We present a method for the determination of the phytoestrogens daidzein and genistein in plasma (serum). These weakly estrogenic isoflavones occur in soybeans and in smaller amounts in some other beans and plants. It has been suggested that they may afford protection against prostate and breast cancer. The method is based on time-resolved fluoroimmunoassay (TR-FIA) using a europium chelate as a label. After synthesis of 4'-O-carboxymethyl-daidzein and 4'-O-carboxymethyl-genistein the compounds are coupled to bovine serum albumin (BSA), then used as antigens to immunize rabbits. The tracers with the europium chelate are synthesized using the same 4'-O-derivative of the isoflavones. After enzymatic hydrolysis and ether extraction the immunoassay is carried out using the VICTOR 1420 multilabel counter (Wallac Oy, Turku, Finland). The antisera cross-reacted to some extent with some isoflavonoids but not with flavonoids. The cross-reactivity seems not to influence the results, which were highly specific for both compounds. The correlation coefficients between the TR-FIA methods and the reference method based on isotope dilution gas chromatography-mass spectrometry were high; r-values were about 0.95-0.99 depending on concentration. The intra-assay coefficients of variation (CV%) for daidzein and genistein at three different concentrations vary 3.2-4.5 and 3.2-4.1, respectively. The inter-assay CVs vary 5.0-6.3 and 4.5-5.3, respectively. The working ranges of the daidzein and genistein assays are 1.0-216 and 1.7-370 nmol/l, respectively. The plasma values (n = 80) of daidzein and genistein are very low in Finnish subjects (mean for daidzein, 3.8+/-6.8 and for genistein, 3.2+/-7.6 nmol/l; median value for daidzein 1.5 and for genistein 1.4 nmol/l).