Every Olive Oil Tasting Wheel Aroma, Flavor & Defect + Explanations

Olive oil is an essential aspect of local cuisine in countries like Italy, Spain, and Greece. This fatty oil can be drizzled atop toasted bread, mixed with fresh spaghetti and garlic, and used as a healthier alternative to deep-fried Southern dishes. But there’s a lot more to olive oil than “pure” and “virgin”—in terms of taste, there are dozens of olive oil varieties you’ll want to learn.

The olive oil (Recognose) tasting wheel has 72 different descriptor terms divided into several different flavor categories (nutty, muddy, and rancid). You can learn these terms to appropriately describe olive oil at your next tasting via flavor, aroma, tactile response, and overall taste.

Knowing more in-depth details about olive oil can help you better craft delicious meals and assume the role of “master chef.” To learn more about how to taste olive oil, the common olive oil defects, and the sections on the olive oil tasting wheel, keep reading!

How to Taste Olive Oil

To “taste” extra virgin olive oil is to take a swig, analyze the flavor for defects, and classify the aroma for quality. The evaluation of olive oil’s taste is often broken down into four simple steps—also referred to as the “four S’s”: Swirl, Sniff, Slurp, and Swallow.

Be aware that olive oil tasting events are usually seen as “formal,” so you’ll want to abide by the appropriate protocol to fit in nicely with the crowd.

So follow the brief step-by-step guide below so that you’re an absolute pro at your next olive oil tasting! There’s a video afterward that’ll describe the process visually.

Pour a Tablespoon of Olive Oil Into a Glass

Unless you’re at a professional olive oil tasting, you’ll probably use a stemless wine glass to sample olive oils. But if you’re looking for a more legitimate experience, you can invest in official blue, olive oil tasting glasses approved by the International Olive Council. 

The wider base allows for a better grip, a slight temperature increase in the olive oil, and a more detectable aroma. The blue tint of the glass also blocks out the oil’s color, so your judgment is based solely on flavor and scent, not the oil color.

One or two tablespoons of olive oil are sufficient, though you might want to start with a smaller amount if this is your first time tasting olive oil.

Swirl the Glass of Olive Oil & Release the Aromas

Before you take your first sip or slurp of the olive oil, it’s important to cup the bottom of the blue glass with your palm for a few moments. This warmth from your hand will gently heat the oil and release the olive oil’s pleasant aroma.

With your palm around the glass’s bottom, gently swirl the olive oil in the glass in a single direction (either clockwise or counter-clockwise). Be sure to lie your other palm atop of the glass as you’re swirling the glass to prevent spillage and keep the aroma inside the glass.

Continue swirling for a few minutes for the most incredible taste and aroma and avoid vigorously swirling your cup.

Inhale the Olive Oil Deeply & Notice the Scent

Immediately after swirling the olive oil in the glass, bring the glass to your nose and take a long focused sniff of the aroma. Think about the fragrance in the glass. 

  • Is it strong?
  • Does it remind you of another scent?
  • Is it giving off a fruity aroma?
  • Does it smell rancid or moldy?

If you’re at a casual or professional olive oil tasting, jot down what comes to mind when you smell the olive oil on a notepad. Use as many clarifying adjectives as possible (i.e., Not just “fruity,” but rather the type of fruit the aroma reminds you of).

We’ll review the keywords to describe olive oil in a later section.

Take a Small Sip of the Olive Oil & Discover the Texture

Take a sip (or slurp) of the olive oil in the glass and allow it to sit on your tongue for a few moments to experience the taste truly. Attempt to suck in some air as you’re slurping the oil, a technique that helps to spread the taste into all regions of the mouth and improve the aroma.

This method is sometimes called “retronasal,” which essentially means that you can sense the aroma of the olive oil as it travels from your mouth to your nose (they’re connected). It may also help to bring your tongue to the roof of your mouth and breathe in to achieve this.

Try not to swallow the olive oil immediately, as letting it sit on your tongue will allow you to experience the most authentic taste.

Swallow the Olive Oil & Take Note of the Flavoring

The final step of tasting olive oil involves actually swallowing the olive oil in your mouth. Use this time to note the flavoring in as many relevant adjectives as you can fit, just as you did with the scent of the olive oil.

