories and recipes by following us on Instagram (@oliveoilpeople) when we announce.
our blog posts are not meant to replace your physician’s advice. However, we do cross-reference facts and data points with expert sources, observations and research publications, where available. All photos by Olive Oil People.