Saturday, June 10, 2017

The Potential Power of Skilled Tasters

Originally published in Spanish in Olimerca 2016

Flavour is the culinary difference between extra virgin olive oil and competing vegetable oils. Tasting is the primary method in describing the flavour and determining culinary use and whether the olive oil is defective. While chemical testing is progressing as a tool to determine flavour and defects – the skilled taster reigns.

Tasting is immediate, it describes the extra virgin olive oil as it is presented to the taster, whether for quality assessment or for a consumer who is selecting for use in cooking.

Every individual describes taste differently depending on their experience, their taste vocabulary and their ability to differentiate between the different elements of aroma and taste which make up the flavour. To even out the variations in taste descriptions between tasters, panels are trained. Panels that determine the classification of olive oils are accredited and have a pivotal role in determining the return to the producer and the authenticity to the consumer.

Panels are expensive to convene and take time to make determinations, time which often is not available to the buyer or blender who needs to make an immediate decision. Decisions on the quality and suitability of extra virgin olive oil are made daily all along the supply chain in the effort to deliver an authentic and attractive product to the consumer. This gives the individual taster the ultimate power in ensuring the integrity and value of extra virgin olive oil.

If the perception of the consumer is that the olive oil they are buying is defective or fraudulently presented, the tasters along the supply-chain must take responsibility. If they are well trained, knowledgeable and skilled they will have the confidence to reject sub-standard product. This decision on quality is too often deferred to the ‘quality assurance (QA)’ department and many defer responsibility in the pursuit of sales. In some cases this deference comes from a lack of knowledge and confidence, so QA departments would do well to assure the quality of the tasting skill of staff at all levels, as well as the quality of the product.

Why therefore is so little emphasis placed in some consuming countries on the training and rewarding of individual tasters at all levels in the industry. Every trader who handles olive oil; whether producer, importer, buyer, distributor or salesperson, should be a trained taster. Tasters should be ranked to encourage improvement and the highest ranked tasters coveted and financially rewarded.

Confidence in, and third-party recognition of, individual tasters will be the most powerful way to ensure the authenticity of extra virgin olive oil delivered to the consumer, and thereby increase sales. The skill of a taster could be assessed through technical taste tests and recognition of extra virgin olive oils from different varietals and regions. The score achieved in these standardised tests would lead to ranking and recognition on an international register.

Ranking and recognition will also go some way to rid the industry of those who claim to be ‘expert’ tasters and discredit products without foundation. Panels will still have their place in classification and be the ultimate determination of quality, well supported by individual tasters throughout the industry.

Simon Field
17 June 2016

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Off-the-Shelf Olive Oil Competition in USA and Canada to Reward Value for Money

A new Olive Oil competition planned for North America during 2015 will reset consumers’ expectations of awards in the olive oil industry. The results will be announced at a two-day conference in Chicago on 25 and 26 August.

The competition will introduce a number of innovations by evaluating the olive oils on a range of attributes important to consumers:
  • Entries will be collected off-the-shelf as the consumers would buy the products
  • The olive oils must be available in the USA and/or Canada
  • Scoring will include points for:
    • flavour
    • percentage of healthy monounsaturated fats
    • smoke point
    • price
 The winners will reflect ‘value for money‘ and the judging panel will be consumer-based.
The organisers are the North American Olive Oil Association (NAOOA) in association with International Extra Virgin Olive Oil Savantes. The competition is designed to give greater credibility to awarded olive oils.

An off-the shelf competition is unique and highly credible because it prevents suppliers from developing an olive oil to be used for competition entries that is different from the oil sold in the marketplace under the same brand.

Entries for the competition will open in early 2015 with the winners being announced at the Chicago event at the end of August 2015.

Eryn Balch, Executive Vice President of the NAOOA, when announcing the new competition said: ‘We hope to redesign the landscape of olive oil competitions worldwide by concentrating on the factors important to consumers, namely flavor, health benefits, smoke point and price. The concept of value for money – high quality flavorsome extra virgin olive oil at a reasonable price – will catch on.’

She added ’we have also included a category for olive oil grade products to communicate to consumers that although extra virgin is the best olive oil, all olive oil is better than other vegetable oils’.

Further details of the competition and Chicago Conference will be available through a link to by the end of January. 

Champion Extra Virgin Olive Oil Taster Competition

A competition to find the most accomplished taster of extra virgin olive oil will be staged in Chicago, USA on 26 August 2015.

Organised by International Extra Virgin Olive Oil Savantes in association with the North American Olive Oil Association (NAOOA), the competition will be open to all those attending a major event in Chicago planned for August 25 and 26, 2015.

Tasters will be invited to undertake a series of taste tests which will recognise their:
  • ability to detect and describe defects in extra virgin olive oil,
  • rank different intensities,
  • discern between different aromas and tastes, and
  • identify extra virgin olive oils from different varieties and regions worldwide.
 Those who take the tests will also have the option of being ranked on the International Register of Extra Virgin Olive Oil Savantes. A score of 60% will accord the status of Associate Savante and 80% the status of Savante. Currently there are nine Associate Savantes worldwide coming from Spain, Canada, New Zealand, USA and Jordan.

The International Extra Virgin Olive Oil Savantes programme was founded in 2001 to provide professional development towards the expert understanding of the tastes and uses of extra virgin olive oil. Courses are run annually in various countries including Italy, USA, Spain, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and United Kingdom.

