Metabolites are the end products of cellular regulatory processes, and their levels can be regarded as the ultimate response of biological systems to genetic or environmental changes. In parallel to the terms 'transcriptome' and proteome', the set of metabolites synthesized by a biological system constitute its 'metabolome'. Yet, unlike other functional genomics approaches, the unbiased simultaneous identification and quantification of plant metabolomes has been largely neglected. Until recently, most analyses were restricted to profiling selected classes of compounds, or to fingerprinting metabolic changes without sufficient analytical resolution to determine metabolite levels and identities individually. As a prerequisite for metabolomic analysis, careful consideration of the methods employed for tissue extraction, sample preparation, data acquisition, and data mining must be taken. In this review, the differences among metabolite target analysis, metabolite profiling, and metabolic fingerprinting are clarified, and terms are defined. Current approaches are examined, and potential applications are summarized with a special emphasis on data mining and mathematical modelling of metabolism.