Methods for determining primary antioxidant activity were evaluated. A beta-carotene bleaching method and a free radical method using 2, 2-diphenyl-1-picrylhydrazyl (DPPH(*)) were modified to rapidly test samples for potential antioxidant activity. Malonaldehyde production in a linoleic acid emulsion system assayed by an HPLC method was also used to determine antioxidant and prooxidant activities initiated by a metal catalyst (Cu(2+)). All methods were used to assess activity of selected phenolic compounds including several anthocyanidins/anthocyanins and selected berry extracts. Most phenolic compounds had prooxidant activity at low concentrations, unlike synthetic antioxidants (BHA and BHT). Compounds with similar structures exhibited comparable trends in antioxidant activity. Antioxidant activity usually increased with an increase in the number of hydroxyl groups and a decrease in glycosylation. The antioxidant activity of many phenolic compounds and extracts was comparable to those of synthetic antioxidants using the beta-carotene bleaching and HPLC methods.