Abstract Tannic acid (TA) has well-described antimutagenic and antioxidant activities. The antioxidant activity of TA has been previously attributed to its capacity to form a complex with iron ions, interfering with the Fenton reaction [Biochim. Biophys. Acta 1472, 1999, 142]. In this work, we observed that TA inhibits, in the micromolar range, in vitro Cu(II) plus ascorbate-mediated hydroxyl radical ( OH) formation (determined as 2-deoxyribose degradation) and oxygen uptake, as well as copper-mediated ascorbate oxidation and ascorbate radical formation (quantified in EPR studies). The effect of TA against 2-deoxyribose degradation was three orders of magnitude higher than classic OH scavengers, but was similar to several other metal chelators. Moreover, the inhibitory effectiveness of TA, by the four techniques used herein, was inversely proportional to the Cu(II) concentration in the media. These results and the observation of copper-induced changes in the UV spectra of TA are indications that the antioxidant activity of TA relates to its copper chelating ability. Thus, copper ions complexed to TA are less capable of inducing ascorbate oxidation, inhibiting the sequence of reactions that lead to 2-deoxyribose degradation. On the other hand, the efficiency of TA against 2-deoxyribose degradation declined considerably with increasing concentrations of the OH detector molecule, 2-deoxyribose, suggesting that the copper–TA complex also possesses an OH trapping activity.