Researchers at the University of British Columbia Okanagan Campus have discovered 23 new stilbenoid compounds in red wine that had previously gone unnoticed and which could be exploited for potential beneficial health benefits.

Stilbenoids are secondary metabolites produced in many plants, characterized by having at least two phenolic rings linked by an ethene molecule. Resveratrol, a wine-derived compound alleged to have anticancer and cardioprotective effects, is a stilbenoid. Thus, there is great incentive to search for similar compounds that could form the basis of future drugs.

Cedric Saucier, an analytical chemist and professor of enology (the study of wine) at UBC Okanagan, leads a team that is using a combination of high-performance liquid chromatography and mass spectrometry to identify such compounds in highly concentrated extracts of red wine. Their latest paper in Rapid Communications in Mass Spectrometry reports 41 stilbenoid compounds, some of which were polymeric combinations of the others. Twenty three of these compounds had not been previously reported in red wine, although they are present in other plant materials, such as peanut skins.

So how did the team find compounds that others missed? “It’s a good question,” says Saucier. “My explanation is: by making this concentrated extract and having a sensitive mass spectrometer, we discovered compounds that are present in very small amounts.” Because these compounds are present at such low levels, it’s hard to say if they contribute to the purported health benefits of red wine. Still, Saucier is hoping to partner with other groups that could synthesize larger quantities of the compounds. That way, they could be tested to see if they — or their analogues and derivatives — have the same kind of health benefits as resveratrol. 


Scirpusin A (both cis and trans isomers) is one of the 23 new stilbenoid compounds­ identified in red wine by a team at the University of British­ Columbia Okanagan campus. (The stillbene motif is highlighted in red.) It’s possible that some of the compounds will have health benefits­ similar to resveratrol, which is in the same chemical family.