Gastronomy - Tourism

What kind of olive oil we do consume?

What kind of olive oil we do consume?
  • PublishedNovember 23, 2022


If we want to see olive oil for what it is to the people who produce it and consume it for millennia around Mediterranean Sea, we have to admit that first of all that olive oil is food. Actually, if we want to be precise, olive oil is a combining agent in food preparation which brings different tastes together in order to produce a bouquet of tastes to a final taste experience of a food recipe, just like butter does.

More than that, olive oil was a cash commodity to Mediterranean people.  Minoans, Greeks, Phoenicians and Egyptians were paying for goods and services with olive oil among other commodities. Olive oil as a trade commodity had to be appraised against its quality. Organoleptic assessment (smell and taste) was the only climax that could appraise olive oil quality.  We have to assume that both smell and taste to an olive oil buyer had to be pleasant. The more pleasurable the smell and taste of an individual olive oil, the more value to it.

Today of course we have more sophisticated language and very precise terms to describe and value of individual organoleptic characteristics (positive or negative). In essence, we are doing the same thing as the old traders. Today also we have sophisticated and specialized laboratories to look, measure and value each constituent of olive oil. Those laboratories also determine compliance to established quality protocols in order to provide monetary value stratification for the industry.

We have to accept that the International Olive Oil Council has set as first priority of olive oil quality the organoleptic assessment before any other quality criterion.  So basically what this tells us, is that no matter how high all the other quality characteristics are, if smell and taste have a single defect the olive oil cannot get to the top category of extra virgin olive oil.

One has to be wonder when this important organoleptic information (how this olive oil smells and how it tastes) something that the simple consumer can relate and easily understand, it is not carried to an already heavily loaded olive oil label.  Instead, we have the expectation for the consumer to educate himself about acidity, about Protected Denomination of Origin, variety, time of harvest etc. Since EU has established minimum requirements for each quality stratification of olive oil, it would be enough for the consumer to read on the label the established category. For example “extra virgin olive oil”. After that, the label should inform the consumer about the organoleptic characterizations of this particular olive oil.

Another proposal to the International Olive Oil Council that came from a major consumer market (Germany) is the simple description of those organoleptic characterizations in terms of how they harmonize together in order to produce a pleasurable, in our senses olive oil. International Olive Oil Council as well as EU and USA already demand the need for organoleptic certification.  Certifying bodies in place around the world assess and certify individual olive oils that reach the international market.

One cannot help wonder why the most important information that it so relevant to olive oil quality is kept from the consumer.

Written By
Yiorgos Dimitriadis