Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club

The Olive Oil Hunter News #103

Very Berry Muffins Recipe, and The Power of a Polyphenol: Exciting Developments Show Extra Virgin Olive Oil’s Role as a Functional Food

As your Olive Oil Hunter, I travel the globe to find the most flavorful extra virgin olive oils, often described as one-, two-, or even three-cough oils because of the reaction elicited by their pepperiness. Turns out this pepperiness isn’t just an indicator of great taste—it’s also a sign that you’ll get all the benefits of the olive oil. The cough is caused by the oil’s special polyphenols, and those polyphenols are exactly where most of its benefits come from. Want a delicious way to get your fill? Try these scrumptious muffins—so good they can double as dessert—and then read about the one polyphenol in particular that’s getting researchers’ attention.

Very Berry Muffins

  • Very BlueBerry Muffins Very Berry Muffins

    These extra-moist muffins provide a blueberry explosion in every bite. You won’t have to hunt for the fruit because tossing the berries in a small amount of flour keeps them from sinking to the bottom.


    • 3 heaping cups blueberries, rinsed and patted dry
    • ½ cup plus 1 tablespoon white whole wheat flour
    • 1 cup all-purpose or pastry flour
    • 2-½ teaspoons baking powder 
    • 1 teaspoon baking soda
    • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
    • 3/4 cup cottage cheese
    • 1/4 cup sour cream
    • 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
    • 3 large eggs
    • 1 scant cup sugar  
    • 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
    • 1 tablespoon vanilla paste or extract 


    Step 1

    Preheat your oven to 350°F. Lightly coat a 12-muffin tin with nonstick cooking spray or a small amount of olive oil. 

    Step 2

    Toss the blueberries with the tablespoon of white whole wheat flour and set aside. Mix the rest of the dry ingredients in a bowl. 

    Step 3

    In a second, larger bowl, whisk the cottage cheese, sour cream, and yogurt until smooth, then whisk in the eggs and sugar and, when blended, the oil and vanilla. 

    Step 4

    Fold in the flour mixture and then the blueberries. Use a large ice cream scoop to fill the muffin cups, mounding the batter in the center. (The batter will completely fill the cups.)

    Step 5

    Bake for about 45 minutes, until the tip of a knife inserted in the center of two or three muffins doesn’t show any raw batter—there may be some blueberry on it. Let the muffins cool for about 15 minutes before eating.

    Yields 12 large muffins

The Power of a Polyphenol ​

For Your Best Health

The Power of a Polyphenol ​

Extra virgin olive oil gets high marks for its healthy fats called monounsaturated fatty acids, or MUFAs. But research is showing that one of EVOO’s greatest gifts to health is likely a polyphenol that most of us would have a hard time nailing at a spelling bee: oleocanthal. Olive oil contains about 36 different healthful phenolic compounds in all, yet together with other secondary plant metabolites, these make up just 2 percent of its total weight—another example of good things coming in small packages!

Though people have been enjoying olive oil for thousands of years, oleocanthal wasn’t identified as a phenolic compound in EVOO until the early ’90s when it went by the even-harder-to-spell decarboxymethyl ligstroside aglycone, according to a review of its beneficial effects on inflammatory disease published in 2014 in the International Journal of Molecular Sciences. And it wasn’t until the ’00s that a group of scientists pinpointed it as the sole source of the peppery sensation you get from high-quality EVOO. They appropriately renamed it oleocanthal—oleo for olive, canth for sting, and al for aldehyde. 

You already know that hundreds of studies have been done on the Mediterranean diet with olive oil as its heart. A new review, “The Mediterranean Diet: An Update of the Clinical Trials,” which was published in 2022 in the journal Nutrients, summed up the main findings very well: A detailed analysis of 32 observational studies revealed that olive oil consumption “decreased the risk of stroke, CHD, and diabetes and improved some metabolic and inflammatory biomarkers.” What the report also detailed is that EVOO’s phenolic compounds help fight disease by fighting inflammation and boosting the immune system. 

