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.