table with olive oil and overhanging olive branches

So your very expensive bottle of Olive Oil says “extra virgin” on the label but how do you know that it’s telling the truth? Unfortunately, ‘doctoring’ Olive Oil with inferior oil like canola, deodorising and bleaching it with chemicals, then adding artificial colours and flavours is a distressingly widespread practice.

Extra virgin Olive Oil is expensive and time consuming to produce. If the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. However, even the expensive stuff may have been adulterated. One of the only ways to find out if your Olive Oil is the real deal is by connecting to it on a sensory level. You are going to have to take in the aroma and then take a swig so you can taste it. Yes, you have to put neat oil in your mouth and swirl it around for a bit, much like a professional taster explores tea. The good news is that Olive Oil is more like fruit juice than a fat.

Olive Oil is incredibly complex and can have a myriad of taste and aroma overlays, the smell and taste being inextricably connected. First, pour a little oil into a small glass, warm it with one hand and cover the top with the other to contain the aroma. Pretend you are an aficionado – swirl it, cup it, take it in – what do you notice? It might smell fruity, grassy, leafy, fragrant, artichoke-like or green. At any rate, it should smell fresh. If it smells ‘off’ or like vinegar, it is probably not genuine extra virgin.

Now to the taste test – take a good swig and move it around your mouth with your eyes closed. It’s no good just having on the tip of your tongue, be adventurous. Like the aroma, it should taste fresh. You may get hints of apples, butter, spices, mint, citrus, grass, pepper, herbs and even walnuts, depending on where the olives were grown. It should be rich and full bodied but leave your palate feeling clean. Anything that smacks of grubby, musty, metallic, greasy, meaty or cardboardy tells you that the oil has been tainted or is old. Olive Oil doesn’t get better with age and should be consumed within 2 years of harvest.

The next blog: Can the whiff of Olive Oil help you lose weight?

Check out the Olive Oil fact file.