Let Food Be Thy Medicine...

How Olive Oil and Ibuprofen Are More Similar Than You Think

A key discovery made more than 10 years ago found medicinal benefits in olive oil.

When you taste pure, premium extra-virgin olive oil, you may notice a burn at the back of your throat. That spicy burn is a signal that the olive oil you’re consuming isn’t adulterated with lesser oils—in fact, that burn is telling you that the olive oil has the same anti-inflammatory properties as ibuprofen. Yes, that’s right, olive oil is not only a versatile and delicious ingredient for cooking, it also has medicinal properties.

Behavioral biologist and director and president of Monell Chemical Senses Center in Philadelphia, Dr. Gary Beauchamp, discovered the link between olive oil and ibuprofen while at a molecular and physical gastronomy workshop in 1999. Dr. Beauchamp took part in an olive oil tasting and as he felt the familiar burning sensation at the back of his throat, he likened it to ibuprofen. It wasn’t a huge leap for Dr. Beauchamp to make the link as he was working with a manufacturer to replace acetaminophen with ibuprofen—the main feedback from trials was that the ibuprofen had a bitterness when swallowed. That bitterness from the ibuprofen was similar to the olive oil burn.

Dr. Beauchamp and his team discovered that the culprit of the spicy burn was what they named oleocanthal, a phenolic chemical. While oleocanthal and ibuprofen are not chemically similar, the researchers found that they have similar anti-inflammatory properties that help reduce the risk of cancer and degenerative and cardiovascular diseases. The compound is found to be somewhat more potent than ibuprofen—and is more effective at preventing inflammation.

In a 2005 study in the journal Nature, Dr. Beauchamp and his team wrote that oleocanthal in olive oil may be one of the main reasons the Mediterranean diet leads to longevity. They proposed that consuming extra virgin olive oil on a daily basis could improve your health.

But you don’t want to take a sip of just any kind of olive oil. In order to reap the health benefits of oleocanthal, you have to make sure you’re consuming 100% extra virgin olive oil, instead of the cheap, fake varieties you’d find at your chain grocery store. We already know that not all olive oils are created equally, and that many are either diluted with other oils (sunflower, soybean, or other nut oils), or disguised with chemicals. Rely on that magic ingredient oleocanthal to signal if your olive oil truly is extra virgin—it will have that pungent and spicy burn. With Kosterina olive oils, since they’re pure and premium extra virgin, you’ll taste that familiar peppery flavor—and of course, receive all those great health benefits.

So the next time you reach for the olive oil bottle to dress a salad or cook, make sure it’s the real deal, complete with oleocanthal.

Sarah YangComment