Some plant secondary metabolites are classified as phytoanticipins. When plant tissue in which they are present is disrupted, the phytoanticipins are bio-activated by the action of beta-glucosidases. These binary systems--two sets of components that when separated are relatively inert--provide plants with an immediate chemical defense against protruding herbivores and pathogens. This review provides an update on our knowledge of the beta-glucosidases involved in activation of the four major classes of phytoanticipins: cyanogenic glucosides, benzoxazinoid glucosides, avenacosides and glucosinolates. New aspects of the role of specific proteins that either control oligomerization of the beta-glucosidases or modulate their product specificity are discussed in an evolutionary perspective.