How taking the time to taste your oil can help your cooking and your state of mind
If you’ve ever browsed the olive oils on our site, you may have been overwhelmed by the detailed descriptions of the flavors and aromas in each seemingly similar bottle. Olive oil tasting is a serious career, one that takes years of training and certification akin to becoming wine sommelier. But you don’t have to be a professional to borrow a few tricks of their trade, and it will help you come to a better appreciation for this versatile ingredient.
You might already have a general preference for olive oil from one country or region, and if you’ve tried lots of oils, you’ve probably felt the sharp spiciness or mouth-tingling nature of some intensely green oils. You’re already on the road to tasting success! Taking a few extra minutes to carefully taste and smell your olive oil the way the pros do can help you improve your cooking, and it’s a great mindfulness exercise to live in the moment in a place we often feel rushed to get dinner on the table, stat!
All you need to get started is a small glass that you can cup in your hand and whatever olive oil you have in your kitchen. (A small brandy or liqueur glass is ideal for this.) Pour a tablespoon or so of oil into the glass, then hold it in your hand to warm the oil slightly while covering the top. This will release some of the oil’s aromatic compounds into the air and trap them in the glass. When you’re ready, uncover the glass and take a deep inhale. Notice what you smell, then take a small sip and let the oil coat the inside of your mouth.
Ask yourself the following questions: Do you taste the same flavors you smelled? Did any new flavors reveal themselves? What lingers in your mouth after you swallow? Even the mildest oils will have aromatic compounds that may remind you of almonds, tomatoes, cut grass, and more. Be totally open to what you experience, not just what the brand’s tasting notes describe. Every person’s palate is unique, and knowing what you taste in this oil will help you use it more effectively in your cooking.
If you taste berries or fruit, try drizzling it over vanilla ice cream or gelato! Tomato notes call out for a Caprese salad, and peppery notes pair beautifully with grilled meats. (And if you taste something more like crayons, rubber, cardboard, or old socks, get rid of it, quick! That oil is rancid and should be replaced with a fresh bottle.)
Once you’ve tasted your oil, make a note of where it was produced and which olives were used, if the label includes that information. The next time you’re shopping for olive oil, you’ll be able to use your newfound knowledge to guide you to new discoveries.