Olive Oil Tasting Terms | The Olive Oil Source

Olive Oil Tasting Terms

What does the objective organoleptic assessment method developed by the International Olive Council determine?The International Olive Council (IOC) has developed a system for the objective organoleptic (tasting) assessment of olive oil in order to determine an oil’s quality and commercial trade value. This assessment method is based on panels of trained tasters recognizing the absence and/or presence of specific positive and negative (defective) attributes.

While the IOC assessment offers an objective method to determine if an oil has defective flavors or not, this method does not allow for descriptions of flavors because descriptive language is subjective. We offer the following terms, with positives in green and negatives in red, to help guide you through your own tasting experiences.

Red refers to undesirable, green to desirable traits.

Apple/Green Apple: indicative of certain olive varietals

Almond: nutty (fresh not oxidized)

Artichoke: green flavor

Astringent: puckering sensation in mouth created by tannins; often associated with bitter, robust oils

Banana: ripe and unripe banana fruit

Bitter: considered a positive attribute because it is indicative of fresh olive fruit

Buttery: creamy, smooth sensation on palate

Eucalyptus: aroma of specific olive varietals

Floral: perfume/aroma of flowers

Forest: fresh aroma reminiscent of forest floor, NOT dirty

Fresh: good aroma, fruity, not oxidixed

Fruity: refers to the aroma of fresh olive fruit, which is perceived through the nostrils and retro-nasally when the oil is in one’s mouth.

Grass: the aroma of fresh-cut (mowed) grass

Green/Greenly: aroma/flavor of unripe olives

Green Tea: characteristic of some unripe olive varieties

Harmonious: balance among the oil’s characteristics with none overpowering the others

Hay/Straw: dried grass flavor

Herbaceous: unripe olive fruit reminiscent of fresh green herbs

Melon: indicative of certain olive varietals

Mint: indicative of certain olive varietals

Pear: indicative of certain olive varietals

Peach: indicative of certain olive varietals

Peppery: stinging sensation in the throat which can force a cough (see pungent)

Pungent: stinging sensation in the throat which can force a cough (see peppery)

Ripely: aroma/flavor of ripe olive fruit

Round/Rotund: a balanced, mouth-filling sensation of harmonious flavors

Spice: aroma/flavor of seasonings such as cinnamon, allspice (but not herbs or pepper)

Sweet: characteristic of mild oils

Tomato/Tomato Leaf: indicative of certain olive varietals

Tropical: indicative of ripe olive fruit with nuances of melon, mango, and coconut

Walnut/Walnut Shell: nutty (fresh not oxidized)

Wheatgrass: strong flavor of some green olive fruit

Woody: indicative of olive varietals with large pits


Acetone: aroma of nail polish remover, associated with winey defect

Blue Cheese: aroma associated with muddy sediment defect

Brine: salty taste indicating that oil was made from brined olives

Bacon: smoky essence that may indicate oxidation

Burnt/Heated: caused by processing at too high a temperature

Cucumber: off flavor from prolonged storage, particularly in tin

Dirty: oils which have absorbed unpleasant odors and flavors of dirty waste water during milling

Dreggish: odor of warm lubricating oil caused by the poor execution of the decanting process

Esparto: refers to straw-like material in mats occasionally used in older mills that may create a hemp-like flavor in oil

Fiscolo: refers to coconut fibers in mats occasionally used in older mills that may create a hemp-like flavor in oil

Flat/Bland: oils which have no positive or negative aroma or flavor characteristic of olive oil; may indicate presence of refined olive oil

Frozen/Wet Wood: sweet, dry, and untypical aroma/flavor derived from olives which have been exposed to freezing temperatures

Fusty: anaerobic fermentation that occurs when olives are stored in piles too long before milling

Greasy: flavor of diesel or gasoline caused by equipment problems

Grubby: flavor imparted to oil by olive fly damage to olives

Hay-wood: flavor of dried olives

Muddy Sediment:barnyard-like aroma caused by olives' prolonged contact with dirt before or after milling

Musty: moldy, humid flavor created by wet olives that have been stored too long before pressing

Metallic: oils that have had prolonged contact with reactive metal surfaces either during processing or storage

Rancid: the flavor of oxidation that occurs as the oil ages, often described as “stale nuts”

Rough: pasty, thick, greasy mouth feel

Sour Milk: aroma associated with muddy sediment defect

Stale Nuts: flavor of oxidized oils, rancidity

Unbalanced: oils with overwhelming flavors of bitterness and pungency

Vegetable Water: oils that have been stored in contact with the water content of the olive after processing

Winey: sour/vinegary flavor caused by aerobic fermentation of olives during processing (see vinegary)

Vinegary: sour/vinegary flavor caused by aerobic fermentation of olives during processing. (see winey)

Yeasty: aroma of bread dough; associated with winey defect