The sensory research underscores our long-standing reverence for the medicinal properties of olive oil. One familiar food writing trope explains that olive oil was only sold in English drugstores, as a laxative or for treating earaches, before Elizabeth David's cookbooks appeared in the 1950s. More recently, olive oil has become a linchpin for the "Mediterranean Diet," although its benefits can be as uncertain as an oil's origins.
So the distinctive burn of extra-virgin olive oil indicates its phenolic content, which may underlie its health benefits, but one thing is clear: a pharmacological understanding of oleocanthal alone can’t be a universal measure for good or pure oils. (After all, you could dilute or adulterate olive oil and still have a detectable burn.)
As our appetite for olive oil continues grows, it’s important to remember how these objective chemical analyses combine with the subjective appreciation of experts, and "extra virgin" implies more than being pressed for the very first time.