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.

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.

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.

Apr 262012

Now it’s time to try each of the flavored extra virgin olive oils I purchased from the Boston location of Oliviers & Co. My intention is to give you an idea of how I might use each in cooking everyday dishes. I will also let you know what the folks at Oliviers suggest. I’m going to taste and give my suggestions before I read their’s. Let’s see how I do.

1. Huile d’Olive Vierge Extra et au Citron (Extra Virgin Olive Oil with Lemon)

Olive Crazy – Perfect for baking bready-textured cakes and cookies that aren’t very sweet. Pour some of this olive oil in chili paste (like my favorite, harissa) and eat it with a fresh baguette.

Oliviers & Co. – Use in salad dressing, marinades, grilled fish, pasta, fresh goat cheese, fruit salad, baking, or pour on vanilla ice cream.

2. Huile d’Olive Vierge Extra et au Basilic (Extra Virgin Olive Oil with Basil)

Olive Crazy – I can imagine this oil poured over freshly cooked, al dente pasta and tossed with sun dried tomatoes, pecans, and big chunks of roasted garlic.

Oliviers & Co. – Pour over a slice of green apple. Use in fruit salads, on tomatoes, cheese, pasta, pizza, chicken, and vegetables.

3. Huile d’Olive Vierge Extra et a la Bergamote (Extra Virgin Olive Oil with Bergamot)

Olive Crazy – Massage a piece of beef with the bergamot-flavored oil and peppercorns, wrap in plastic, let marinate for about 15 to 20 minutes, and grill.

Oliviers & Co. –  Use with grated carrots, in celery remoulade, pasta salad, leeks, poultry, green vegetables, and fruit salad.

4. Huile d’Olive Vierge Extra et a la Mandarine (Extra Virgin Olive Oil with Mandarin)

Olive Crazy – When I tasted this oil, I imagined cupcakes with orange marmalade centers, soft cheese frosting, and a mandarin slice on top.

Oliviers & Co. – Great on roasted vegetables, drizzled over fruit salads, and even in chocolate brownies or cakes.

5. Huile d’Olive Vierge Extra et a la Menthe (Extra Virgin Olive Oil with Mint)

Olive Crazy – I was apprehensive about tasting this oil. I couldn’t imagine how I might use it until I tasted it. The verdict – chicken salad. Make a mayonnaise with the mint olive oil, mix it with chilled chicken breast, add some chopped mint leaves, water chestnuts for crunch, salt and pepper. Place some chicken salad on a lettuce leaf, roll it up and eat it.

Oliviers & Co. – Drizzle over tabouleh, couscous, chickpea salad, lamb dishes, tomato and feta pasta salad. Also delicious for desserts. Drizzle over pineapple and mango, even in brownie mix.

6. Huile d’Olive Vierge Extra et au Citron presse Vert (Extra Virgin Olive Oil with Green Lemon)

Olive Crazy – Pour over dark bread add sliced, ripe tomatoes, sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Oliviers & Co. – Delicious drizzled over salads, on fish, pasta, vegetables, strawberries, and sorbet.

7. Huile d’Olive Vierge Extra et au Piment (Extra Virgin Olive Oil with Chili Pepper)

Olive Crazy – I saved this oil for last. I knew it would ruin my ability to taste any of the other oils and boy would it have. This is some powerful stuff. I love spicy foods and would use this oil on anything. But, the first food that popped in my mind was eggs, fried, scrambled, poached, or however you eat them. Just drizzle this oil on your eggs and enjoy.

Oliviers & Co. – Try on steak, burgers, fried potatoes, pasta, pizza, and omelets.

May the sun shine through your branches.

Mar 242012

I just read two articles regarding the alleged International Olive Council’s (IOC) intention to remove sensory evaluation from qualification for extra virgin olive oils from IOC member countries. The first article is from Tom Mueller, the author of Extra Virginity: the Sublime and Scandalous World of Olive Oil entitled Vanishing Viginity? and the second from the Olive Oil Times entitled Non-Member Chemists Kept Out of Olive Council Meeting.

Let me give some unvarnished advice from someone who is familiar with and loves brutal public relations and political campaigns (same thing really). If what is alleged turns out to be true – this is a gift. Take it and spin the hell out of it!!!!!

May the sun shine through your branches.