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Olive Oil Sensory Science

Jun. 5, 2014
Marcel E. Moran

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What about olive oil stirs the senses the most? Is it the way the mel­low green bot­tle reflects light like a prism around your kitchen, or how the smell mixes with the sea­son­ing and ingre­di­ents you cook it with? These qual­i­ties (and more) often seem beyond the realm of quan­ti­ta­tive study, but the recently pub­lished work Olive Oil Sensory Science,” edited by Erminio Monteleone and Susan Langstaff pro­vides ample evi­dence to the con­trary. At over 350 pages, this tour de force of the sci­ence behind the way we per­ceive olive oil cov­ers every­thing from tac­tile per­cep­tion (how the oil feels in our mouths) to mar­ket­ing and com­mu­ni­ca­tion devel­op­ments from experts in their fields. 

In the edition’s overview, Monteleone and Langstaff (from the University of Florence, and Applied Sensory LLC, respec­tively) dis­cuss the global dimen­sions of the olive oil indus­try today, and argue that suc­cess in new mar­kets can be built on under­stand­ing the impor­tant dif­fer­ences and influ­ences of the sen­sory prop­er­ties olive oil elicits. 

Although much atten­tion has been paid to deter­min­ing extra-vir­gin olive oil (EVOO) from other vari­eties, they write this nec­es­sary eval­u­a­tion is not suf­fi­cient to describe the sen­sory diver­sity among EVOOs.” So what else should an olive oil indus­try mem­ber, chef, or con­nois­seur know besides how to check for defects? Quite a lot, it turns out. 

The growth of the olive oil mar­ket around the world means that con­sumers are devel­op­ing more mature tastes, and in order to meet those chang­ing demands, it behooves the indus­try to under­stand what those fla­vors are built on and how those opin­ions are formed. For the sci­en­tist at heart, this book is a gold mine. Chapters writ­ten from pro­fes­sors from around the world offer melt­ing points, organic com­pound dia­grams, and sen­sory pro­files that oper­a­tional­ize almost every way olive oil is perceived. 

Not only are the specifics of the oil exam­ined, but so too are the psy­cho­log­i­cal processes that form our sense of taste. The topic of human per­cep­tion can fill many books on its own, but the authors here do a good job con­tex­tu­al­iz­ing taste inte­gra­tion and exper­i­men­tal design in the con­text of olive oil.

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Outside of the unique ways that olive oil per­cep­tion can be quan­ti­fied, this book paints the indus­try as a global phe­nom­e­non. Part II of the book fea­tures chap­ters on olive oil from Spain, Italy, Greece, Australia, New Zealand, California, and South America, with color maps, vari­etal and cli­mate his­tory, and regional details for each coun­try down to a remark­able level. 

The olive oils of California are bro­ken down into 7 dif­fer­ent seg­ments that run from San Diego to the Mendocino, and com­bined this por­tion of the book pro­vides a com­pre­hen­sive guide to broad­en­ing your global olive oil knowledge. 

Like any work com­prised of indi­vid­ual arti­cles, the selec­tions vary in struc­ture and focus. Some high­lights for the aver­age reader will most likely be Olive Oil in Food Pairing Studies,” and Conditions and Opportunities for Successful Marketing.” If you’re ready to take your olive oil exper­tise to the next level, from grove to table, Olive Oil Sensory Science is an eru­dite and up-to-date resource. 

Olive Oil Sensory Science, 388 pages, February 2014, Wiley-Blackwell

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