What is the chemical or component in the olive oil that is peppery and sometimes makes people cough? Is it oleic acid? But it really doesn't burn tissue, does it?
Good question, It is not oleic acid because all olive oils have about the same amount and they are not all peppery. Many studies have been done to try to predict a flavor profile based on an oil's chemistry. In "The Handbook of Olive Oil" by Harwood and Arapicio they cite studies done by the authors which show that aglycons are responsible for the bitter and pungent sensory attribute, as well as tyrosol and possibly alpha-tocopherol. The phenols are related to astringent attributes. It is probably the combination of bitterness and astringency that causes the cough.
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