Until a few years ago almost all the Italian food companies believed that quality control simply consisted of a verification of the chemical and microbiological characteristics of products, and only rarely of physical ones.
The fact that the consumer expressed his judgment prevalently on the basis of characteristics that he was able to evaluate by himself through his sense organs, that is, taste, smell and consistency of the product was completely ignored. Very often, the methods used for the sensory evaluation of the organoleptic characteristics of food products are described as “subjective” because the answers are supplied by people (“subjects”); this was to distinguish them from objective methods which use objective means to obtain results, i.e. instruments. The “subjective method” label in a certain sense discredits the sensory method as it deprives it of the prerogatives of precision and accuracy and therefore of reliability, all of which are fundamental elements in any analytical method; an objective method, unlike the subjective one, can in fact be defined as “a method in which personal influences of the operator are minimized.”
Psychological, environmental and hedonistic factors which, directly or indirectly, can influence the answers must be absent; this approach will differentiate substantially the sensory evaluations which have been scientifically established from those established empirically. In these cases, the analysts work in an objective manner in a similar way to a measuring instrument.
Sensory analysis evaluates the characteristics of a food product which interact with our sense organs and, for each of these, isolates descriptive details which identify and quantify it. The latest schools of thought take “food quality” to mean all the intrinsic and extrinsic characteristics of a food which satisfy the psyco-physiological needs of the consumer; the choice is left to the latter, who bases his selection on his sense organs and his previous nutritional and organoleptic experiences. The producer must therefore guarantee the safety and hygiene of the product, while it is up to the consumer to choose from the vast range of products available on the market.
We professional tasters have no wish to leave the choice of an olive oil to the consumer, as most people do not have a basic knowledge (but above all, experience) which can guide him in his evaluations. Since not all producers act in total respect of “good rules of elaboration”, it is obvious that there will be oils on the market with obvious negative characteristics; ONAOO was set up to teach people to recognise bad and good qualities of an olive oil, so that the consumer may be guided by a wider culture.
Chemical-physical characteristics of olive oils
Technical course for Olive oil tasters
Before beginning to examine the chemical-physical characteristics of the olive oils which are the object of EC Regulations, it may be desirable to explain the meaning of some of the terms which will appear later and to give a brief outline of the principal constituents of olive oil. Table 1 summarizes some of the limits of the characteristics of olive oils established by the EC.
However, these limits are subject to variations and additions published in the Official Journal of the European Communities. The detailed description of the analytical methods and of the legal limits is contained in the text of the EEC Regulation n. 2568/91 dated 11-7-91, L248 and in its successive modifications. The new definition of the various Categories of olive oils is to be found in the EC Regulation n. 1513/01 dated 23-7-01, L201 and is illustrated in Table 2.
Mauro Amelio – ONAOO