The results demonstrate the potential of electrospray ionisation mass spectrometry for the specific detection of phenolic species in olives. Phenolic compounds were detected with greater sensitivity in the negative ion mode, but results from positive and negative ion modes were complementary with the positive ion mode showing structurally significant fragments. This is demonstrated by the identification of oleuropein and isomers of verbascoside. The structure of the latter were confirmed by retention, mass spectral and nuclear magnetic resonance data. These isomers have not previously been reported in olive. Copyright (C) 1999 Elsevier Science B.V.