Lactic acid-fermented foods have been shown to increase Fe absorption in human subjects, possibly by lowering pH, activation of phytases, and formation of soluble complexes of Fe and organic acids. We tested the effect of an oat gruel fermented with Lactobacillus plantarum 299v on non-haem Fe absorption from a low-Fe bioavailability meal compared with a pasteurised, fermented oat gruel and non-fermented oat gruels. In a cross-over trial twenty-four healthy women with a mean age of 25 (sd 4) years were served (A) fermented gruel, (B) pasteurised fermented gruel, (C) pH-adjusted non-fermented gruel, and (D) non-fermented gruel with added organic acids. The meals were extrinsically labelled with 55Fe or 59Fe and consumed on 4 consecutive days, for example, in the order ABBA or BAAB followed by CDDC or DCCD in a second period. Fe absorption was determined from isotope activities in blood samples. The fermented gruel with live L. plantarum 299v increased Fe absorption significantly (P < 0.0001) compared with the pasteurised and non-fermented gruels. The lactic acid concentration in the fermented gruel was 19 % higher than in the pasteurised gruel, but the Fe absorption was increased by 50 %. In the gruel with organic acids, the lactic acid concentration was 52 % lower than in the pasteurised gruel, with no difference in Fe absorption. The fermented gruel increased non-haem Fe absorption from a phytate-rich meal in young women, indicating a specific effect of live L. plantarum 299v and not only an effect of the organic acids.