Myrtle (Myrtus communis L.) is a shrub of the Myrtaceae family. It is a thermophylous species growing spontaneously in the Mediterranean area (Mulas et al., 1998). Since ancient times, this species have been used for medicinal and aromatic purposes because of the essential oil content of its leaves and fruits (Dorman and Deans, 2000; Shadidi Bonjar, 2004; Vanhaelen and Vanhaelen-Fastré, 1980).
In Sardinia, myrtle berries and leaves are traditionally used in the production of red and white myrtle liqueurs, respectively (Alamanni and Cossu, 2004; Mulas et al., 2002a). In the last decades, the production of myrtle liqueurs has increased from a homemade to an industrial level. The production of myrtle liqueur, which is still increasing, has already reached 3 million liters per year (Mulas and Cani, 1999).
The industrial production of myrtle liqueur follows a traditional recipe and technique, and consumers are attracted by the image of genuineness of these drinks. Myrtle liqueur is produced by the hydroalcoholic infusion of berries or leaves and the addition of a sugary solution, without using any antioxidant or conservant. The production of white myrtle liqueur involves a treatment of clarification that prevents its darkening by the oxidation of exceeding phenolic compounds. Fortunately, the beneficial properties of myrtle leaf extracts are not damaged by this treatment (Alamanni and Cossu, 2004; Romani et al., 1999; Rosa et al., 2003; Romani et al., 2004).
Thus far, leaves and fruits used by distilleries have been hand-picked from wild myrtle plants. This practice may alter the ecological equilibrium of natural ecosystems and does not assure quality standards of the raw material supplied to the industry (Mulas et al., 1999).
In the last few years, the study of natural myrtle ecotypes has started to obtain adequate plant material for its cultivation. After the morphological and biometric characterization of spontaneous myrtle shrubs (Mulas and Cani, 1999; Mulas et al., 1998), several myrtle cultivars have been selected (Mulas et al., 2002a; 2002b). Other studies on spontaneous myrtle plants have focused on their polyphenol compounds (Hinou et al., 1988) and essential oil yield and composition (Boelens and Jimenez, 1992; Bradesi et al., 1997; Gauthier et al., 1988; Özcan and Chalchat, 2004; Weyerstahl et al., 1994; Vanhaelen and Vanhaelen-Fastré, 1980). The antioxidant (Demo et al., 1998), antibacterial (Al-Saimary et al., 2002; Dulger and Gonuz, 2004; Milhau et al., 1997; Shadidi Bonjar and Karimi, 2004), antifungal, antiviral (Zolfaghari et al., 1997), and insecticide properties of leaf extracts from wild myrtle plants (Traboulsi et al., 2002) have also been demonstrated.
The content of chlorophyll a and b, tannins, and polyphenols of myrtle leaves and myrtle liqueurs are important attributes. In particular, chlorophylls (a and b) give an attractive pale green color to myrtle liqueur, tannins are responsible for its astringency, and polyphenols are related to a spicy taste and brown color after its oxidation. However, little information is available on the characteristics of leaves of cultivated plants and on the relationship between myrtle leaf composition and liqueur quality.
For this reason, the leaves of five myrtle cultivars growing in two sites of Sardinia were analyzed after spring and winter samplings for chlorophyll, polyphenol, and tannin contents in 2000 and 2001. The hydroalcoholic infusions obtained from their leaves were analyzed for the same compounds and for their color as well.
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Franco, M.A. Versini, G. Mattivi, F. Dalla Serra, A. Vacca, V. Manca, G. 1998 Analisi chimico-merceologica della bacche di mirto, dei semilavorati e dei liquori al commercio 123 263 Caratterizzazione del liquore Mirto di Sardegna tradizionale. Aspetti storici, geografici, tecnico economico-gestionali e chimico merceologici. Consorzio 21, Cagliari. Italy
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