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Smoked olive oil doesn't sound quite right and in fact, "tasted strange for a couple of years," admitted Brenda Chatelain.

Chatelain's husband, Al Hartman, developed the idea as so many inventors do: "It was 3 in the morning and I couldn't sleep," he said.

But after four years of tweaking, the Napa Valley couple says they've got it right. They have a patent pending on the process, which Chatelain says smokes the oil without exposure to heat, light or air. And they're at the annual National Restaurant Association Hotel-Motel Show (ending today at McCormick Place), sampling their three varieties of smoked olive oils -- which don't taste at all strange.

The oils, made in California, are ideal for finishing or marinating, rather than cooking. Their best-selling Sonoma variety is all satiny smooth on the tongue; Chatelain offered me a tiny hunk of bread dipped in the oil. I tasted it and immediately wanted a loaf of bread and a dipping bowl. The Napa has a brighter finish, good drizzled over pasta or vegetables, Chatelain suggested. And the Santa Fe has that bit of heat that tickles the back of your throat, thanks to chile de arbol.

The oils already have gotten a bump from celeb chef Tyler Florence, who uses them at his restaurants and has offered a testimonial, which Hartman and Chatelain are gladly using all over their promotional materials, and from Williams-Sonoma, which carries the original Sonoma variety nationally in its stores. A 200-millileter bottle costs $26 ($24 online).

The couple isn't done smoking. They have a smoked brown sugar that should be on the market in two months.

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As if we needed another reason to love olive oil. We know already that olive oil can offer protection against heart disease by controlling bad cholesterol levels while raising levels of good cholesterol, it can protect against gallstones and it may guard against colon cancer, but now we also are finding out that it can prevent Alzheimer's disease.

A new study conducted by researchers from Northwestern University and the Monell Chemical Senses Center has found that a naturally occurring compound found in extra virgin olive oil beneficially alters the structure of neurotoxic proteins believed to contribute to the debilitating effects of Alzheimer's.

The structural change impedes the ability of highly toxic proteins known as ADDLs to damage brain nerve cells, according to a release from Northwestern that explained the study's findings. This effect of the compound found in the olive oil, oleocanthal, could be used to advantage in new therapeutics and diagnostics.

ADDLs bind within the neural synapses of the brains of Alzheimer's patients and are believed to directly disrupt nerve cell function, eventually leading to memory loss, cell death and global disruption of brain function. Oleocanthal changes the structure of ADDLs by increasing the protein's size, also making ADDLs into stronger targets for antibodies.

The study will be published in the October 15 issue of the journal Toxicology and Applied Pharmacology.

The findings, according to the researchers, may help to identify effective preventative measures and lead to improved therapeutics in the fight against Alzheimer's.

About the blog

Janet Rausa Fuller

Sun-Times Food editor Janet Rausa Fuller is always thinking about her next meal.

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