Widespread consumption of herbal teas has stimulated interest in their role as cancer preventive agents. The present investigation monitored the modulation of methylbenzylnitrosamine (MBN)-induced esophageal squamous cell carcinogenesis by rooibos (Aspalathus linearis) and honeybush (Cyclopia intermedia) herbal and Camellia sinensis teas in male F344 rats. The tumor multiplicity was significantly (P < 0.05) inhibited by unfermented honeybush (45.5%), green (50%), and black (36%) teas, while the other teas exhibited weaker effects (<30% inhibition). The mean total papilloma size was reduced by unfermented rooibos (87%), unfermented honeybush (94%), and fermented honeybush (74%) due to the absence of large papillomas (>10 mm(3)). Reduction of the mean total papilloma number correlated with the total polyphenol (TPP) (r = 0.79; P < 0.02) and flavanol/proanthocyanidin (FLAVA) (r = 0.89; P < 0.008) intake (mg/100 g body weight) of the teas and the FLAVA (r = 0.89; P < 0.04) and flavonol/flavones/xanthones (r = 0.99; P < 0.002) intake when considering only the herbal teas. A daily TPP intake threshold of 7 mg/100 g body weight existed below where no inhibition of papilloma development was observed. Fermentation of herbal teas reduced the inhibitory effects on papilloma development associated with a reduction in the polyphenolic constituents. The inhibitory effect of herbal teas on papilloma development is associated with different flavonoid subgroups and/or combination thereof.