  • Does it taste peppery?
  • Was the olive oil salty?
  • Did it remind you of a nutty flavoring?

Before you move onto your next olive oil tasting, make sure to cleanse your palate to avoid overlap in taste and smell. Avoid drinking water to accomplish this feat—as oil and water don’t mix—and opt for Granny Smith apple slices or bread cubes instead. If you’re at a formal event, these will likely be available to you!

In the video below, you’ll see a detailed description of how to taste olive oil and how important each step of the tasting process really is:

Follow these steps directly, and you’ll be a pro at your next tasting event.

Common Olive Oil Defects & How to Identify Them

Not all olive oils are of high quality. So whether you’re at a tasting or sampling your own homemade olive oil, you’ll want to be able to identify the more common olive oil defects.

Identifying musty, rancid, or sour olive oil will help you determine how fresh your latest batch of olive oil is. You’ll also figure out whether an olive oil sample is worth tasting, especially after giving it a good whiff.

Take note of the common olive oil defects below (and how to identify them). (Note: Even though you might not be able to put them into the “right” words, you’ll likely be able to pinpoint a few of the defects on your first try.)


Rancid olive oil is relatively easy to detect, even if you’re not well-versed in olive oil tasting. A rancid flavor and aroma will develop as the olive oil extends past its expiration date, and the fat inside the oil begins to break down rapidly. This is even more likely to occur if the olive oil is stored improperly (i.e., Not in a dark, dry, and cool cabinet).

The oxidation of rancid olive oil will produce an aroma similar to paint thinner, putty, or even crayons. Upon tasting rancid olive oil, you may notice that it leaves an overwhelmingly greasy sensation in your mouth and leaves an aftertaste similar to rancid nuts.


Fusty olive oil tends to be a bit more challenging to detect, as you might already be cooking with fusty olive oil and not even realize it. The fusty defect develops due to improper storage of the olives before extraction and involves anaerobic fermentation (no oxygen is involved). It’s not uncommon for fust to increase as olives sit in piles for extended periods.

This anaerobic fermentation causes the olive oil to take on a smell reminiscent of a barnyard, swamp, compost, or even sweat. Taste-wise, you likely won’t notice the difference if you’re a newcomer to the olive oil tasting arena.


Musty olive oil will result when unmilled olives become damp as they await extraction. As a result, mold begins to develop on the olives and remains on the olives’ surface during the extraction process. This fungi, yeast, or mold will then transition over to olive oil post-extraction, impacting the flavor and scent.

The flavor and taste of musty olive oil are relatively easy to distinguish. Stale olive oil will give off a smell similar to moldy or damp clothing, a dusty basement, or a humid room. Though you might not know the appropriate terminology to describe musty olive oil, you’ll notice the defect.

Winery & Vinegary

Winery or vinegary olive oil comes from aerobic fermentation, meaning the olive oil has been exposed to oxygen longer than it should. Oftentimes, this vinegary defect goes into full effect when the cap to the olive oil isn’t sealed properly, though it might also result from improper storage of olives that results in the growth of bacteria.

Given the strong aroma and flavoring of vinegar, this olive oil defect is incredibly easy to detect in both novices and connoisseurs. This olive oil might smell similar to nail polish or vinegar while also boasting a vinegary taste.


Metallic olive oil is a defect that develops during the milling or extraction processes. Prolonged contact with unclean metal apparatuses or storage in metal containers is often the culprit of this olive oil defect.

This defect gives off a clearly identifiable scent and flavoring that you’ll likely detect, even without an experienced palate. Olive oil with a metallic defect may smell or taste like rusty nails or even metal like steel.


Frozen olive oil often goes undetected, as it may give off a fruity aroma or flavor that’s easy to confuse with high-quality olive oil varieties. A frozen defect often develops when olives survive a freezing period or a frost prior to oil extraction.

Many describe this defect as causing a sweet, mushroom-like, or apply flavor and aroma during a tasting. However, this defect often goes overlooked by novice olive oil tasters, as the term “frozen” doesn’t describe the taste or smell as much as it describes how the defect occurred. 

