Carotenoids are isoprenoid molecules that are widespread in nature and are typically seen as pigments in fruits, flowers, birds and crustacea. Animals are unable to synthesise carotenoids de novo, and rely upon the diet as a source of these compounds. Over recent years there has been considerable interest in dietary carotenoids with respect to their potential in alleviating age-related diseases in humans. This attention has been mirrored by significant advances in cloning most of the carotenoid genes and in the genetic manipulation of crop plants with the intention of increasing levels in the diet. The aim of this article is to review our current understanding of carotenoid formation, to explain the perceived benefits of carotenoids in the diet and review the efforts that have been made to increase carotenoids in certain crop plants.