Olive Oil Primer: A Glossary of EVOO Tasting Terms

Wine connoisseurs have their own vocabulary to describe a wine. They might use the words chewy, jammy, or (hopefully not) flabby and corked. In the extra virgin olive oil business we have our own sometimes colorful vocabulary to describe an EVOO’s taste: fruity, pungent, fusty, and musty.

Here’s a glossary of EVOO tasting terms, grouped by whether it’s good or bad from a taste standpoint:

Positive Attributes in EVOO

  • Fruity: Set of smell-related, or olfactory, sensations characteristic of good (unspoiled) fresh olive fruit. Perceived either directly through the nose or in the mouth via the retro-nasal passage linking the mouth and nose.
  • Bitter: Characteristic of oil obtained from unripe (green) olives. Perceived on the back of the tongue. A key part of an olive oil’s balance of flavors.
  • Pungent: Peppery sensation perceived at back of the throat. A sign of the oil’s freshness.

Negative Attributes or Defects in EVOO

  • Fusty: Characteristic obtained from olives stored in piles prior to pressing, which causes an advanced stage of anaerobic (without oxygen) fermentation.
  • Musty: Moldy flavor in oils obtained when a large quantity of the olive fruit has developed fungi and yeast because it was stored in humid conditions for several days. Detected in the mouth via the retro-nasal passage linking the mouth and nose.
  • Winey-Vinegary: Flavor reminiscent of wine or vinegar. Occurs because of aerobic (using oxygen) fermentation in olives which leads to the formation of acetic acid, ethylacetate and ethanol.
  • Muddy Sediment: Characteristic of oil that has been left in contact with sediment in tanks and vats. This defect occurs from storage conditions after the oil is pressed.
  • Metallic: Flavor reminiscent of metals. Occurs when the oil has been in prolonged contact with metallic surfaces during crushing. Nowadays is unusual to find this defect because modern presses are made from stainless steel and don’t react with olives.
  • Rancid: Flavor in oils which have undergone oxidation. Most common defect. Can occur either before or after bottling and if a bottle — either opened or unopened — has been exposed to light and heat.

Claude S. Weiller
Vice President of Sales & Marketing
California Olive Ranch