Olive & Oil 03/09/2012

The quality of olive oil depends on the aroma

What determines the quality of an olive oil? Who is able to evaluate it? First of all it doesn’t simply depend on its fatty component. How is the sensorial profile made? What about the hedonistic component?

What does quality exactly means in the context of olive oils? Quality – for the ones that are able to recognize it – means to be able to find the way to make it and, then, to make it perceivable to the professional and occasional costumers.

It is a difficult thing to achieve; this is the reason why many people hide themselves behind commonplaces. However, it is important for customers to acquire a basic knowhow in order to understand some basic principles about oils and to defend from urban myths.

Let’s start from the aromas of extra virgin olive oils. Until recently it was a wrong but widespread common knowledge that the main plus of olive oils over other seed oils concerned the fatty component, which in olive oils has plenty of oleic acid and shows an equilibrated ratio of saturated, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids.

This is true; many experts say that extra virgin olive oil is very similar to breast milk, both matchless drinks for health. However, there is something that is generally ignored. Extra virgin olive oils are first of all products with a strong hedonistic component, given by their incredible aromas.

As a matter of fact, what makes olive oil that popular are its aromatic components. These components are part of diverse chemical classes and endow the oil with its typical herbaceous, vegetal or floral notes, with the bitter or spicy sensations and with the flavor or astringent characteristics. These, and others, are the things that can be perceived during tasting. It is important to be educated to distinguish these aspects in order to appreciate the complex structure of an extra virgin olive oil.

How is the sensorial profile of oil made? Olives release aromas during pressing but it is in particular during the mixing procedure that best fragrances are produced.

The difference between a normal extra virgin olive oil and a high-quality one is in the ability of the oil to acquire and preserve for long time (surviving the bottling and the stockpiling procedures) natural aromatic components.

The agreeableness and exploitability of an extra virgin olive oil depend on the presence and preservation of its aromatic component, indeed. The main task of oil producers is to preserve as much as possible aromas coming from olives and to make their best to fix them through the most up to date techniques in the oil.
The formation of the aromatic profile involves the activation of four different enzymes. This is a spontaneous phenomenon, but producers must help and maximize it. This is the reason why some producers are way better then others, despite the characteristics of the area of production or the cultivar employed. This expertise is what makes the quality of their products.

On the other side, the main task of oil sellers and chefs is to preserve the oils in order to slow down as much as possible the natural decay of aromatic components due to oxidation. As a matter of fact, this phenomenon affects the most valuable olfactory and taste characteristics of oil. In the same direction, costumers will need to be trained as well, in order to make the best of the product they bought.

di Luigi Caricato