Ginseng is an increasingly popular ingredient in supplements for healthcare products and traditional medicine. Heat-processed ginsengs, such as red ginseng or black ginseng, are regarded as more valuable for medicinal use when compared to white ginseng due to some unique less polar ginsenosides that are produced during heat-treatment. Although ginseng leaf contains abundant ginsenosides, attention has mostly focused on ginseng root; relatively few publications have focused on ginseng leaf. Raw ginseng leaf was steamed nine times to make black ginseng leaf using a process that is similar to that used to produce black ginseng root. Sixteen ginsenosides were analyzed during each steaming while using high-performance liquid chromatography (HPLC). The contents of ginsenosides Rd and Re decreased and the less polar ginsenosides (F2, Rg3, Rk2, Rk3, Rh3, Rh4, and protopanaxatriol) enriched during steam treatment. After nine cycles of steaming, the contents of the less polar ginsenosides F2, Rg3, and Rk2 increased by 12.9-fold, 8.6-fold, and 2.6-fold, respectively. Further, we found that the polar protopanaxadiol (PPD) -type ginsenosides are more likely to be converted from ginsenoside Rg3 to ginsenosides Rk1 and Rg5 via dehydration from Rg3, and from ginsenoside Rh2 to ginsenosides Rk2 and Rh3 through losing an H2
O molecule than to be completely degraded to the aglycones PPD during the heat process. This study suggests that ginseng leaves can be used to produce less polar ginsenosides through heat processes, such as steaming.
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