Rocket (Eruca sativa Mill. or Eruca vesicaria L.) is widely distributed all over the world and is usually consumed fresh (leafs or sprouts) for its typical spicy taste. Nevertheless, it is mentioned in traditional pharmacopoeia and ancient literature for several therapeutic properties, and it does contain a number of health promoting agents including carotenoids, vitamin C, fibers, flavonoids, and glucosinolates (GLs). The latter phytochemicals have recently gained attention as being the precursors of isothiocyanates (ITCs), which are released by myrosinase hydrolysis during cutting, chewing, or processing of the vegetable. ITCs are recognized as potent inducers of phase II enzymes (e.g., glutathione transferases, NAD(P)H:quinone reductase, epoxide hydrolase, etc.), which are important in the detoxification of electrophiles and protection against oxidative stress. The major GL found in rocket seeds is glucoerucin, GER (108 +/- 5 micromol g(-)(1) d.w.) that represents 95% of total GLs. The content is largely conserved in sprouts (79% of total GLs), and GER is still present to some extent in adult leaves. Unlike other GLs (e.g., glucoraphanin, the bio-precursor of sulforaphane), GER possesses good direct as well as indirect antioxidant activity. GER (and its metabolite erucin, ERN) effectively decomposes hydrogen peroxide and alkyl hydroperoxides with second-order rate constants of k(2) = 6.9 +/- 0.1 x 10(-)(2) M(-)(1) s(-)(1) and 4.5 +/- 0.2 x 10(-)(3) M(-)(1) s(-) , respectively, in water at 37 degrees C, thereby acting as a peroxide-scavenging preventive antioxidant. Interestingly, upon removal of H(2)O(2) or hydroperoxides, ERN is converted into sulforaphane, the most effective inducer of phase II enzymes among ITCs. On the other hand, ERN (and conceivably GER), like other ITCs, does not possess any chain-breaking antioxidant activity, being unable to protect styrene from its thermally (37 degrees C) initiated autoxidation in the presence of AMVN. The mechanism and relevance of the antioxidant activity of GER and ERN are discussed.