bitter taste and pungency

Olive oil is no doubt very beneficial for health. But the bitter taste and pungency of the extra virgin olive oil or EVOO prevents people from embracing it. A new study from Monell Chemical Senses Center shows that combining the oil with a protein reduces its bitterness and pungency. More people will then embrace it and reap its potential health benefits.

Olive oil and its bitter taste and pungency

Olive oil is extremely healthy. It is part of the healthiest diet in the world, the Mediterranean diet. People of this Mediterranean regions have been consuming this oil since many centuries and are free of chronic diseases. Hence, heart specialists and heart associations around the world advocate use of olive oil in daily diet. Even a drizzle of it is beneficial.

bitter taste and pungency
Olive oil and EVOO (Source: Izzy cooking)

But people are slow to accept this oil. The unrefined oil, extra virgin olive oil or EVOO is the best but has an intense bitter taste and pungency. This is due to the phenolic compounds in the oil. But these phenolic compounds are antioxidants and anti-inflammatory. They offer the health benefits of EVOO.

It was in 2005 that the researchers from the Monell Chemical Senses Center pinpointed that the bitterness and pungency of olive oil is primarily due to oleocanthal. This is the anti-inflammatory phenolic compound that causes the strong sensation in the throat area.

The new research

And now another team of researchers from the same center showed that the pungency of EVOO can come down with addition of certain proteins to it. They found that egg yolk can suppress this intense sensation in the mouth of the consumer. The findings are in the journal, Scientific Reports.

bitter taste and pungency
Oleocanthal (Source: Hypereleon)

The first author of the study, Catherine Peyrot des Gachons, who is a Monell senior research associate said:

Knowing that the oil can be consumed without bitterness or stinging sensation might increase the popularity of this healthy food,”

She added:

Our findings show that, in many cases, people are not going to perceive the bitterness and pungency once mixed in food.”

In the lab, the researchers added EVOO with a mayonnaise like material. After several hours, the oil-mayo mixture was less bitter and pungent. Moreover, they found that even a small amount of egg yolk added to the oil mixture could do the same trick and mask the pungency. The study co author, Gary Beauchamp said:

This was a big surprise to us,”

He continued:

“But it probably would not be a surprise to people from the Mediterranean area who are much more familiar with consuming extra virgin olive oil in foods and even neat.”

Similarly, whey protein also removes the bitter taste.

Could the oil and protein combination be bad?

The reason for the masking of pungency is that the food protein binds to oleocanthal that gives the most bitterness to the oil. This is good. Because people might accept the oil in a better way now.

bitter taste and pungency
Egg yolks (Source: Health line)

But the researchers are a bit worried too. They are not certain whether the binding of the protein to oleocanthal would lower the potency and action of the latter plant compound. This would be troublesome. But it might also be that the binding could improve the bioavailability of oleocanthal. This would be desirable. Gary said:

“We don’t know the answer to those questions, but it certainly raises some interesting and important issues of bioavailability of this compound,”

Also, read Olive oil reduces risk of deaths due to cardiovascular diseases and Alzheimer’s disease!

It would need more research for confirmation. But if action remains unaltered but the bitterness is masked, this would help people accept the oil more due to its medicinal and culinary benefits.