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Muddy olive oil, sometimes referred to as “muddy sediment,” most often occurs due to poor pre-extraction storage. The olives remain in extended contact with muddy tanks and the sediment that sinks toward the bottom or even just simple dirt during storage. Muddy defects present when uncleaned olives are used to extract oil, as well.

Tasting muddy olive oil, you’ll immediately identify that something is amiss and that a defect is present. The muddy defect often presents itself with a scent or taste of Parmesan cheese, vomit, sour milk, or a horse barn.

Heated or Burnt

Heated or burnt olive oil most often occurs when the manufacturer produces the olive oil at too high of a temperature. The best way to describe the taste and smell of heated olive oil defects is “burnt,” giving a similar sensory reaction to regular burnt food.

The Olive Oil Tasting Wheel

A color coded circular chart, called a tasting wheel, that lists out the flavors and flavor categories of olive oil
Richard Gawel | aromadictionary.com

When you’re tasting olive oil, especially in a more upscale atmosphere, you want to use the correct terminology to describe the look, feel, smell, and taste of the oil. Today, we use the Recognose Wheel to clarify the descriptors of virgin olive oil into 72+ terms.

Understanding how to use this terminology properly will take a good amount of practice and frequent attendance of olive oil tastings. But eventually, it’ll come naturally, and you’ll come off as an expert and connoisseur.

Below, you’ll find brief descriptions of the terminology included on the olive oil tasting wheel. Take note of the variety and try to envision the taste and aroma described as we move along.


Olive oil could be described as “herbaceous” when the olive oil’s taste and aroma are similar to herbs, grasses, or other natural plants. There are eight descriptor words in the “herbaceous” category, including:

Tomato Leaf

Some herbaceous olive oils offer a hint of flavoring similar to tomato leaves. This type of olive oil has mild undertones of ripe tomatoes, though the tomato flavor isn’t overwhelming in any sense. Tomato leaf-flavored olive oil offers somewhat of an earthy flavor for olive oil connoisseurs, and it pairs well with Italian-style pasta like spaghetti.


Grassy olive oil is precisely what it sounds like: Similar in aroma and flavor to fresh-cut grass. You may notice that grassy olive oil boasts flavor tones similar to vegetables, particularly vegetables with strong, earthy, and bold flavoring. Olive oils within the grassy theme are highly sought after and make a great addition to pesto and chicken dishes.


When olive oil has flavor notes of shallot, it comes with sweet and mild flavoring. Shallots boast a flavor and aroma similar to garlic and white onions, which will likely be the first food items that come to mind upon sniffing and slurping this olive oil. Shallot-flavored olive oil will add a natural spice to foods, pairing well with fish or combined with balsamic vinegar for salad dressing.


Sorrel is a flavor that you might not identify immediately, as it’s a unique flavor. Olive oil with a hint of sorrel will come with a somewhat lemony and sour flavoring, though neither is considered “overwhelming” to the average taster. Sorrel-style olive oil might taste similar to fruits like kiwi or strawberry or even acidic like green apples.

Salad Leaves

It might be challenging to detect salad leaves as the major taste point of olive oil, as salad leaves have a very mild and faint flavoring. Olive oil flavored like salad leaves (i.e., Iceberg lettuce or romaine lettuce) might taste watery or offer a vague earthy taste upon tasting. The aroma is not strong, though it might smell green or earthy, just like the flavor.

Fig Leaf

The taste of fig leaf in olive oil will boast more of a grassy flavor, somewhat similar to fresh-cut grass. Fig leaf often comes with a peppery taste, making this type of oil excellent for dipping into bread. This specific olive oil flavor may have fruity and nutty undertones after swirling the glass, a faint flavor similar to coconut, and might smell identical to almonds or other nuts.


The flavor of artichokes in olive oil might manifest itself in several ways. Often, artichoke-flavored olive oil will both smell and taste green, like the majority of vegetables you’ve tasted, without being too intense in either sense. Taste-wise, artichoke-style olive oil might boast a flavor similar to celery or asparagus, though a nutty, grassy, or sweet flavor isn’t uncommon.


