`Quality Olive Oil a Taste Not Yet Acquired by Most Consumers - Olive Oil Times

Quality Olive Oil a Taste Not Yet Acquired by Most Consumers

Feb. 10, 2011
Lori Zanteson

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A first of its kind con­sumer study from the Olive Center at the University of California, Davis, finds a dis­con­nect between con­sumer pref­er­ence and expert rat­ings for olive oil labeled as extra vir­gin. It looks like Northern Californian con­sumers pre­fer ran­cid olive oil to the bit­ter and pun­gent olive oil favored by expert olive oil tasters. Findings call into focus the con­tin­ued need for con­sumer edu­ca­tion to keep California olive oil in posi­tion for growth.

The study of 110 Northern California olive oil con­sumers was con­ducted by UC Davis sen­sory sci­en­tists Claudia Delgado and Jean-Xavier Guinard. Participants rated 22 com­mer­cial olive oils labeled as extra vir­gin based on pref­er­ences. Half of the oils were imported and half were from California. How do con­sumer hedo­nic rat­ings for extra vir­gin olive oil relate to the qual­ity rat­ings by experts and descrip­tive analy­sis rat­ings?” appears in the March, 2011 Food Quality and Preference jour­nal.
See Also: UC Davis Survey: Consumer Attitudes on Olive Oil
Seventy four per­cent of con­sumers dis­liked the oils iden­ti­fied as high-qual­ity by expert tasters. High-qual­ity oils tend to be bit­ter and pun­gent, neg­a­tive dri­vers of lik­ing for con­sumers. The authors of the study indi­cate this is a nat­ural reac­tion for new con­sumers because these qual­i­ties are acquired tastes, such as in cof­fee or spe­cialty beer. When used in cook­ing and paired with food, bit­ter­ness and pun­gency may be more palat­able, espe­cially with the knowl­edge that they are caused by healthy antiox­i­dants in the oil.

Consumers pre­ferred oils with fruity attrib­utes iden­ti­fied as nutty, ripe fruit, green tea, but­ter, green fruit and grassy, which, along with bit­ter­ness and pun­gency, are pos­i­tive sen­sory attrib­utes of olive oil as iden­ti­fied by the International Olive Council (IOC) stan­dards. (By IOC stan­dards, extra vir­gin olive oil must have all three of these attrib­utes and no defects.) But, 44 per­cent of the con­sumers also liked sen­sory defects like ran­cid­ity, fusti­ness, musti­ness and winey fla­vor. The authors indi­cate this may be due to the large amount of defec­tive olive oil labeled as extra vir­gin avail­able to con­sumers.

The study results imply that qual­ity rat­ings by experts are not a good pre­dic­tor of con­sumers’ hedo­nic scores, an indi­ca­tion, says Dan Flynn, Director of the UC Davis Olive Center, that con­sumers have much to learn about the var­i­ous fla­vor pro­files and that a bit­ter pro­file is not nec­es­sar­ily bad.” Flynn sees this as an oppor­tu­nity for edu­ca­tion, for pro­duc­ers to let peo­ple know here’s what a good qual­ity oil tastes like and there are lots of dif­fer­ent taste pro­files.”

Many dif­fer­ent things con­tribute to the edu­ca­tion of the con­sumer. One is the Olive Oil Times,” says Flynn, which he cred­its for get­ting infor­ma­tion out there. Another is the indus­try who is out pro­mot­ing the oil, and next, from a research stand­point, UC Davis is doing its part. All these dis­cus­sions,” explains Flynn, and the avail­abil­ity of qual­ity oils are con­tribut­ing to this slowly grow­ing knowl­edge that the con­sumer has.”

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This new study rec­og­nizes the impor­tance of con­sumers, both in edu­cat­ing them and rec­og­niz­ing the dri­ving role of con­sumer lik­ing and pref­er­ences to the olive oil indus­try. The authors pre­dict as con­sumers learn about the many nutri­tional ben­e­fits and sen­sory qual­i­ties of extra-vir­gin olive oil, the California indus­try will be poised for expo­nen­tial growth.”

Research Brief: UC Davis Olive Center exam­ines con­sumer olive oil pref­er­ences (PDF)

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