May 092013

For a long time I steered away from infused olive oils. The reason was simple. I wanted to perfect my olive oil tasting (sensory evaluation) skills on olive oils that were supposed to be extra virgins.

Over the last year I’ve included both fused (also known as flavored) and infused olive oils in my tasting adventures. I wrote an article a year ago called Flavored vs. Infused Olive Oil. It was shortly after that I began tasting and comparing both fused/flavored and infused oils.

I’ve tasted an assortment of herbed, chili-peppered, vegetable, and who-knows-how-they-did-it infused olive oils. There were those that were fine but there were also those that masked beginning to advanced stages of rancidity. Frankly, that’s what I expected so those aren’t the problems I’m writing about today. The problems I am addressing are:

  • Flavor changes, and
  • Spoilage (non-toxic and toxic)

Changes in flavor of infused olive oils

This one is simple. Each infused olive oil I purchased, except red-chili or jalepeno-infused oils, went through a flavor change in the infused ingredient within a few months of purchase and a significant change a few months beyond that.

Herbaceous ingredients first lost their vibrancy then became bitter. Garlic became stronger then sweeter. An oil named ‘butter’ became strong and chemicalish.

The red chili and jalepeno didn’t change at all and I couldn’t tell if the oil was getting rancid. It was even difficult to tell if there was a greasy mouth feel, which is a characteristic of rancidity. Some may think this is a good thing. The point is, I couldn’t tell one way or the other.

Toxic and non-toxic spoilage in olive oil as a result of infusing

These reactions are a result of the natural oxidation process that occurs, not only to the olive oil, but to the ingredient infused in the oil. The spoilage can create toxic components or non-toxic components. It is rare that an infused ingredient would create harmful toxic levels but it can happen.

There is a saying that I can’t remember correctly, or even who said it. It is about toxicity and olive oil. It goes something like this: If olive oil were a good medium for toxic substances there wouldn’t be a human race.

That doesn’t mean that I won’t err on the side of caution.

Non-toxic spoilage is any change in the chemical composition of the olive oil resulting from oxidation or some other molecule combination that causes unpleasant tastes, smells, or appearance (cloudiness). It won’t hurt you, but ewww!


Try fused/flavored olive oils. The ingredients are added during the olive crushing process. The flavors are richer and I used each of them within about three to four months of opening and didn’t detect any flavor changes. That doesn’t mean the flavor won’t change at some point later than infused oils, but don’t wait around for that to occur unless you are conducting your own experiments.

You can also make your own infused olive oil. Simply add an herb or other food item you like to an oil and let it steep in the closed container for a few days. Try it at intervals to see if you enjoy the flavor. Then use it up in the next few months.


I never tried citrus-infused or fused olive oils so can’t comment on them.

May the sun shine through your branches.

Feb 172013

In an effort to keep up with olive oil production and exportation in Israel, Hebrew University is providing a new certification for their students, olive oil expert. The olive oil certification course curriculum with be aligned with the International Olive Council standards and guidelines.

One of the duties the graduates will perform is as an expert witness in Israeli and international courts. This is considered essential in light of olive oil adulteration and misrepresentation.

New Major at Hebrew U: Olive Oil Expert – Inside Israel – News – Israel National News

May the sun shine through your branches.

Nov 132012

The International Olive Council awarded a perfect score to the olive oil taste testers (sensory panel) at the Australian Oils Research Laboratory in Wagga Wagga, Australia.

This is quite a big deal. People who ‘taste’ olive oil for a living must be able to make very subtle distinctions among the flavors and sensations present in olive oil, and this is very difficult to do.

This past July I attended the introduction to olive oil tasting and the master-level sensory evaluation courses at the University of California at Davis. The auditorium full of students, including me, spent days listening to lectures, taking notes, and tasting many olive oils. The lectures were in Italian and were translated by Darrell Corti of Corti Brothers Fine Wine and Gourmet Foods Italian Grocery Store in Sacramento, California.

Until I took these courses, I had no idea how tough it is to correctly evaluate olive oils. The main things that a sensory panel are looking for are defects in the oils. The defects are a very specific list. Here are some of the more common defects and a link to the list from the Olive Oil Times: Fusty, Musty, Muddy Sediment, Winey-Vinegary, Metallic, and Rancid. There are other defects which are less common but problematic none-the-less.

So why is it that defects are what a sensory panel is really looking for? As our Italian teachers told us, if there is a defect then there is no point in continuing a sensory evaluation. The oil can never be designated as a virgin olive oil and must be sent for refining to be used as a lower grade oil know as lampante (lamp oil) or tossed out.

While you are looking at the link above provided by the Olive Oil Times, take note of the positive attributes. Maybe you have noticed some of these when you taste your extra virgin olive oil. If you haven’t, give it a try, and don’t be hard on yourself if you can’t distinguish the flavors because it is very difficult to do. People who taste-test olive oil professionally take continuous courses to stay on track. I was only moderately good at this and will never sit on a sensory panel. One thing I can do, is tell that there is a defect present, I’m just not good at identifying the defect.

