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I’m picking up good sensations…

This piece is a translation of an article written by Lorenzo di Grassura in CHEF magazine – an Italian publication.

The sensory characteristics of extra virgin olive oil can be divided into two large categories: pleasant sensations or positive attributes and unpleasant sensations or defects. Today we will be looking at the pleasant sensations or, in other words, the characteristics that make us appreciate the great artisan oils produced in Italy.

Here are the most common positive attributes used when tasting and describing extra virgin olive oil:

Fruity. This refers to a flavour (or rather the combination of sensory characteristics perceptible by the nose and the palate) of fresh healthy olives, harvested at just the right moment. One can distinguish between different types of fruitiness: harmonious, green or robust (a pronounced aroma in oils produced early in the harvest), mature (flavour from oils harvested late in the season), tired or flat (flavour from older oils). Fruitiness is influenced by the time of the harvest and most of all the type (cultivar) of olive.

Apple. Flavour perceptible by the nose.

Tomato. Flavour perceptible by the nose. Commonly found in Sicilian cultivars like Nocellara del Belice (sent of green tomato) and Tonda Iblea (sent of mature tomato).

Banana. Flavour perceptible by the nose. Typical of oils from Sardinia and Liguria (cultivars Bosana and Taggiasca).

Floral Notes.  Flavour of oils reminiscent of flowering fields.

Artichoke. Flavour perceptible by the nose. Present in almost all oils but most distinguishable in those made from Maraiolo and Leccino.

Green leaves. Flavour perceptible by the nose and the palate, characteristic of oils made with olives that were still green.

Herbs. Flavour characteristic of oils produced early in the harvest; reminiscent of herbs fresh from the garden. Perceptible by the nose and the palate.

Almond. Flavour perceptible by the nose and the palate, reminiscent of either fresh or dried almonds. Often oils at the end of their shelf life will take on this flavour.

Bitter. Flavour perceptible by the palate, characteristic of oils obtained from green olives. There is a correlation between bitterness and the concentration of polyphenols (antioxidants).

Sweet. Flavour perceptible by the palate, which is inversely proportional to the sensation of bitterness.

Spicy. Flavour perceptible by palate and nose, which is dependent on the degree of olive maturation and type of olive (cultivar). Like bitter, it is linked to the concentration of polyphenols. The perception of spicy occurs when the oil enters the mouth and triggers the trigeminal nerve. Often is confused with acidity, which is absolutely different and among other things not perceptible by the palate.

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