Why does olive oil have a bitterness taste when it is extra virgin?

Olive oil is one of the most consumed cooking oils in the world, to the point that we tend to forget that not everyone knows about its characteristics. Extra virgin olive oil is the first press of olives, giving a fresh olive oil. No chemicals whatsoever added. First cold pressed gives the most high quality olive oil, but this also can bring a bitterness taste, especially with green olives. The olive oil tastes bitter because of polyphenolic compounds

These compounds that produce the bitter tasting in EVOO are also found in foods such as chocolate and red wine. Studies have shown that other foods contain similar compounds as extra virgin olive oil, but they are not perceived as bitter. This is due to two factors: the amount of these compounds present in the food and the body's ability to perceive them.

Read more on the cold pressing our blog Difference between cold pressed and extra virgin olive oil.

How we taste

Bitter taste is one of the five basic tastes (sweet, salty, sour, bitter and umami), which are perceived by the taste buds in different parts of our mouth. However, the number of taste buds in each person varies. In general, the number of taste buds is greater in areas of the mouth with a greater concentration of nerve endings.

The perception of olive oil bitterness is the result of an interaction between the chemical compounds present in olive oil and the substances that make up the taste buds in our mouth. These substances are called receptors. There are two types of receptors: one type perceives sweet, salty, sour and bitter tastes; the other perceives umami (the fifth taste).

The bitter taste is sensed by a specific receptor called T2R38. This receptor is stimulated by chemicals that have a bitter taste, such as those found in olive oil. The receptors responsible for sensing sweet, salty, sour and umami tastes are not stimulated by these chemicals, which is why we do not perceive them as bitter.

In order to perceive the bitterness, the compound must be concentrated enough to be perceived by the taste buds. If it is not, the bitter taste will not be perceived. For example, a substance that tastes slightly bitter at a concentration of 1g/l will not be perceived as bitter if its concentration is reduced to 0.1g/l.

The benefits of being bitter

Bitter foods have been used for centuries as a medicine to treat a variety of ailments and diseases. Many of these plants contain medicinal substances in the presence of polyphenolic. These are active compounds, including amino acids, alkaloids, terpenes, phenols, glycosylates and phenolic acids.

The bitter taste is mostly associated with the leafy green vegetables in the cabbage family (Brassicaceae), such as kale, mustard greens and cabbage. In addition to the cabbage family, there are also many other plants that contain phytochemicals with a bitter taste. These include herbs such as ginger, parsley, horseradish and celery.

The bitter taste is associated with the herb Centella asiatica (also known as Gotu Kola). It has been used for centuries in Asian countries and Ayurveda as a medicinal herb to treat various diseases. These include improving memory loss, reducing depression as well as containing antioxidants and anti inflammatory properties.

The bitter taste can also be found in some fruits. One of the best examples is grapefruit. The active substance in grapefruit is naringin, which can have a positive effect on cholesterol levels. Other foods that contain bitter compounds include:

  • Pecan nuts (contain a substance called nobiletin)
  • Coffee (contains caffeine)
  • Chocolate (contains caffeine and theobromine)
  • Beer (contains xanthohumol)
  • Wine (contains resveratrol)
  • Tomatoes (contain lycopene)
  • Pomegranate (contains flavonoids)
  • Prunes and raisins (contain anthocyanins)

Picual olive oil is a type of olive oil with a high smoke point. It is a strong tasting olive oil. Picual Olive Oil has more health benefits due to its higher levels of polyphenols which you can appreciate in its bitterness flavour.  Read more in our blogs.

Read more on the health benefits of Picual Olive Oil our blogs Picual Olive Oil Taste and Picual Olive Oil Benefits.

We recommend….  

We have an olive oil for every taste:

  • Medium: Limited edition and award winner known as The Legend Green Picual is an organic extra virgin olive oil from with a medium bitterness and astringency.
  • Bitter: Oleum Cornicabra extra virgin olive oil is a variety from the Castille region. Its bitterness and astringency are sharp on the palate.
We not only provide awarded artisan Spanish extra virgin olive oils, but dry fruits, olives and other delicacies too. Shop all our products today, ideal as gifts or a wonderful gastronomic treat for yourself.