Olive & Oil 03/12/2012

A new perspective on the sensorial analysis of oil. A social path to tasting

Things must change. A modification in the technical courses for olive oil tasters is necessary. In the last year, the new course organized in Italy by the Onaoo introduced a sociology-based approach

The report I presented at the technical course for olive oil tasters held in Imperia, Italy, and organized by Onaoo, was a gratifying and formative experience. The course got students from all over the world, from Australia to Brazil, from Japan to Sweden.

The new approach proposed in this course is a sociology-based vision on sensorial analysis. The idea at the basis of this approach is to consider taste under the different points of view of sociology, art and culture. The concept of taste has been analyzed not only in terms of nutritional power and flavors, but also in terms of costumes and traditions of different countries.

More in detail, the concept of taste has been analyzed under three different points of view: taste as a social concept; taste as national culture and identity and product of the cultural background; and, finally, taste under the traditional technical definition.

Taste as a social concept

Citing Briant Savarin (1825), one of the privileges of humans is to eat without being hungry and drinking without being thirsty. As a matter of fact, this is not possible among animals; it is born from our thinking about the pleasure of eating, our desire to extend the duration of it and to the possibility to exploit eating as a social occasion, for business, love and friendship.

Hence, taste reaches its climax in sharing the food, load-bearing axis for creating and maintaining our social links.

Taste as national culture and identity and product of the cultural background

Tastes and cuisines are a pivotal part of the national identity of every country. As a matter of fact, every nation has a certain kind of food used as a vehicle and symbol of the identity of the social group. Typical examples of this concept are spaghetti for Italians, couscous for Northern Africans, rice for Chinese, etc.

The preference for different foods and the ability to perceive some flavors also depend on our cultural background, on our past experiences and on our expectation about a certain food.

Taste as a technical definition

Finally, the course discussed about taste as a technical stuff, stressing the difference between a hobbyist, that tries to maximize the pleasure of senses, and a professional taster, which, on the contrary, is able to transform their perceptions in words and objective judgments.

The tool tasters employ to deliver their sensations, perceptions and judgments is the evaluation form. The aim of these forms is to provide experts with a map of perceptive reality and to form a stable and repeatable judgment through a well-defined lexicon. It is worth noting that, among the different examples of products evaluated by means of forms (chocolate, tea, cold cuts, beers, etc..), the oil one is the only one used as a formal commercial pedigree for the product.

During the course, students contributed with their considerations and personal experiences, enriching the content of the lessons.

The fact that many small or big companies of the field feel the necessity to join such a course, and to participate into Onaoo courses in general, is the expression of the need for industries to import fresh know-how aimed at improving product quality.

Culture and production must go together. It is important for professionals that work at the creation of new high-quality oils to be aware of the important role of constant education and improvement.

di Carlotta Pasetto