Raffinose family oligosaccharides (RFOs) are almost ubiquitous in seeds and have been hypothesized to constitute an important energy source during germination. To test this hypothesis we applied a specific alpha-galactosidase inhibitor (1-deoxygalactonojirimycin, DGJ) to germinating pea seeds, resulting in a complete blocking of RFO breakdown. The germination rates of DGJ-treated seeds dropped drastically to about 25% of controls two days after imbibition. Similarly, the activities of the key enzymes in the galactose salvage pathway galactokinase, UDP-galactose pyrophosphorylase and UDP-galactose 4'-epimerase, were also significantly lower in seeds treated with the inhibitor. The inhibitory effect on germination could be relieved by galactose but only partially by sucrose, indicating that galactose, in addition to providing easily available energy for growth, may also be an important component of the sugar signaling pathway during germination. Taken together our study, for the first time, provides clear evidence that RFOs play an important role for early germination.