“Green” olive oil results from oil extraction before the olives are completely ripe. This explains why the olive oil gives off a scent and taste similar to other unripe fruits and vegetables. There are eight words used to describe green olive oil, including:

Green Tomato

Olive oil with a hint of green tomato flavoring is simple to identify. The key notes of this flavor that you’ll notice are the tart, acidic, sour, and often astringent flavoring. In addition to a mouth pucker upon slurping this oil, you may notice that the aftertaste is somewhat grassy, not sweet like regular ripe tomatoes.

Green Apple

In some cases, you might notice that virgin olive oil has a flavor kick similar to green apple. This olive oil will be a subtle combination of sweet, sour, acidic, and tart, just like a typical Granny Smith apple. Given the subtle sweetness and sourness, olive oil with this taste pairs well with snacks of fruits, nuts, and other vegetables.

Unripe Banana

Olive oil that tastes like unripe banana won’t remind you of a ripe banana’s taste in the least. Unripe banana-flavored olive oil (aka, green bananas) doesn’t offer much of a taste at all and is quite bland to the average consumer. This olive oil gives off somewhat of a grassy taste, though it’s not bitter or tart, and has very subtle hints of banana.

Ripe Tomato

Ripe tomato offers a taste that’s essentially the exact opposite of a green tomato. This olive oil style will be somewhat sweet, a little tart, and might come with a bit of a flavor kick. Given the tomato flavor and sugary goodness, you might prefer to pair this type of olive oil with pasta, spaghetti, or salads with tomato undertones.


Olive oil that tastes like olives is somewhat of a paradox, given that olive oil typically doesn’t taste like olives at all. Olive oil that comes with an olive flavoring results from either non-ripe or overripe olives. You might notice that this olive oil is salty, extremely bitter, or has somewhat of a nutty flavor, all depending on the flavoring cause.

Green Tea

Unripe olives extracted for their oil may produce a flavor that’s quite similar to green tea. This flavor of olive oil might taste somewhat grassy to the uninformed, often tasting bitter, unlike most teas we’re used to. However, an unaccustomed palate may identify this green tea taste as similar to fish or other oceany flavors.


In rare cases, you might sample olive oil that offers undertones similar to eucalyptus. The eucalyptus taste is usually acquired, boasting a somewhat minty flavor paired with spice and a cooling sensation. Eucalyptus also comes with a quite aromatic scent, which smells like a combination of mint and honey.


Some olive oil is paired with mint leaves, offering a unique flavor that you won’t find among other “green” olive oils. The flavor is often crisp, comes with a cooling sensation in the mouth and throat, and tastes very similar to your favorite chewing gum. The combination of grassy and mint flavoring allows this olive oil to pair spectacularly with Italian dressing and balsamic vinegar.


When olive oil is referred to as “fruity,” it typically offers an aroma and taste that’s unusually fruity for olive oil and reminiscent of citrus and pome fruits. There are seven different terms used to describe fruity olive oil, including:


Avocado-flavored olive oils can vary significantly in taste, as do avocados depending on their ripeness. Many of these olive oils come with a buttery and rich flavoring that’s not overwhelming and doesn’t take away from other flavors within the dish. The grassy, creamy, and nutty spice goes well with roasted vegetables and salads.


It’d be hard to overlook a lime hint in an olive oil’s taste, as the citrus fruit is effortless to recognize. The flavoring of lime will come across as sour, zesty, and oftentimes “bright.” This type of olive oil goes best with other fruit dishes and grilled chickens, though you might find yourself puckering your mouth upon slurping it if you have a sensitive palate.


Olive oil with a hint of lemon flavor is easy to distinguish, giving the bright, tart, and vibrant taste of this fruit. This is the first undertone you’ll notice in the olive oil and the sharp flavor and pucker-inducing sour flavor that typically comes with ripe lemons. Lemon-flavored olive oils are well-regarded for their ability to draw out the flavor of dishes like salmon or asparagus.

Fuji Apple

Fuji apples taste somewhat unlike other apples, as they’re known for being relatively sweet and boast a crisp taste that most other apples fail to reach. Given the excess sweetness and tangy flavor, olive oil that tastes reminiscent of Fuji apples goes well with fruit salads, chicken salads, and vegetable salads.

