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Olive oil and health

Quality extra virgin olive oil stings for a reason

Quality extra virgin olive oil stings for a reason

From coughing Dr Gary K. Beauchamp derived its anti-inflammatory power.

When the former Disney Channel star and pop chart topper Selena Gomez  revealed that her secret for keeping her vocal chords in tip-top shape was drinking extra virgin olive oil before the concerts a few people were surprised.

Quality extra virgin oil has a distinctive, not conventional taste, especially when drunk as pure liquid.


But taste aside, sipping pure extra virgin olive oil can produce also an unintentional effect, which became the sparkle for a new surprising discover.

Dr. Gary K. Beauchamp, former director and president of the Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, U.S.A., described it in a recent article published on American Scientist.

It was in 1999 in Erice, a medieval town in western Sicily situated atop a mountain overlooking the sea, that Dr Beauchamp first smelled, sipped, savored, and swallowed pure extra virgin olive oil.

He was at a meeting on the science of molecular gastronomy, which included physicists, chemists, biologists, chefs, food writers, and others fascinated by the science of cuisine; they were sitting around tables in old stone buildings. As a psycho-biologist who researches the perception of taste, the meeting was squarely in his area of interest.

Offered to drink pure extra virgin olive oil, the first impressions were mixed. When swallowed, the oil slid down smoothly. But, a few seconds later, he felt a stinging or burning sensation in the back of his throat. This sensation grew in strength until he coughed; others in the group coughed in concert.

The sensation was startlingly familiar—but not in association with olive oil or any other food. Instead, it was identical to the sensation he had experienced when swallowing the liquid form of ibuprofen, the nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAID) discovered in the 1960s, when scientists were looking for an alternative to aspirin and its potentially serious side effects. He instantly wondered: Could there be a natural anti-inflammatory agent in extra-virgin olive oil? Could its consumption over a lifetime underlie (in part) the well-known health benefits of consuming a traditional Mediterranean diet?

Can it be a coincidence that some of the presumed health benefits of long-term use of ibuprofen—such as epidemiological studies showing a reduced incidence of some cancers and neurodegenerative diseases— coincide with many of the benefits of a Mediterranean diet rich in extra-virgin olive oil?

Does extra-virgin olive oil contain one or more compounds that both stimulate throat irritation and have anti-inflammatory activity?

20 years of research later,  dr.  Beauchamp can now affirm it is not a coincidence: the distinctive stinging after taste of the high quality extra virgin olive oil originates by a compound of the phenolics family (also having antioxidant properties) which was named oleocanthal.

Oleocanthal results to have more anti-infammatory power than ibuprofen.

A person on the traditional Mediterranean diet consumes a daily anti-inflammatory dose from extra-virgin olive oil roughly equivalent to that of a baby aspirin.

Let’s use quality extra virgin olive oil and wish an healthy cough to everybody!