Olive Oil Primer: “Earthy,” “Greasy” & Other Taste Defects

The term “earthy” can be a good thing when tasting a wine. Do a Google search on the words “earthy” and “wine” and Pinot Noir, Bordeaux and Riesling come up. Wines made from the Sangiovese and Petite Sirah grapes pop up, too. But in the olive oil world, an earthy tasting olive oil is not something you want.

In fact, earthy is a flavor associated with olives that have dirt or mud clinging to them. Bottom line: The olives weren’t washed before they were pressed.

Here’s a rundown of other defects you might find when tasting olive oil, based on International Olive Council definitions:

  • Heated or burnt: Occurs when oil is exposed to excessive and/or prolonged heat during processing.
  • Hay-wood: Flavor of oil produced from olives that have dried out.
  • Greasy: Flavor reminiscent of diesel oil, mineral oil, or mechanical grease.
  • Vegetable water: Flavor acquired by prolonged contact with the vegetable water that is a by-product of pressing olives.
  • Brine: Obtained from olives that were brined (such as table olives) before pressing.
  • Esparto: Flavor obtained from using new mats made from esparto (a type of grass) when pressing olives.
  • Grubby: Flavor obtained from olives that have been attacked by the olive fly, which causes disintegration of the olives before they are harvested.
  • Frozen: Flavor obtained from olives that experienced heavy frost or prolonged cold temperatures before being harvested and pressed.

Stay tuned for more olive oil tasting terms.

Claude S. Weiller
Vice President of Sales & Marketing
California Olive Ranch

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