Updated: Aug 27
If you have ever tasted really good Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) you will certainly have noticed something of a peppery sting at the back of your throat. That’s a sure sign of premium olive oil.
In fact, knowledgeable olive oil connoisseurs look for that hit as proof that it has true quality.
It has been described as pungent and astringent – almost like some medicines.
If you didn’t know what it was, you might even complain about it. That would be to miss the point that what you are tasting is absolutely packed with health and beneficial compounds.
Science explains the “stinging” sensation in your throat – and it’s very good!
The sensory profile (taste, appearance, aroma) of good EVOO is what we use to judge its quality. Phenolic compounds. Primary amongst them are oleocanthal and oleuropein aglycon.
Oleocanthal acts like liquid ibuprofen. It has a similar sensation in your throat and acts on your body as an anti-inflammatory like ibuprofen does.
Oleuropein has far more wide-ranging benefits that include anti-cancer and cardiac benefits.
Oleocanthal is only found in olive oil – so what is it?
It’s a super-healthy anti-inflammatory made up of about 30 phenols. These occur in vegetables and fruit, and are linked with many of the health benefits attributed to things like red wine, strawberries and apples.
Antioxidant activity is related to reducing the development of atherosclerosis and cancer (read more about it here)
Why scientists are so excited about oleocanthal
As well as its natural anti-inflammatory effect, similar to that of ibuprofen, research is ongoing into its potential for lowering the risk of Alzheimer’s and fighting breast cancer (read more about it in this article by Monell Research Centre).
Take this reported 14-year study in New York City for example, which tracked almost 2,000 people whose diet was primarily the Mediterranean Diet that includes extra virgin olive oil.
The incidence of Alzheimer’s was seen to be 32% to 40% lower than average.
It was the discovery in 2005 that oleocanthal had similar effects as ibuprofen that triggered sudden scientific interest in exploring it more fully.
Oleuropein – its amazing properties are still being explored
Oleuropein is one of nature’s best kept secrets. Although people have known about the great health benefits of EVOO for millennia, only now are the responsible compounds being identified.
Atherosclerosis. The walls of our arteries get clogged with fatty material over time. Oleuropein has been shown to reduce the way fats (lipids) adhere to the internal arterial surfaces. That reduces the risk of related atherogenetic and cardiac diseases.
Antiviral. Oleuropein has demonstrated sufficient anti-viral activity against conditions such as hepatitis virus, herpes mononucleosis and others according to a patent filed in the U.S.
Neuroprotective. This relates to brain functions that typically weaken as we get older. That leads to cellular dysfunction resulting in conditions such as dementia, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and even schizophrenia. Research is ongoing because tests take time and new techniques are constantly evolving. However, initial indications are that there is some positive impact provided by the compounds found in EVOO.
Skin protection. Oleuropein reduces the incidence of free radicals in the skin and other phenol compounds promote an antioidant effect too.
Anti-ageing. Our body cells are constantly dividing to replace dead ones but this effect reduces with age. Oleuropein slows this ageing effect.
Antimicrobial. It is believed that this is achieved by causing damage to membranes in bacteria.
Anti-cancer. There are many lesser compounds in olive oil that appear to affect caner-producing cells (multistage carcinogenesis). For example, oleuropein aglycone has been described as the most potent phenolic compound in controlling the viability of breast cancer cells. Similar positive links have been observed for thyroid cancer. This exciting finding further underlines just how beneficial EVOO is for our health.
Some people actually complain about the “sting” when they taste really great extra virgin olive oil. Little do they know that the flavour indicates the presence of such marvellous substances. Science is only beginning to unravel the benefits and to find objective proof of their benefits.
So now you know! Go and try it for yourself. But remember, only premium grade Extra Virgin Olive Oil possesses these superb properties.