The antioxidant activity of phenolic extracts from olives and olive oil has been assessed by scavenging of 1,1-diphenyl-2-picrylhydrazyl (DPPH) radicals and by studying the effects on the stability of stripped olive oil in the absence and presence of ferric chloride. The olive extracts contained a much higher concentration (1940-5800 mg kg(-1)) of phenolic components than the olive oil extract (180 mg kg(-1)). Some olive extracts were more effective than the olive oil extract in scavenging DPPH radicals, but the three varieties of olives examined showed relatively large differences in both polyphenol concentration and antioxidant activity of extracts. a-Tocopherol and extracts from both olives and olive oil were effective antioxidants in stripped olive oil at 60 degreesC. Ferric chloride reduced the stability of stripped olive oil, but the olive extract studied was significantly more effective as an antioxidant in the presence of the metal salt than the olive oil extract or a-tocopherol. Ferric ions catalysed the oxidation of caffeic acid, oleuropein and phenolic components of the olive and olive oil extracts in aqueous solution (pH 5.4). The olive extract oxidised more rapidly than the olive oil extract in aqueous solution. (C) 2001 Society of Chemical Industry.