Passion Fruit

Not everybody has tasted passion fruit before, making this type of flavor identification far less likely. A hint of passion fruit in olive oil will produce a more tropical flavor and scent often described as citrusy and tart. Passion fruit-flavored olive oil is recognized for its ability to reduce the intensity of heavy spices’ intensity while also adding a nice touch to greens and fruits.

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Olive oil that tastes like guava will come with a mostly fruity flavor, as guava is often described as being a sweet combination of fruits like strawberries and pears. This type of olive oil tastes rather tropical and is unusually sweet, compared to other fruity undertones. Guava-flavored olive oil may taste similar to classic bubblegum.

Fruit Salad

When olive oil tastes similar to fruit salad, that essentially means it tastes and smells generally fruity and has undertones and characteristics of several different types of fruit. You might notice that this olive oil is a combination of spicy, floral, and bitter all at once. You may even pick out certain fruit flavors, such as banana, watermelon, lemon, or apple.


“Fragrant” olive oil boasts an aroma that’s far more distinguishable than the average extra virgin olive oil and highlights an olive oil tasting aspect. There are three words often used to describe fragrant olive oil, including:


Olive oil described as “floral,” boasts a strong aroma that’s quite similar to the scent of flowers in early spring. This type of oil may smell and taste quite similar to fresh fruit juice and peppery. Floral olive oil might manifest itself in many ways, from hints of lavender to an overwhelming scent of jasmine.


An olive oil described as “perfumed” boasts a powerful aroma, though there’s no clear cut description for what “perfumed” means. In some cases, aromatic olive oil smells strongly of garlic or onion while, in other instances, perfumed olive oil takes on more of a citrusy or peppery scent and flavoring. This type of oil highlights the olfactory sense rather than taste.


The average person would best describe olive oil with confectionary undertones as “sweet.” This type of olive oil may taste slightly sugary and is generally pleasing to the nose and taste buds. The confectionary flavoring will vary greatly from one sample to the next, but you might be able to pick out the sweetness of candy or cookies.


Olive oil meeting a “spice” descriptor will offer a stronger aroma that’s similar to spices like cinnamon and pepper, triggering a greater olfactory response. There are three terms within the spice olive oil category, including:

Cypress Resin

Cypress resin is a flavor that’s very easy to distinguish, especially after a deep sniff of the olive oil post-swirling of the glass. This type of olive oil typically tastes crisp and earthy and is often described as very similar to pine’s aroma and flavor. You might notice a woody undertone or that the flavor reminds you of cinnamon.


Cinnamon-flavored olive oil isn’t exactly common, but it tends to be very easy to pinpoint for beginners and elite olive oil tasters. You’ll notice that the olive oil tastes a tad spicy mixed with a slight citrus flavoring. You might feel the heat radiating to your mouth after allowing this olive oil to rest on your tongue, as it’s quite spicy and bitter.


Pepper olive oil is powerful and spicy and, unless you’re expecting such a strong and pungent flavor, don’t be surprised if you notice a stinging or burning in your throat. Many newbies will cough after swallowing this oil, in part due to the strong and bitter flavoring. The unique seasoning of pepper-style olive oil goes well with meals boasting tomatoes or steak.


Few olive oils can be appropriately described with the word “nutty,” possessing somewhat of a faintly walnut flavor and aroma and pairing great with salads and baking recipes. There are four nutty descriptors, including:


The best way to describe almond-flavored olive oil is mild with slight undertones of the average bitternut. Almond hints in olive oil can also be somewhat sweet, offer a toasted note, or be too bitter. This olive oil usually tastes fresh and pairs well with vegetable salads and drizzles on top of bowls of fruit.

Pine Nut

Pine nut undertones in olive oil are quite simple to identify, given the strong, earthy, and piney taste and smell of pine nuts. This olive oil sometimes boasts a buttery undertone and is a subtle combination of bitter and sweet. Many dislike pine nuts’ flavor, as it sometimes leaves a metallic aftertaste and is too strong.


