According to a recent analysis of Essential
Science Indicators from
Reuters data, the work of Dr. Alessandra Bendini
has entered the
top 1% in the field of Agricultural Sciences
with the highest total citations. Her current
record in this field includes 32 papers cited a total
of 257 times between January 1, 1998 and August 31,
Dr. Bendini is a researcher in the Department
of Food Science at the University of Bologna in Cesena,
In the interview
below, she talks with
about her highly cited work.
Your interest in agricultural sciences moved in
the direction of improving the analytical techniques for the detection
of minor compounds in food and in particular in olive oil?
Yes, it is true. In all these years, my mentor has always been Prof.
Giovanni Lercker, a world expert in the field of lipid oxidation and
chromatographic techniques. My interest in the analysis of minor compounds
started during my thesis project, performed under Dr. Tullia Gallina
Toschi's supervision, when I applied an online LC-GC analytical method to
detect the presence of steradienes in olive oil to evidence non-genuine
samples. Then I used the same analytical technique to measure the linear
unsaturated hydrocarbons in spice samples treated with ?-rays or
"...the protection of the quality
and genuineness of virgin olive oil is always
one of the main topics of our research
Afterwards my postdoc research activity was particularly focused on other
minor compounds known for their antioxidant power and naturally present in
vegetable matrices: molecules with phenolic or polyphenolic structure. For
example, I studied the relationship between phenolic composition and
radical scavenging activity of phenols in beverages such as green and black
teas, in apple peel and pulp in fruits produced according to both organic
and integrated agriculture methods, in traditional balsamic vinegars and
especially in virgin olive oils. In particular for the articles on apple
and vinegar I was invited to collaborate on developing the antioxidant
assays by Dr. Fabio Chinnici who also works in my Department. The paper
developed in collaboration with Dr. Chinnici titled "Radical scavenging
activities of peels and pulps from cv. golden delicious apples as related
to their phenolic composition" (J. Agr. Food Chem. 52:
4684-89, 28 July 2004) is now one of my most-cited articles.
Several of your highly cited papers are on phenols and
polyphenols in olive oil. I note that these are papers on application
of different analytical techniques, with the emphasis on extraction
and detection methods.
The identification and quantification of the individual phenols of virgin
olive oil are of great interest because several agronomic and technological
parameters can affect phenolics' presence in virgin olive oil, and, as a
consequence, affect the resistance to oxidation of oil during storage, the
sensory and health properties, and, therefore, the quality. The variety of
extraction techniques, chromatographic conditions, and methods of detection
and quantification have contributed to differences in literature-reported
levels of phenols of virgin olive oil.
Thanks to a strict collaboration with the Spanish research group from the
University of Granada and in particular with Dr. Alegria Carrasco-Pancorbo,
and to the harmony among researchers in my group, especially Dr. Lorenzo
Cerretani, with whom I have worked closely for several years, I was able to
compare the performance of different liquid-liquid and solid-phase
extraction methods and of chromatographic (HPLC) and electrophoretic (CE)
approaches also using highly sensitive and diagnostic detectors like
APCI-MS and ESI-MS.
What do you find to be the most challenging aspect of
your phenol research?
I think that the work carried out so far on the identification of single
molecules in the phenolic fraction of virgin olive oil is very interesting,
but many compounds are still unknown so a further effort needs to be made
in this direction. For example, we started working on the oxidation forms
of phenols that can be present in high quantities as a consequence of
incorrect storage conditions of virgin olive oil. On this subject, we have
proposed that the setting up of a parameter based on the ratio between
oxidized/non-oxidized forms of phenols could be particularly useful as a
freshness index for this product.
"The identification and
quantification of the individual phenols of
virgin olive oil are of great interest
because several agronomic and technological
parameters can affect phenolics' presence in
virgin olive oil..."
In the last five years I have acquired skills in the sensory analysis of
virgin olive oil. I have studied the correlations between volatile and
phenols components and olfactory and taste attributes, respectively, and I
think that it is extremely fascinating to understand how these minor
compounds and sensory quality vary depending on several agronomic and
What interested you in this line of research, and
particularly in working with olive oil?
Well, my co-workers and I are studying the aspects linked to the transfer
of polar phenols in origin present in olives in virgin olive oil and its
stabilization in the micro-emulsion of water in oil. We hope to clarify
how, due to a temperature variation during storage/distribution phases of
virgin olive oil (temperature close to 0°C or 40°C in winter or
summer respectively), the phenolic fraction changes in composition and in
protection activity towards lipid oxidation.
Which other aspects of your research are you developing
or hoping to develop in the near future?
Certainly, another hot topic of interest to us is the setting up of
analytical methods able to detect the presence of mild deodorized olive
oil. This illegal treatment represents the most important fraud in the
olive oil sector due to both the difficulty in identifying the reliable
markers and the large economic interest.
Finally, thanks also to collaborations with other researchers, we are
exploring the potential applications of rapid analytical technique such as
DSC, FT-NIR, FT-IR, and an electronic nose for the rapid analysis of
quality and genuineness of virgin olive oil. In fact, the protection of the
quality and genuineness of virgin olive oil is always one of the main
topics of our research group.
Alessandra Bendini, Ph.D.
Department of Food Science
University of Bologna
Campus of Food Science
Cesena (FC), Italy
Carrasco-Pancorbo A, et al., "Evaluation of the
antioxidant capacity of individual phenolic compounds in
virgin olive oil," J. Agr. Food Chem. 53(23):
8918-25, 16 November 2005. Source:
Essential Science Indicators from
Keywords: phenolic compounds, virgin olive oil, analytical
techniques, antioxidants, apple peel, fruit pulp, HPLC, capillary
electrophoresis, sensory analysis.