Savantes is an independent enterprise which does not accept sponsorship or support from any organisation which would be seen to compromise the ability to present objectively the full range of styles of high quality extra virgin olive produced around the world. For the courses producers are invited to submit their oils for tasting with the invitations predicated on quality, awards and differentiation.

Principal and organiser of Savantes, Simon Field said when announcing the plans for the competition ’ This will present a great opportunity for tasters from all parts of the global olive industry to assess their skills, not only in technical tasting but also in recognising varietals from other regions’.

He continued, ‘There are many tasters at all levels of the industry who are self-trained or formally trained. Now is the time for them to have their skills recognised and publicised on an international register of tasters. We also hope it will encourage those who do not achieve the higher scores to engage in further training and experience to come back next year to gain higher recognition.’

Further details of the competition and Chicago Conference will be available through a link to by the end of January. 

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Per Capita Consumption in Australia Trends Down

The per capita consumption of olive oil in Australia is on the decline. The graph below shows a steady decline in consumption since a high in 2006. The drop from just under 2.33kg (2.53 litres) per person in 2006 to 1.76kg (to 1.91 litres) indicates a disturbing 25% decline in consumption per person.

Infusion Ban May Hit North American Olive Oil and Vinegar Boutiques

In 2011 the Olive Business newsletter asked the question ‘Should something be done about the labelling of infused ‘extra virgin’ olive oils or is it more convenient to live with this inconvenient truth?’
Now three years later the International Olive Council has turned its attention to resolve the issue.
The IOC ‘Trade Standard Applying to Olive Oils and Olive Pomace Oils’ clearly states that no food additives can be added to olive oil, with the exception of a small amount of alpha-tocopherol for refined olive oils. The essences, fruit, herbs and spices added as infusions or flavours are obviously food additives.
The push by the IOC to have member countries ban the descriptor ‘olive oil’ being used on any infused olive oils will have wide implications for the trade, especially in the boutique olive and vinegar stores in the USA and Canada. Flavoured oils are popular in these countries and make up a large proportion of the sales in the boutique stores.
It will be interesting to see how active those who have been at the forefront of exposing allegedly ‘fraudulent’ olive oils will be in policing this obvious breach of international trade standards. There are also implications for competitions such as the LA Extra Virgin Olive Oil Competition and the Australian Olive Association Competition which include classes for flavoured oils.
The ability to infuse olive oils with different tastes and aromas, and the inability to test the base olive oil for integrity, has enabled the use of non-compliant oils to be used in the infused oils.
If there isn’t an innovative new descriptor developed that is attractive to consumers, the decline in the sale of infused oils could increase the amount of olive oil in the market which does not comply with the extra virgin olive oil classification.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Why is Worldwide Consumption of Olive Oil Declining?

Olive oil prices across all classifications are down and recent International Olive Council data shows that imports into major importing countries such as the USA, China and Australia are down. Even in Spain, the world’s largest producer, there are reports of reduced consumption of olive oil, with the exception of extra virgin olive oil which has shown a slight rise. The data provided generally measures the tonnage of olive oil traded, data of value of oil traded is scarce. It may well be that while tonnage is down, value may be up indicating the higher price and volume of extra virgin olive oil sold.

The downward trend in olive oil trade by tonnage can be for a number of reasons.


The perception of the value and integrity of olive oil among consumers has been affected by the publicity concerning allegedly fraudulent trade in olive oil publicised across all media. Confused, consumers are turning to other vegetable oils for their household needs.


The trend towards higher polyphenols in extra virgin olive oil, pushed as a measure of quality and shelf-life by some producer associations, is resulting in a product which tastes too bitter and ‘hot’ for most consumers.


The dual trends of increased production of extra virgin olive oil worldwide and the demand for higher prices from producers is setting prices too high for consumers with diminished disposable income.


All the above is leading to an oversupply of olive oil, especially the higher priced extra virgin olive oil. This in time should lead to a reduction in price to consumers and increased consumption. Producers may not be happy with this and need to adjust production costs – perhaps harvesting a little later to increase yield and produce a greater range of less robust extra virgin olive oil for consumer palates.

Olive Industry Needs a Mantra

The olive industry needs a mantra, spiritual, audible, visible and ever present in the thoughts of policy makers, producers and all those involved in the industry.

It should be invoked before any far reaching decision is made and before any campaign plan is developed and launched.

We suggest the following:

‘All olive oil is better than other vegetable oils and extra virgin olive oil is the best olive oil.’

Making this mantra central to our thoughts may bring the recognition that we must put the progress and public perception of olive products before any utterance which will discredit them.

In the past three years the public perception of olive oil has taken a battering from the self-interested campaigns in many producer and consumer regions which have sought to gain market prominence for a particular brand or region by discrediting other brands or regions. This undermining of consumer confidence is surely contributing to the decline in olive oil consumption in most importing countries, and even in some countries which are major producers.

Competition is necessary for progress, but we should never forget that we are not only competing with other olive oil products, but more importantly, we are also competing with other vegetable oils. Comparative trends show that the olive industry is losing the battle and it is time that industry leaders at all levels showed real leadership and pulled the industry together.

It is also incumbent on those of us involved in the olive industry to reinforce the positives, deal effectively with the negatives and never lose sight of the consumer, who is generally disinterested in the technical and competitive machinations of the industry and just wants an affordable, trustworthy, healthy and flavoursome olive oil.