Liquid chromatography electrospray mass spectrometry (LC-ESI/MS) has been applied to the full characterization of saponins and phenolics in hydroalcoholic extracts of roots of liquorice (Glycyrrhiza glabra). Relative quantitative analyses of the samples with respect to the phenolic constituents and to a group of saponins related to glycyrrhizic acid were performed using LC-ESI/MS. For the saponin constituents, full scan LC-MS/MS fragmentation of the protonated (positive ion mode) or deprotonated (negative ion mode) molecular species generated diagnostic fragment ions that provided information concerning the triterpene skeleton and the number and nature of the substituents. On the basis of the specific fragmentation of glycyrrhizic acid, an LC-MS/MS method was developed in order to quantify the analyte in the liquorice root samples. Chinese G. glabra roots contained the highest levels of glycyrrhizic acid, followed by those from Italy (Calabria).
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