Plants synthesize a wide array of compounds that play key roles in protecting plants against herbivores and microbial infection and as attrac-tants for pollinators and seed-dispersing animals, allelopathic agents, UV protectants, and signal molecules in the formation of nitrogen-fixing root nodules in legumes. Although they have long been ignored from a nutritional perspective, the function of these compounds and their relative importance to human health are gaining significant interest.
Phytochemicals comprise a wide group of structurally diverse plant compounds, which are predominantly associated with the cell wall and widely dispersed throughout the plant kingdom. They are secondary plant metabolites, characterized by having at least one aromatic ring with one or more hydroxyl groups attached. The nature and distribution of these compounds can vary depending on the plant tissue, but they are mainly synthesized from carbohydrates via the shikimate and phenyl-propanoid pathways. They range in chemical complexity from simple phenolic acids, such as caffeic acid, to complex high-molecular-weight compounds, such as the tannins, and they can be classified according to the number and arrangement of their carbon atoms. In plants, they are commonly found conjugated to sugars and organic acids and can be classified into two groups, flavonoids and nonflavonoids. The most researched group of compounds to date is the flavonoids, and this article focuses on this group.
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