Sensory characterization of the irritant properties of oleocanthal, a natural anti-inflammatory agent in extra virgin olive oils

Sara Cicerale, Paul A.S. Breslin, Gary K. Beauchamp, Russell S.J. Keast

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

48 Scopus citations


Oleocanthal is an olive oil phenolic possessing anti-inflammatory activity. Anecdotal evidence suggests that oleocanthal elicits a stinging sensation felt only at the back of the throat (oropharynx). Due to this compound possessing potentially health-benefiting properties, investigation into the sensory aspects of oleocanthal is warranted to aid in future research. The important link between the perceptual aspects of oleocanthal and health benefits is the notion that variation in sensitivity to oleocanthal irritation may relate to potential differences in sensitivity to the pharmacologic action of this compound. The current study assessed the unique irritant attributes of oleocanthal including its location of irritation, temporal profile, and individual differences in the perceived irritation. We show that the irritation elicited by oleocanthal was localized to the oropharynx (P < 0.001) with little or no irritation in the anterior oral cavity. Peak irritation was perceived 15 s postexposure and lasted over 180 s. Oleocanthal irritation was more variable among individuals compared with the irritation elicited by CO2 and the sweetness of sucrose. There was no correlation between intensity ratings of oleocanthal and CO2 and oleocanthal and sucrose (r = -0.15, n = 50, P = 0.92 and r = 0.17, n = 84, P = 0.12, respectively), suggesting that independent mechanisms underlie the irritation of CO2 and oleocanthal. The unusual spatial localization and independence of acid (CO2) sensations suggest that distinct nociceptors for oleocanthal are located in the oropharyngeal region of the oral cavity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)333-339
Number of pages7
JournalChemical senses
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2009
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Sensory Systems
  • Physiology (medical)
  • Physiology
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


  • Ileocanthal
  • Individual differences
  • Irritation
  • Somato sensory system


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