Recently, more and more studies have been looking at the benefits of olive oil derived from oleocanthal in particular because, as the Nutrients’ report states, it helps inhibit the activity of COX1 and 2, key enzymes that drive the inflammatory process. With inflammation being the starting point of many health conditions, limiting levels in the body is important.

Here are some of the clinical trials the report homed in on to show oleocanthal’s potential:

One small study looked at whether following a high-quality extra virgin olive oil or HQ-EVOO- enriched MedDiet could lower inflammation in overweight or obese people—excess weight is an inflammatory condition that stresses the body. The researchers put two groups of people, one overweight or obese and the other of normal weight, on the diet for three months. Interestingly, both groups showed benefits at the end of the study—lower inflammation and oxidative stress and better gut microbiota composition “mainly related to the diet’s anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.” This finding opens the door to doing larger studies to pinpoint diet-related interventions to reduce inflammation and oxidative stress in people above a healthy weight. The report also concluded that, based on this and similar clinical trials, “strict and long-lasting adherence to a MedDiet seems to be essential for its interventional improvements.”

Other clinical trials hint at a better understanding of oleocanthal’s potential anti-cancer properties and the role it could play, within the larger context of nutrition, in terms of both preventing and managing cancer. One small study involving people with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, or CLL, a blood cancer, found evidence of the beneficial effects of EVOO with high levels of oleocanthal (OL) and another polyphenol, oleacein (OC). As the report stated, “The authors specified that this was a pilot study mainly focused on the tolerability of the intervention with high OC/OL EVOO,” meaning simply whether people with CLL could follow such a diet without ill effects. What the researchers found went beyond that: Their preliminary “data revealed a beneficial effect of high OC/OL EVOO on hematological [blood] and biochemical markers.” 

Small clinical trials like these are very promising, but the report’s authors caution that, as with all small trials, they need to be repeated with much larger groups of people to confirm findings. Still, these are exciting developments that show extra virgin olive oil’s role as a functional food in addition to its wonderful taste.

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The Olive Oil Hunter News #78

Roast Chicken with Pumpkin Seed Pesto Recipe and Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) and Cancer Prevention

We know from a wealth of studies that the Mediterranean diet can help prevent various types of cancer, notably colon cancer, thanks to the abundant fiber in many of its foods. Equally exciting research now highlights the benefits of olive oil in particular in helping with cancer prevention, and it’s thanks to a very specific nutrient, oleocanthal. 

Fitness Flash: Gut Health and Olive Oil

Extra Virgin Olive Oil (EVOO) and Cancer Prevention

The Research: “Olive oil intake and cancer risk: A systematic review and meta-analysis,” PLoS One (2021).

“(-)-Oleocanthal and (-)-oleocanthal-rich olive oils induce lysosomal membrane permeabilization in cancer cells,” PLoS One (2019).

“(-)-Oleocanthal rapidly and selectively induces cancer cell death via lysosomal membrane permeabilization,” Molecular and Cellular Oncology (2015).

For the PLoS One review, done at the University of Athens in Greece, scientists analyzed 45 studies and found that the “highest olive oil consumption was associated with 31 percent lower likelihood of any cancer, breast, gastrointestinal, upper aerodigestive, and urinary tract cancer. Significant overall effects spanned both Mediterranean and non-Mediterranean participants.” They concluded:  

“Olive oil consumption seems to exert beneficial actions in terms of cancer prevention.”

Studies done at Hunter College in collaboration with scientists from other New York area institutions help explain what might give extra virgin olive oil or EVOO, known for its anti-inflammatory properties, this cancer-fighting ability. For the Molecular and Cellular Oncology study, Hunter professor David A. Foster, PhD, and his coauthors, identified the role of oleocanthal (OC), a phenolic compound in EVOO, already credited for the health benefits linked to diets rich in EVOO. The team “investigated the effect of OC on human cancer cell lines in culture and found that OC induced cell death in all cancer cells examined as rapidly as 30 minutes.” 

