Antioxidant properties of mono- and dihydroxyphenolic acids and their alkyl esters were examined, with emphasis on the relationship between their molecular structure and antioxidant activity. Test media with different tocopherol level were used for determining the oxidative stability: original refined sunflower oil (total tocopherols 149.0 mg/kg), partially tocopherol-stripped sunflower oil (total tocopherols 8.7 mg/kg) and distilled fatty acid methyl esters (FAME) as a tocopherol-free medium. The chemical reaction of tocopherols with diazomethane tested for the purpose to eliminate their antioxidant activity failed due to the negligible degree of methylation of hydroxyl group in the tocopherol molecule. Caffeic acid and protocatechuic acid (3,4-dihydroxyphenolic acids) and their alkyl esters were found to be more active antioxidants than monohydroxyphenolic acid (p-hydroxybenzoic acid), 2,5-dihydroxyphenolic acid (gentisic acid), 3-methoxy-4-hydroxyphenolic acids (vanillic and ferulic acids) and their corresponding alkyl esters. Naturally present tocopherols in refined sunflower oil proved to have a synergistic effect on gentisic acid but not on its alkyl esters. In contrast, tocopherols showed an antagonistic effect on alkyl esters of caffeic acid, because their protection factors decreased with increasing level of tocopherols in the test medium. Moreover, the antioxidant activity of these alkyl esters decreased with increasing length of their alkyl chain in conformity with the polar paradox hypothesis.
Practical applications: Tocopherols as naturally present antioxidants influence considerably the antioxidant activity of other antioxidants added to plant oils used as a test medium. Distilled fatty acid methyl esters prepared from refined sunflower oil may serve as an optimal tocopherol-free test medium. Some alkyl esters of phenolic acids were evaluated to be applicable as natural more lipophilic antioxidants in comparison with phenolic acids.