Originally published in Spanish in Olimerca 2016

Flavour is the culinary difference between extra virgin olive oil and competing vegetable oils. Tasting is the primary method in describing the flavour and determining culinary use and whether the olive oil is defective. While chemical testing is progressing as a tool to determine flavour and defects – the skilled taster reigns.

Tasting is immediate, it describes the extra virgin olive oil as it is presented to the taster, whether for quality assessment or for a consumer who is selecting for use in cooking.

Every individual describes taste differently depending on their experience, their taste vocabulary and their ability to differentiate between the different elements of aroma and taste which make up the flavour. To even out the variations in taste descriptions between tasters, panels are trained. Panels that determine the classification of olive oils are accredited and have a pivotal role in determining the return to the producer and the authenticity to the consumer.

Panels are expensive to convene and take time to make determinations, time which often is not available to the buyer or blender who needs to make an immediate decision. Decisions on the quality and suitability of extra virgin olive oil are made daily all along the supply chain in the effort to deliver an authentic and attractive product to the consumer. This gives the individual taster the ultimate power in ensuring the integrity and value of extra virgin olive oil.


Cooking and Health Attributes of Olive Oil Compared with Other Vegetable Oils

Often when asking consumers about the use of other vegetable oils in preference to olive oil they justify their choice by repeating advertising claims of well promoted oils such as rice bran oil. 

Analysis of comparative smoke points and health benefits shows that some of these claims are questionable, if not downright wrong.

The Savantes programme, while concentrating on the taste and flavour of olive oil, has important sessions discussing the health attributes. Many of the taste and flavour characteristics are good indicators of the level of the ‘health chemistry’ of extra virgin olive oils.

‘You are what you eat’ goes the saying. Perhaps this is better stated as ‘You are what you ingest’.

The human body is a complex organism which is kept alive by what we ingest. Some of this is voluntary through eating and drinking, some of it involuntary like the intake of air and the absorption of the sun’s rays and other compounds through the skin.

Pretty well everything we ingest has an impact on our health.

Those of us who are involved with olive oil need to know the basics of health benefits of olive oil and how to encourage consumers to gain the benefits by using olive oil. We need this information in a form we can pass on to consumers who in general have less scientific knowledge than we do.

Health attributes of olive oil

There are thousands of technical papers on the influence that olive oil has on the human body. Almost every day there are more as scientists unravel the genetic control of our physiological activities.

The chemistry of extra virgin olive oil is complex, however its components can be divided into the saponifiable fraction and the insaponifiable fraction. Basically this means that the saponifiable fraction turns into soap if treated with sodium hydroxide, and the rest (insaponifiable) doesn’t.

The saponifiable fraction comprises 97-99% of olive oil, and is made up of triglycerides and a small amount of other compounds such as free fatty acids (FFA). The latter we measure to give us an indication of the acidity of the oil.

The insaponifiable fraction, 1-3% of olive oil, is made up of many important compounds which determine the flavour, quality and stability of the oil. In this fraction many vegetal phenols have been identified. During refining 88% of the phenolic compounds are lost.

Both the saponifiable and insaponifiable fraction have dietary and health benefits.

An important element of the Savantes programme is about describing taste and flavour of extra virgin olive oils from all over the world. To do this we need to understand the biological basis and process of tasting.

Articles and opinion about the use of olive oil and the olive industry.