Nutmeat is a term used to describe the portion of the nut you consume, whether that’s coconut, walnut, or peanut. When olive oil tastes similar to nutmeat, it might boast a nutty flavor without the typical bitter flavoring that comes with many nuts’ outer shell. With a slightly roasted flavor, this olive oil goes well with Brussel sprouts and raspberry balsamic vinegar.

Toasted Nut

A taste of toasted nut with a swig of olive oil tastes vastly similar to regular nutty flavors, though the flavor is somewhat amplified and tastes “cooked.” You might pick out particular nut flavors, like pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts, or almonds. With a rich taste, caramel accents, and earthy flavoring, this olive oil goes well with most salads needing flavor enhancement.


The olive oil flavors and scents that don’t fit into other categories of the flavor wheel, but don’t meet the criteria of “defect,” are squeezed into the “unclassified” section of the wheel. There are four different words in the unclassified area, including:


A “catty” olive oil is very rarely seen as high-quality, as the descriptor is often linked to olive oils that smell very intense, similar to cat urine. While olive oil that’s catty won’t necessarily taste like cat urine, it may boast an offensive smell that can also be described as musky, skunky, or simply “off-putting.” The scent alone keeps many from giving this type of olive oil a slurp.

Formic Acid

Formic acid is likely not a word you use to describe flavors and scents in your daily life, as you’ve likely never put the taste or smell to the name. This type of flavor is similar to that excreted from the abdominal region of ants. Olive oil with this quality will be bitter and citrusy like lemon and other food preservatives, offering a rather pungent and offensive smell.


A malt quality will give your olive oil a taste similar to toasted caramel, often coming off as both sweet and nutty. There are instances where a malt-like flavor or scent could be described as roasted or smoky. However, what you may notice upon taking a slurp of this olive oil is that it tastes somewhat yeasty and has undertones flavored like bread.


When olive oil has a buttery taste and smell, it’s often seen as desirable, given its multifaceted uses in the kitchen. This olive oil style will be very warm in flavor, somewhat salty, smooth-textured, and creamy. Given the likeness to butter, it’s appropriate to use this type of olive oil drizzled atop mashed potatoes, plain noodles, or hot popcorn.


“Dried” olive oil comes from dried olives and gives off somewhat of a grassy or earthy taste, similar to hay, sticks, or leaves. The five words to describe dried olive oil are:


Though you’ve likely never tasted a straw of dry hay at any point in your life, the best way to explain this flavor is by comparing it to dried grass. It offers a very grassy yet bland flavor that sometimes presents as woody or musky, not highly desirable by the average taster.

Tea Leaf

A tea leaf undertone in olive oil often presents itself as fresh, somewhat grassy, and reminiscent of the cliche nature flavors. You may notice that the taste and scent are rather faint, sometimes floral, and crisp in nature. This defect tends to stem from unripe olives used for oil extraction.


Woody olive oil will typically come from using olives with unusually large pits and squeezing them for their oil. You might notice that some olive oil presents as an intense and earthy taste, similar to the taste and flavor of wood, pine, tobacco, and musk.


“Twiggy” is a term used to describe specific herbs, such as thyme and rosemary. While you might describe this type of olive oil as dry and lacking in taste, you also might be able to identify an earthy, sweet, and vaguely minty flavor and aroma. You might pick up on a woody aftertaste.


The taste of acorn is unique but very easy to identify after your first experience with this defect. Acorn-flavored olive oil will be most bitter and earthy in taste, often leading to the dissatisfaction of the palate and rather unpleasant to the average taster.


“Rancid” olive oil has gone rotten and is well-past its expiration date, ruining the oil’s quality and taste. The two rancid olive oil descriptors are:


When “peanut” is used to describe an olive oil’s taste, it’s mostly in reference to peanuts that are well-past expired and have lost their nutty flavoring. This type of olive oil will be overly harsh, bitter, and sour. You may notice it smells strongly of nail polish remover or paint.

Stale Walnut

Stale walnuts are also past their average shelf life, meaning olive oil with this characteristic is less-than-desirable. Olive oil that tastes like stale walnut will taste somewhat moldy, sour, and bitter, often boasting a grassy smell that may sometimes smell like paint.


