Pass the butter: Swiss people chose sweet, ripe olive oils over bitter ones, when they liked them at all.

Americans are not the only consumers who dislike the bitterness of high quality extra virgin olive oil. Visitors at Gourmesse, a popular trade fair in Zurich, who evaluated 140 samples, preferred EVOOs with a ripe, fruity, and sweet taste over those which were more pungent and bitter.

The study, reported in the Journal of the Science of Food and Agriculture, investigated the overall preference of EVOOs by visitors to the fair. Eighty percent of the participants were from Switzerland; deep in butter country to be sure, but a place where the Mediterranean diet has a small foothold.

The 140 EVOO samples tested for consumer acceptance were participating at the International Olive Oil Award in Zurich. More than half of these samples, 74 to be exact, came from Italy, while 43 were from Spain, and the rest were from Greece, Portugal, and Turkey.

The Swiss Olive Oil Panel conducted sensory analysis of the samples and categorized 7 percent as good, 58 percent as very good and 45 percent of them as excellent, in terms of their flavor and sensory quality. Overall, the expert panelists classified all the EVOOs to be of high quality and without any defect.

Consumers at the fair, considered more knowledgeable of gourmet foods than average, evaluated the EVOO samples using a nine-point hedonic scale to indicate their preference.

Surprisingly, the consumers liked only 19 percent of all the samples evaluated, exhibiting a distinct difference in expectation and interpretation of EVOO quality from the Swiss Olive Oil Panel.

The visitors, 51 percent male and 49 percent female, had a clear preference for the ripe, fruity, and sweet EVOOs and disliked the bitter, pungent, and green fruity taste of high quality samples.

Phenolic compounds are responsible for the bitterness and pungency of extra virgin olive oil. They are also the compounds related to the health benefits associated with consumption of olive oil.

The authors concluded that consumers are unfamiliar with the positive sensory attributes, and the associated health benefits, of high quality extra virgin olive oil that has a bitter and pungent taste.

Consumers in the United States also had an aversion to the bitter and pungent taste of high quality extra virgin olive oils, according to a UC Davis study.

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