I like to rate the pungency of our extra virgin olive oils by how many times people cough when they swallow the oil at a tasting. Our particularly pungent Koroneiki EVOO, which we blend with other oils, is a “two or three cougher,” for example. It turns out there’s a scientific explanation behind that peppery and pleasant tickle you get at the back of your throat when you swallow a good EVOO.
And researchers say the findings may prove useful in combating deadly disease.
It all ties into previous research showing that a freshly pressed EVOO contains a natural anti-inflammatory compound called oleocanthal. Scientists say oleocanthal behaves much like the pain-killer ibuprofen, also an anti-inflammatory compound. Moreover, ibuprofen produces its own throat effect: Think of how your throat stings if you swallow a tablet of Motrin or Advil, trade names for ibuprofen, without any water.
“That’s interesting to scientists, because the common link is one of the most important phenomena in medicine – inflammation, and chemicals that dampen it,” NPR reporter Richard Knox wrote in the radio broadcaster’s health blog.
The throat sensations that EVOO and ibuprofen produce come from something in the back of your throat called a TRPA1 receptor, according to scientists. They believe the TRPA1 receptor protects your lungs from noxious fumes you might inadvertently inhale.
The discovery was made by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania’s Monell Chemical Senses Center. They identified TRPA1 as the sensor that’s activated by oleocanthal and ibuprofen. In addition, according to the reseasrchers, oleocanthal and ibuprofen cause that distinctive sting through the TRPA1 receptor’s activation. The findings were published in The Journal of Neuroscience.
Researchers said the findings may provide “novel insights” into anti-inflammatory pharmacology.
“This receptor may be used to identify other anti-inflammatory compounds that, like ibuprofen and oleocanthal, help prevent major lethal disease,” Paul Breslin, one of the study’s authors and a sensory biologist at Monell, said in a news release.
“Additionally, since we know how to inhibit this receptor, it may be possible to develop liquid anti-inflammatory medicines that are less aversive. This would especially benefit children, who are unable to swallow pills.”
The study’s combination of sensory, chemical, and molecular approaches also may lend insight into other aspects of inflammation and disease, the researchers said.
For me, an EVOO tasting now has a whole new meaning.
Claude S. Weiller
Vice President of Sales & Marketing
California Olive Ranch