Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club

The Olive Oil Hunter News #108

Roasted Butternut Bisque Recipe and the Connection Between the Vibrant Taste of Virgin Olive Oil and Its Higher Health Benefits

All olive oil is not created equal. If you’re a long-standing Fresh-Pressed Olive Oil Club member, you know that I’m preaching to the choir, as the saying goes. As your Olive Oil Hunter, I not only search for the best of the best olive oils for you, but I also share the latest research on EVOO. Thanks to ongoing studies, we know that there are differences between run-of-the-mill olive oil and fresh-from-the-mill extra virgin olive oil. The latest findings come from a decade-long Spanish study, and it connects the dots between the vibrant taste of virgin olive oil and its higher health benefits. For a delicious way to get these benefits, here’s the perfect dish for cold winter days—a silky butternut squash soup.

Roasted Butternut Bisque

  • The Olive Oil Hunter News #108 Roasted Butternut Bisque

    This soup is hearty enough for a meal—just add salad and crusty bread. It’s equally delicious made with Hubbard squash when you can find it! You can also get creative with toppings—a drizzle of olive oil, a sprinkling of pomegranate arils, and perhaps roasted and chopped nuts.


    • One 2-pound butternut squash
    • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
    • 1 large onion, diced
    • 2 large carrots, trimmed and sliced
    • 1 apple, such as Macoun or Gala, cut into chunks
    • 3 scallions, trimmed and sliced
    • 2 cups chicken broth, homemade or low-sodium, more as needed
    • 2 tablespoons sherry
    • 1 cup milk
    • ½ teaspoon curry powder (optional)
    • Freshly ground white pepper

    Yields 4 servings


    Step 1

    Preheat your oven to 400°F. Slice the squash lengthwise and use a spoon to scoop out the seeds (you may roast them separately for a crunchy snack). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and drizzle it with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil. Place the squash halves, cut side down, on the parchment and roast for one hour or until a knife tip easily pierces the flesh. Let the squash cool while you continue with the recipe.

    Step 2

    Heat a large skillet until hot—a few drops of water sprinkled on the pan will sizzle when it’s ready. Add the rest of the olive oil, the onions, carrots, apple, and scallions; slow-cook until soft but not browned. Add the sherry and cook for another 10 minutes.

    Step 3

    Peel the skin from the squash and cut the squash into chunks. Working in batches as needed, place the squash, the other cooked ingredients, and the broth in a blender and process until smooth. Transfer the soup to a large saucepan and heat through before serving. Season with the curry powder, if desired, and a few pinches of pepper.

Healthy Kitchen Nugget: The Truth About Nondairy Milks

For Your Best Health

Make it extra virgin

From a taste perspective, we know that a peppery tickle is the key sign of fresh-pressed olive oil, oil is rich in polyphenols, the natural phytonutrients that impart olive oil’s health benefits. On the other hand, the more industrial an olive oil’s production, the less taste there is because, as a consequence, there are fewer polyphenols.

It’s interesting to note that quite a number of the studies that have been done on the Mediterranean diet, whose centerpiece is olive oil, didn’t qualify the type of olive oil in people’s diets when their eating habits were recorded or evaluated. The most recent study on olive oil’s benefits, conducted in Spain with 12,161 participants, confirms that this matters. 

This study: “Only virgin type of olive oil consumption reduces the risk of mortality: Results from a Mediterranean population-based cohort,” European Journal of Clinical Nutrition, October 2022.

The background: “The Mediterranean diet (MedDiet) represents the dietary pattern that was typically consumed among populations bordering the Mediterranean Sea. This pattern has been strongly and consistently associated with healthy aging and with a reduced risk of mortality, in addition to other health outcomes, such as a deduction in developing cardiovascular disease (CVD), type 2 diabetes, and cancer. 

“The traditional MedDiet is characterized by a high intake of olive oil (OO), fruits, nuts, vegetables, and cereals; a moderate intake of fish and poultry; a low intake of dairy products, red meat, processed meats, and sweets; and a moderate consumption of wine at mealtimes.

“OO is not only the main culinary and dressing fat in Mediterranean countries, but also sets the MedDiet apart from other healthy dietary patterns. There is some observational evidence that OO may play a major role in explaining the associations of the MedDiet with a lower incidence of several chronic diseases, especially CVD. Virgin OO (the highest-quality variety, obtained by mechanical processes and rich in phenolic compounds), has shown to have anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-atherosclerotic properties as well as beneficial effects on endothelial function and blood pressure control.”

What we know from past studies: “In the five-year PREDIMED clinical trial, which randomized 7,447 older adults, cardiovascular and total mortality were respectively 38 percent and 10 percent lower among those assigned to a MedDiet supplemented with virgin OO (the goal was to consume 50 g [just under four tablespoons] or more per day) when compared to those assigned to a reduced-fat diet. In a subsequent observational analysis of the PREDIMED population, total OO consumption at baseline was associated with reduced total and cardiovascular mortality, but no significant association was found with cancer mortality. Likewise, in the preceding EPIC-Spain cohort study, both common (processed and refined) and virgin OO (unprocessed and unrefined) varieties were associated with a decreased risk of total and cardiovascular mortality but not with cancer mortality.

“In recent decades, OO has become more popular outside the Mediterranean countries, even in US population. [A] recent study conducted among 60,582 women from the Nurses’ Health Study and 31,801 men from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study has found an inverse association between OO consumption and risk of total and cause-specific mortality. Compared with those who never or rarely consume total OO, those in the highest category of OO consumption (>7 g/d) had 19 percent lower risk of total and CVD mortality and 17 percent lower risk of cancer mortality.

“In European cohorts, however, inconclusive results regarding OO consumption and mortality have been observed. Of note is that—except for the Spanish EPIC cohort and the PREDIMED trial—none of these studies reported the results broking down by main OO varieties. This distinction is important because refined OO has much lower levels of bioactive compounds than virgin OO and may therefore have fewer health benefits.

“Virgin OO contains much higher amounts of bioactive compounds like polyphenols, which have important biological properties. Thus, as interest grows in identifying the best source of fat for human health, studies on the impact of the main OO varieties on mortality as well as the consumption amount required to generate optimal protection are warranted.”

The aim of this study: “Evidence on the association between virgin olive oil and mortality is limited since no attempt has previously been made to discern about main olive oil varieties…we aimed to assess the associations between common and virgin OO consumption and long-term risk of death (all-cause, cardiovascular, and cancer mortality) in a large and representative sample of Spanish adults…recruited between 2008 and 2010 and followed up through 2019. Habitual food consumption was collected at baseline with a validated computerized dietary history.” 

The results: “In this representative sample of the Spanish adult population, while common OO was not associated with mortality, virgin OO was associated with a significant 34 percent reduction in all-cause and 57 percent cardiovascular mortality when comparing negligible consumption vs. ~20 g/day of consumption … This is the first study in which a clear benefit on all-cause and cardiovascular mortality has been observed for virgin OO but not for the common OO variety.” 

As the researchers concluded, “these findings may be useful to reappraise dietary guidelines” so that virgin olive oil is specifically suggested for better health. They also pointed out that their work did not find any effect from any type of olive oil on cancer mortality, though other studies, such as the Nurses’ Health Study and the Health Professionals Follow-up Study they referenced, did find that virgin olive oil may have a protective effect lowering the risk for getting certain cancers. 

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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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