Liquid gold: How to properly taste olive oil?

As a symbol of the the Mediterranean, olive oil has always been much more than an ordinary food ingredient.

How to taste oil

You are usually given a piece of bread that, depending on its content, influences your experience of the oil. True connoisseurs drink it straight, because only when you taste pure oil can you sense all of its variations and tie them into a flavour experience.

What you need

All you need is a wine glass, into which you put a spoonful or two of olive oil. Hold the glass in one hand to warm the oil and release its flavours (yes, just like when you drink red wine), and cover it with your other hand to keep the aromas in. Softly swirl it around the glass, then put your nose in the glass. Make sure not to dip it into the oil. Inhale deeply. You can smell various aromas:

  • freshly cut grass
  • cinnamon
  • tropical fruit
  • unripe or ripe olives

Now take a sip. Don’t be shy. A big sip that will fill your mouth. Suck in a little air to help the aromas develop. Then – this is the important part – breathe in through your nose. You will sense a wealth of new aromas, as your mouth and nose meet around the back of your tongue – this is called retronasal perception. Now swallow it all, or however much you feel like.

Spicy is good

You will feel the spiciness of the oil in your throat. This is a good thing. Just like a good chilli pepper, once you feel the intensity of fresh, virgin oil from western Istria, you won’t be able to imagine your life without it. Master tasters even describe oils as one-cough, two-cough, or three-cough, depending on how much it bites at your throat.

What is fruity

They say oil is fruity, but you must know that the definition of fruit here encompasses vegetables as well, so these aromas can recall artichoke or herbs. Fruitiness in the mouth can also include nutty flavours, butter, and more mature aromas, as well as a spectrum of green, fruity notes. If you’re planning on tasting multiple oils, rinse your mouth with water and a slice of apple.

Bitter is refined

Just like spiciness, bitterness is a choice. If you’ve ever tried olives fresh from the tree, you will know how bitter they are. The process of preparing olives for consumption thus begins with de-bittering. As oils are made from unprocessed olives, levels of bitterness may vary, but the greener the fruit, the more bitter the oil. Imagine the bitterness of dark chocolate or wild lettuce – bitter is a highly underrated flavour. Enjoy it.

Pair it with food

Now that you know the flavour of the oil, grab that piece of bread from the beginning and truly enjoy it. You can also order a nice bowl of maneštra soup and give it a drizzle of oil to fill out the flavour. For the adventurous at heart, we recommend Istrian supa – wine, oil, and a piece of bread. Add a little salt and pepper, and that’s all you need. Bon appétit!

If you want to master the art of pairing olive oils with food, choose three oils: one spicy, one mild, and one medium. The ideal ingredients to try them on are boiled vegetables, fresh, crusty bread, tomato, mozzarella, salads, boiled potato, or even meat or fish if it’s prepared with only a dash of salt. Drizzle a bit of oil on a piece of an ingredient and taste it. Are the flavours balanced? Does one flavour dominate? Invite your friends over and compare your impressions – add a bottle or two of wine and make a lovely evening out of it.