Although modern MS has facilitated the advent of metabolomics, some natural products such as carotenoids are not readily compatible to detection by MS. In the present article, we describe how matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization time-of-flight mass spectrometry (MALDI/TOF-MS) can be utilized to acquire mass spectra of carotenoids effectively. The procedure is sensitive (pmole range), reduces 'spot to spot' variation and provides high mass accuracy, thus aiding identification. The technique has been applied in vivo to the analysis of carotenoids in isolated plant cells and in vitro to three applications: (i) to show compatibility with purification methods such as LC, TLC and HPLC; (ii) for the rapid identification and quantification (by isotope dilution) of carotenoids present in crude extracts from plant tissues and whole cells; (iii) simultaneous semi-quantitative determination of carotenoids metabolites (m/z values) in crude plant extracts. Multivariate analysis of the recorded m/z values shows the effectiveness of the procedure in distinguishing genotypes from each other. In addition, the utility of the technique has been demonstrated on two mutant tomato populations, to determine alterations in carotenoid content, and a comparison made with traditional HPLC-photodiode array analysis. These data show that MALDI/TOF-MS can be used to rapidly profile, identify and quantify plant carotenoids reproducibly, as well as detecting other metabolites (m/z) in complex biological systems.