“Musty” olive oil will taste and smell moldy due to extracting oil from moldy olives, though the olfactory aspect is most noticeable. The two musty olive oil descriptors are:

Moldy Hay

Given that hay usually smells sweet, you might be more apt to describe the scent of olive oil in your glass as “moldy.” Olive oil that smells similar to moldy hay will smell like mildew, damp, or even oddly like blue cheese and yogurt. The taste might be harder to identify.

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Mold Spore

Mold spores present as very musty aromas and are incredibly easy to identify after swirling your olive oil glass. This type of olive oil will smell very aromatic, often compared to the odors of sweaty socks, rotting wood, or a hot and humid basement.


“Fusty” olive oil has partially fermented without exposure to oxygen, promoting a taste and aroma reminiscent of nature. The two terms used to describe fusty olive oil are:


“Lactic” is a term that’s typically used to describe olive oil that smells strangely like milk. Yet, lactic-scented olive oil may also smell similar to sweaty clothing, food waste, cured olives, or decomposing food. In terms of flavor, it’s often seen as somewhat sour or just tasting “off.”

Brined Olives

Brined olives are olives that have been soaked in salty water to enhance flavoring. If the oil in your glass has undergone this process, you might notice a very strong and noticeable salty smell, as well as a bitter flavor upon your first slurp.


“Winey” olive oil is exactly as it sounds, similar in taste and smell to either wine or vinegar. The two words used to classify winey olive oil are:


Any olive oil described as smelling like solvent is very pungent and comparable to a chemical smell. After allowing the oil to sit in your mouth, you may notice a burning or tingling sensation on your tongue. The smell reminds many of the paint thinner, nail polish, or turpentine.


Vinegar is a smell and taste that most can identify simply, as very few people enjoy either. This defect occurs due to too much oxygen exposure before extraction, leading to olive oil with a powerful scent that’s similar to pungent white vinegar.


“Muddy” olive oil develops after exposure to dirt and sediment in nature or storage, often resulting in a gross smell and taste. The six muddy descriptor words are:


Describing olive oil as similar to “vomit” means the oil comes with a very pungent and offensive smell, compared closely to baby vomit’s aroma. You might be reluctant to take a slurp after a whiff of this putrid smell, which many compare to rancid provolone cheese.

Blue Cheese

The scent of blue cheese in olive oil usually results from exposure to dirt and sediment before processing and extraction. Olive oil with this defect will have a very, very strong smell that’s stinky. There’s a good chance you won’t want to slurp this olive oil after sniffing for aromas.

Tepid Milk

Tepid milk is usually described as milk left out and drops down to room temperature, making it warmer than usual. As a result, the smells become far more putrid, which means your olive oil might end up smelling similar to sour milk or overly sweet.


Olive oil that has a taste reminiscent of bacon won’t taste like meat as much as the finishing touches of cooked bacon. You may pick up a savory or salty aroma when smelling your olive oil, sometimes giving off a smoky scent as well.


Olive oil that smells smoky might smell as if it was overcooked or overheard for too long in extraction. This olive oil may taste both sweet and bitter, presenting with a subtle smell of wood smoke upon taking a sniff.


When olive oil tastes like salami, it’s more in reference to the unique flavor points that come with salami. Unlike most olive oil, oil with a salami-like defect might give off a pepper, smoky, hot, spicy, and sweet smell and taste. This flavoring catches many connoisseurs off guard, rightly.

Other Faults

Olive oil seen as low-quality yet not boasting a recognizable defect will be classified into the “other faults” section of the tasting wheel. The eight words to describe these other faults are:


A caramel fault in olive oil might give the oil somewhat of a sweet undertone, though this flavor might be best described as tasting slightly burnt instead. Olive oil that tastes and smells like caramel might come from oil heated for an extended period before extraction.


Olive oil that tastes cooked might taste and smell like it’s already been used to heat a vegetable stir fry or deep fry chicken tenders. You may notice an aroma that smells somewhat smoky or less strong than usual.