It turns out that oleocanthal damages cancer cells’ lysosomes, cell components that contain enzymes used to break down larger molecules like proteins. As explained in a news report from Hunter College, “The oleocanthal degrades the integrity of the lysosomal membrane, releasing the enzymes into the cells’ cytoplasm, which leads to cell death. Cancer cells often have larger and more numerous lysosomes, making them more vulnerable to oleocanthal than other cells.” 

According to the scientists, different olive oils have different oleocanthal concentrations due to their origin, harvest time, and processing methods. For the 2019 PLoS One study, the researchers, including scientists from Weill Cornell Medicine, Rutgers University, and Albert Einstein College of Medicine, along with Hunter, tested a variety of olive oils to determine their respective concentrations of oleocanthal, ranging from very low to very high. The olive oils with high oleocanthal content completely killed cancer cells in a manner similar to purified oleocanthal. The olive oils with average oleocanthal content reduced their viability, but to a lesser extent. Those with no oleocanthal had no effect.

The researchers also tested oleocanthal’s effects by injecting it into mice engineered to develop pancreatic tumors. The oleocanthal injections extended the lives of the mice by an average of four weeks. If it were to have the same effect in humans, which is as yet unknown, that could translate to over 10 years. 

“Whether oleocanthal can be used as a magic bullet to target cancer cells is not clear,” says Dr. Foster. “However, the data provided in this article validate studies indicating that extra virgin olive oils can prevent cancer.”

“Today, there are no brands of olive oil sold at grocery stores in the United States that mention ‘oleocanthal’ or other polyphenols on their label, and this might change as producers of olive oil catch up with the scientific research, and consumers become more savvy,” says Limor Goren, PhD, research associate at Hunter College and lead author of the 2019 study. She adds that consumers can also do their own taste test for oleocanthal: “Taste a small amount of an extra virgin olive oil; if there is a signature stinging sensation felt at the back of the throat, that is an indication of oleocanthal. It should feel peppery.”

Roast Chicken with Pumpkin Seed Pesto

  • Pumpkin Seed Pesto Roast Chicken with Pumpkin Seed Pesto

    This South American-inspired olive oil-rich pesto elevates simple roasted chicken and packs an herby punch. 


    • 1 3-1/2- to 4-pound chicken 
    • 2 tablespoons, separated, plus 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil 
    • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper 
    • 1/2 cup hulled green pumpkin seeds (pepitas), unsalted 
    • 1/2 cup packed fresh cilantro leaves, rinsed and patted dry
    • 1/2 cup packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves, rinsed and patted dry
    • 2 large garlic cloves, peeled and coarsely chopped 
    • 2 tablespoons water, more as needed
    • 1 tablespoon fresh lime, more to taste
    • 1 teaspoon ground cumin 


    Step 1

    Preheat your oven to 400°F. Place the chicken on a rack in a shallow roasting pan or rimmed baking sheet. Rub the chicken with 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Season the inside and outside generously with salt and pepper. Roast for 60 to 70 minutes or until the internal temperature in the thickest part of a thigh is 165°F. Let rest for 10 minutes before carving.  

    Step 2

    While the chicken is roasting, prepare the pesto. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil to a medium-hot skillet, and add the pumpkin seeds. Sauté until the seeds begin to pop, about 2 minutes, but don’t let them burn. Cool, and then transfer the seeds to the bowl of a food processor. Add the cilantro, parsley, garlic, water, lime juice, and cumin, and pulse several times. With the machine running, slowly add 1/3 cup olive oil until you get a purée. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and add more lime juice if needed. (If it’s too thick, add additional water, one tablespoon at a time.) Serve with the chicken. Refrigerate any leftover pesto to use as a dip. 

    Yields 2-3 servings

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