In the past 10 years, the growing interest of consumers has arised to a number of “superfoods”, which has been motivated by their high content of “polyphenols”. These compounds constitute a heterogeneous group of molecules which differentiate according to their chemical structure.
Polyphenols is a collective term for several sub-groups of compounds, but the use of this term has been somewhat confusing and its implied chemical structures are often vague even to researchers. Even today the scientific community is not consistent with a universal use of the term denoting plant polyphenols, since some call them plant phenols while some others use the term polyphenols.
The first definition of plant polyphenols in the scientific literature pertains to this initial utilization of polyphenolic plant extracts. As these compounds were highly required in the leather industry, considerable efforts were devoted from the beginning of the 20th century onwards to the study of the chemistry of tanning plant extracts in an attempt to tackle the structural characterization of their polyphenolic constituents.
Research on plant polyphenols shifted gears after 1945, as the discovery of paper chromatography and more and more other advanced analytical techniques made it possible to separate in numerous individual constituents.
In 1957 an industrial chemist Theodore White, pointed out that the term “tannin” should strictly refer to plant polyphenolic materials having molecular masses between 500 and 3000 Da and a sufficiently large number of phenolic groups to be capable of forming hydrogen-bonded cross-linked structures with collagen molecules (the act of tanning).
Today, the main reason for the interest of scientists and consumers for polyphenols is the recognition of their antioxidant properties, their great abundance in our diet, and their probable role in the prevention of various diseases associated with oxidative stress, such as cancer and cardiovascular and neurodegenerative diseases. Due to the considerable diversity of their structures, polyphenols are considered even more efficient than other antioxidants.
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