Olive oil that tastes or smells burnt will be easy to detect, as the human nose is very keen to pick up this type of aroma. Burnt olive oil tastes and aromas usually result from processing the olives at too high of temperature before extraction.

Stewed Fruit

Stewed fruit might not seem like a defect or fault at first, but it’s a highly unusual aroma and taste paired with a substance like olive oil. You might notice a strong sugary and fruity flavor upon slurping from your cup. This results from intense freezing at the olive stage.


Olive oil that tastes like cucumber might present with a very bitter, fresh, and cold taste, which is quite unusual for olive oil. There may be an aromatic undertone similar to vegetables or plants, sometimes paired with a salty taste with each slurp.


“Grubby” is a term used to describe olives that have been physically damaged by olive flies, which leave their grub on individual olives. Though not much is known about how to identify this flavor, it’s assumed that this type of defect will come with a putrid and pungent odor.

Esparto Grass

Esparto grass is known as a straw-like plant seen in continents like Africa and South America. While you’ve probably never seen Esparto grass, let alone tasted it, you might prefer to use this term to describe olive oil that tastes somewhat like hemp.


Earthy olive oil isn’t uncommon, as this type of flavoring is sometimes seen in grassy and green olive oils. You might pick up on grassy, woody, or natural tastes when sipping this olive oil. It often tastes similar to vegetables like potatoes or mushrooms, with rich dark flavors.


“Tactile” descriptors explain how the olive oil feels when it’s in your mouth during a tasting. The seven words used to describe the tactile aspect of olive oil are:


Olives that sit in metal machines or containers may develop somewhat of a metallic attribute before extraction. This type of olive oil may taste rusty or like iron, oftentimes leaving behind a metallic taste in your mouth post-consumption.


Olive oil might develop a larger ratio of tannins during extraction. As a result, the astringent olive oil is created. This type of olive oil is exceptionally bitter, will likely lead you to pucker your mouth upon tasting it, and is unusually spicy for olive oil. Your mouth may develop a burning sensation.

Throat Catching

When you describe olive oil as “throat catching,” you’re explaining that the olive oil’s taste and effects are sitting at the back of your throat. This effect is often seen with peppery and overly aromatic olive oils, leading your body to cough on instinct to clear it from your throat.


Olive oil linked to the word “tight” presents itself as very high concentration and more potent than other samples you might slurp. Tight olive oil may leave a tingling sensation in your mouth or overwhelm your taste buds from the get-go.


The taste or effects of chili in olive oil means that you find the oil overly hot and intense in flavoring. You might feel an extreme burning sensation in your mouth or throat and feel the need to drink water or milk after swallowing to rid yourself of this uncomfortable sensation.


Any olive oil described as peppery will taste similar to the intense flavors of black pepper. The impact of the flavor while it’s in your mouth won’t be significant, but you might feel the need to cough or notice a tingling sensation in your throat after swallowing it.


Any taste known as pungent will be unusually spicy and hot, especially for a normally-mild substance like olive oil. You’ll feel an overload of heat within your mouth and throat, similar to the reaction to consuming chili pepper, and breathe rapidly or drink water to ease the feeling.


The “taste” of olive oil is the most simple to identify for novices, as there are only two words to describe the taste: Sweet or bitter. The descriptions of each of these are:


When an olive oil tastes sweet, you’ll be able to point it off right off the bat. The sensation in your mouth and overall pleasant flavor might be described as similar to apples, sugary beverages, or your favorite hard candies. These olive oils are usually milder.


Bitter olive oil might even be easier to identify and represent fresh olives used to extract pure oil. When olive oil is bitter, it’s neither sweet, sour, or salty. This type of olive oil might not have much flavor or may come off as unsweetened, packing no flavor punch.


We’ve all cooked with olive oil or drizzled it atop fresh noodles, but how much do you know about tasting olive oil? In this guide, you learned how to properly taste olive oil by fully releasing its aromas and allowing the taste to sit on your tongue as you distinguish the flavor.

You also learned other important topics, such as how to pinpoint the common defects in olive oil and use the appropriate terminology to describe the taste and aroma at your next tasting. With this new knowledge, you’re ready to attend a casual olive oil tasting to build your skill and work toward a level of “expertise.”