Many congratulations to the Wagga Wagga sensory panel on a perfect score. You have Olive Crazy’s deep admiration.

Wagga sensory panel obtains perfect score in olive oil test | Southern Cross

May the sun shine through your branches.

Sep 112012

I was at the local “big box” store purchasing school supplies for my youngest son. While traversing the aisles I passed an angry man arguing with a sales clerk. “I want what I bought, damn it” he hollered. I feel your pain buddy, I thought.

Was this man’s sentiment reasonable? I didn’t know, yet without knowing the circumstances surrounding his complaint, I was immediately sympathetic. Why? Because this is how I feel each time I place an item in my shopping cart. I too want what I bought – damn it!

This morning I read an article from the National Journal entitled Why a Lobbying Fight Broke Out Over Olive Oil. It evoked in me that visceral acrimony most of us feel when we or those we care about are wronged. I felt cheated – again, by those same folks who are perpetually cheating us purchasers of olive oil.

Here’s the bulletized back story to the article from the National Journal.

  • Scientific evidence and sensory evaluation proved that both adulterated (fake) olive oil and low-quality olive oil are posing as extra virgin (an actual legal designation) and are currently residing on your grocery shelf.
  • This stuff, which is not what you or I paid for, is being sold around the world to unsuspecting consumers.
  • The sellers of this stuff are major companies who know what they are doing, why they are doing it, and don’t care.
  • These major companies exercise control by making up the voting and decision-making membership on most European regulatory, standards, and trade organizations.
  • They laugh at us while smoking their big cigars and sipping their grappa. You think I’m kidding? I’m not.
  • United States olive growers and extra virgin olive oil producers got mad and decided to take action against this organized mob by developing a set of voluntary standards for themselves. This set of standards is called a marketing order and it only applies to olive oil producers from the United States – no one else.
  • Who could object to a US industry’s desire to self-regulate for the benefit of consumers? The same creeps that are controlling the non-regulation, non-standards, non-enforcement in Europe, that’s who.
  • In the United States the “creeps” operate through the North American Olive Oil Association, a trade association for olive oil importers. Not all olive oil importers are bad guys, but Olive Crazy is throwing the baby out with the bath water. They know what their colleagues are up to.
  • When the US olive growers and olive oil producers decided to regulate themselves, the membership of the NAOOA launched an attack campaign and created another fakery. They set up a group called the Alliance for Olive Oil Quality Standards. A rose by any other name … Now substitute for ‘rose’ a word depicting the smelly product of digestive elimination … Yup, that’s what I mean.
  • The Alliance for Olive Oil Quality Standards spent $80,000.00 to hire a powerful, Washington DC lobbying firm to coerce, with dinners and campaign contributions, the members of the United States Congress to kill the US olive growers and olive oil producers attempt to regulate their own industry. Why?
  • They don’t want us to get what we bought.
  • Damn it!!!!!!!

If you are sick of not getting what you bought then please take the advice of this lowly olive and olive oil enthusiast/champion of consumers everywhere/champion of all producers of great olive oil, and buy your olive oil from olive oil producers in your own country. Folks that you have learned to know and trust. Here are three of my current favorites in the United States:

The Olive Press (California)

California Olive Ranch (California)

Georgia Olive Farms (Georgia). Please note, they have a small grove and are sold out, but will have more evoo available later this fall or in the early winter. It’s great and it goes fast.

May the sun shine through your branches.

Jun 102012

A few weeks ago I opened my email and there it was, another taste-testing class opportunity at UC Davis. I read all about it and then pondered whether or not to attend. Finally I mentioned it to Mr. Olive Crazy. Instead of sympathy for my problems (see my article “My Dark Secret“) he just called me a wimp.

I have a physical reaction to nasty foods and flavors and am terrified that during the negative-attributes tasting I will embarrass myself.

Here is the transcript of our conversation:

OC: There’s a Sensory Evaluation Master Class at UC Davis on July 27 and 28. It looks interesting.

Mr. OC: (not looking up from the ESPN app on his iPhone) You’re really thinking of going?

OC: Wellllll. I don’t know.

Mr. OC: (still looking at baseball scores) You’re a wimp.

OC: (temporarily stunned since I’ve never been called a wimp) But, but I …

Mr. OC: (passionately jabbing his phone screen) I thought you wanted to take the UC Davis Milling Courses this fall?

OC: (now sensing a trap) Yeah?

Mr. OC: Don’t millers taste the oil they’re producing?

OC: Well yeah.

Mr. OC: (looking up from his phone) So go sign up. I’ve been looking for a flight for you.

Conceding defeat to my left-brained husband who knows me very well, I went straight to the computer and signed up. I wondered if I should pinch a few air sick bags from the plane when I arrive or if one would be enough.

May the sun shine through your branches.