Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Another Reason to Love Olive Oil

Harold McGee is an interesting guy. He's just fascinated by the science of food, and how it's transformed in the kitchen. He's written a few books, the most popular of which is probably On Food and Cooking, and blogs when the moment strikes. He's the guy who steered me towards capers in salt instead of capers in vinegar, which opened up a world of possibilities for me. I long for his rare but insightful posts, and I think I'll have to cross my fingers in hopes of getting his book for my birthday (yes, sweetie...I'm talking to you ;-).

One recent article in the NY Times got me thinking about the healthful qualities of olive oil.

"The sensations of bitterness, astringency and pungency are caused by members of the phenolic family of chemicals. Phenols also have antioxidant properties and so help to protect the oil from going rancid. Whenever you taste an especially peppery oil, it’s an indication that the oil is rich in olive extracts and relatively fresh."

But wait, it gets better. Dr. Gary Beauchamp, an ibuprofen connoisseur, did about 5 years of self-funded research along with a few other contributors and found the phenolic chemical in olive oil, which they named it oleocanthal. "They showed that oleocanthal is even more effective than ibuprofen at inhibiting enzymes in the body that create inflammation."

"In their 2005 report to the journal Nature, the team noted that anti-inflammatory drugs like aspirin and ibuprofen appear to have long-term health benefits, including reduction in the risk of some forms of heart disease and cancer. They suggested that the oleocanthal in pungent olive oils might be one of the things that make traditional Mediterranean diets so healthful."

So, I wonder if it helps if you have a headache? Well, even if it doesn't, it sounds like it might surely contribute to healthy living in more ways than I thought. So a glass of red wine, some dark chocolate, and a bit of olive oil...Cheers!

Before I sign off, Mr. McGee's additional notes on storing olive oil from his blog.
  • Heating olive oil reduces the levels of most phenolic compounds.
  • Pepperiness gradually fades as an oil ages. [I assume this means it's potential health benefits might be reduced as well]
  • Don't save a good olive oil because the balance in flavors is temporary; enjoy it while it lasts.
  • Store in a cool place protected from light to slow its aging.