Healthy Olive Oil? Bitter is Better!

When it comes to the health benefits of EVOO, it’s not about the taste but about the test.

With the catapulting trend of organoleptic analysis (tasting) of olive oil, many consumers are being distracted from the point of including super foods such as extra virgin olive oil in our diet in the first place. Do we use extra virgin olive oil for the taste or for the many phenolic compounds bursting with medicinal qualities? Why not both?

Olive oil is well known and documented to support heart health and help prevent strokes. Continuing scientific research affirms the use of olive oil for the prevention and/or treatment of many illnesses, such as diabetes, cancer, and neurodegenerative diseases, including Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and rheumatoid arthritis.

As long as it is not rancid, all olive oil is good for you. It has monounsaturated fat, which is the “good” fat and can replace animal fats for health and longevity. The latest scientific research in olive oil focuses on the health promoting aspects and uses of phenolic compounds, in particular oleocanthal. Recent research at Rutgers University led by nutritional scientist Paul Breslin has shown oleocanthal to kill cancer cells while leaving healthy cells unharmed.

This is where the bitter and peppery taste of olive oil presents itself. Oleocanthol triggers a reflex at the back of the throat 2–3 seconds after swallowing. This can cause you to cough. You will know you have a high medicinal quality olive oil if you encounter this peppery affect in your throat. The other major compound Oleacein gives the slightly bitter taste on the tongue. The Ancient Greek doctors idenitfied this peppery and bitter affect in the healthiest early harvest olive oils and recommended mixing it with wine, which could be why balsamic vinegar has come down through history as a partner to olive oil.

If you are looking for the highest quality olive oils to add to your daily health regimen, taste before buying and begin watching for the labels that will bear the EU labelling regulation 432/2012 or its equivalent in North America. This EU regulation allows olive oils with phenolic compounds above 250mg/kg to make a health claim to reduce LDL oxidation, which supports heart health. These high phenolic olive oils are being discovered as more and more olive growers learn of these studies and the potential to measure and sort their oils and supply them to a growing health conscious market.

The NMR (Nuclear Magnetic Resonance) method, which accurately measures individual phenolic compounds in olive oil, was discovered by Dr. Prokopios Magiatis and his team of researchers at the University of Athens, Greece. Thousands of olive oils from around the world have since been tested. The Aristoleo® Test Kit, invented by Magiatis-Melliou, is now being used in the field for growers to test their oils in the olive mill. Here are a few high phenolic olive oils that are measuring well above the EU standard. As consumers become informed and the olive oil industry responds there will soon be greater supply of this superior EVOO on store shelves.

If you are looking for optimum health quality in a pure single variety extra virgin olive oil then discover for yourself that a bolder taste can be a welcome addition to your list of super foods for combining with other nutritious ingredients for health and flavor. After all, it’s not wine and while it is to your health — I don’t expect you’d want to toast with it.

Photo Credit: Athan Gadanidis

This post was originally published in 2015 on The Huffington Post. At that time only a very few olive growers were willing to go against traditional methods to harvest and process their olives to produce high phenolic olive oil. Now, there are many who are perfecting the processes and producing high phenolic EVOOs with multiple times more phenolic content than the EU labelling regulation minimum requirement for the health claim to be placed on the label. There are now olive oils on the market that have 1000, 2000 and, recently, over 3000mg/kg of these health protective phenols making them truly nutraceuticals. In addition, these oils are verified by the NMR and have a full phenolic profile from the University of Athens.

I’ll leave you with the words of Nasir Malik of the U.S.D.A.

The health benefits of olive oil are 99 percent related to the presence of the phenolic compounds, not the oil itself.

To you health!

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Yesterday at Justin’s

by Marilyn Harding

Originally published at on November 18, 2016.