Is a bitter, spicy extra virgin olive oil a poor quality product?

The answer is no. It may occur that the spicy and slightly bitter taste you get from extra virgin (always extra virgin) oil can lead to confusion, but it’s actually something that attests to the good quality of the oil. Those nuances are contributed by the polyphenol and natural antioxidants. In other words, contrary to what you might think, spiciness and bitterness are positive traits. Let me tell you a bit more about this.

Aromatic oil and olives

It’s a matter of taste, not of (poor) quality. Throughout my entire life I have run into people who believe that an olive oil with spicy and bitter nuances means that it is poor quality oil. No way. In my efforts to help them understand I’ve always explained it step by step.


That spicy sensation you get in your mouth, especially in your throat, is more noticeable in recent oils, that is, those pressed in the latest campaign. The sensation is greater in oils made from olives that are still a bit green, not entirely ripe. Then there are olive varieties such as picual where the spiciness is even more noticeable due to the characteristics of those olives.

Olives on olive tree in Croatia Village. Toned image

Oil made using greener olives lead to a very intense fruitiness in the oil. As I mentioned at the beginning, this is due to the high phenol content. One of these phenol components is oleocanthal. This is the culprit, the one responsible for the oil tasting so spicy. This substance is also a natural anti-inflammatory compound.


The bitter flavor is also caused by green olives, as well as by those gathered in January (a stage of maturity where olives are violet in color as they shift from green to the black color they acquire once they are fully ripe). In this case, the nuances are detected at the bottom of your tongue, in the part nearest to your throat.

Olive background

Just as with the spiciness, the bitterness is also due to the polyphenol components. Thus bitterness is an indicator both of quality and stability, because the useful life (before it starts to lose some of its properties) will be longer over time. Why is this? Because of the powerful natural anti-oxidants I mentioned. You get two for the price of one as far as functions are concerned: it’s good for the oil itself (the self-oxidation process starts later) and for your body.

I must add that the phenol components are not alone among the positives of extra virgin olive oil. These compounds are protected thanks to cold extraction. As I wrote on other occasions in this blog, the list of benefits of olive oil points to the sky (and beyond).

Bitterness and spiciness, even though they are part of the high quality of extra virgin olive oil, don’t necessary have to be pleasing to all people. There’s nothing wrong if you prefer a sweeter extra virgin oil extracted from fully ripe olives.

Freshly baked ciabatta bread with cherry-tomatoes, olive oil, basil and salt on walnut wood board over white background, top view, copy space

With these lines I only wanted to clarify a couple of aspects that could be misleading. I’ll be happy if now it is clear that bitterness and spiciness are also characteristics of high-quality extra virgin olive oil. Two of many.