Professional tasters serve a critical role in the industry, as their analysis helps determine
an olive oil’s grade. The IOC is the only organization that certifies and monitors the performance
of olive oil sensory panels around the world. Because sensory analysis is subjective by nature
(consider how some people deplore spicy foods while others can’t get enough…), certified panel
scores reflect a compilation of the panel’s results rather than an individual’s score. Detailed
methods describe the condition of the tasting environment, sample preparation and tasting
tools and even a list of rules tasters must follow such as no coffee, eating or smoking before
sessions. Every effort is made to minimize bias and train the tasters to be objective in their
work. Detailed information on IOC organoleptic assessment can be found on its
Sensory panels use a line scale to rate olive oil’s intensity on three positive attributes:
Preference can emerge especially where bitterness and pungency are concerned but these are
considered positive attributes. From a quality and marketability perspective, the balance
of these positive attributes is a key consideration.
The intensity of negative attributes is also rated by the panel and the IOC specifies five most common defects:
To be deemed extra virgin, the oil must not have any defects and must have a median fruity score greater than zero.
Given that the range of flavors is so broad, it is important to remember a "different" taste is not necessarily "bad."
Sensory perception is highly influenced by personal history and familiarity and professional tasters need to become
adept at naming specific sensations so they avoid mistaking a new taste for a defect. Panelists need to practice
and be exposed to oils from a broad range of regions, olive varieties and times of harvest. This is one reason
the IOC requires certified sensory panels to successfully complete ring-tests using pre-identified oils each year
in order to maintain the panel's certification.