Scientists at the University of California, Davis, presenting
at the American Chemical Society annual meeting 2003 claim to
have identified another group of chemicals in red wine that is
linked to the ability to lower cholesterol. Saponins are glucose-based
plant compounds have been found in an increasing number of foods.
This is the first time theyve been found in wine, according to
Andrew Waterhouse, Ph.D., Professor of Enology at UC Davis.
Saponins could be as important as resveratrol. The compounds are
believed to come from the waxy skin of grapes. To better understand
their distribution in wine, Waterhouse conducted a preliminary
study of six varieties of California wines "Average dietary saponin
intake has been estimated at 15 mg, while one glass of red has
a total saponin concentration of about half that, making red wine
a significant dietary source," commented Waterhouse. In general,
Waterhouse found that red wine contains significantly higher saponin
levels than white < about three to ten times as much. Among the
red wines tested, red Zinfandel contained the highest levels.
Syrah next, followed by Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon, which
had about the same amount. The white varieties tested, Sauvignon
blanc and Chardonnay, contained much less. Although Merlot was
not analysed in this study, Waterhouse believes it contains significant
amounts of saponins at levels comparable to the other red wines.
While resveratrol is thought to block cholesterol oxidation by
its antioxidant action, saponins are believed to work by binding
to and preventing the absorption of cholesterol. Saponins are
known to affect inflammation pathways, an effect that could have
implications in heart disease and cancer, according to published
Besides wine, other foods containing significant amounts of saponins
include olive oil and soybeans.For the most part, saponins make
up the waxy coating of these plants, where they function primarily