5-Hydroxymethylfurfural (HMF) and furfuryl alcohol (FFA) are present in numerous foodstuffs at high levels. FFA is also used for the production of polymers. Both compounds had demonstrated some evidence of carcinogenic activity in 2-year bioassays. We tested these compounds and four congeners for mutagenicity in Salmonella typhimurium TA100 and TA100-derived strains expressing human or rodent sulphotransferases (SULTs). 5-Hydroxymethylfuroic acid, a metabolite of HMF, was not mutagenic in any strain. 3-Hydroxymethylfuran was weakly mutagenic in all strains independently of SULT expression. HMF, 2,5-(bishydroxymethyl)furan (metabolite of HMF), FFA and 5-methyl-FFA were inactive in TA100 but strongly mutagenic when human SULT1C2 was expressed. This form has been detected in ovary, kidney and foetal tissues. Human SULT1A1, SULT1A2 and SULT1A3 as well as murine Sult1a1 and Sult1d1 also activated some hydroxymethyl-substituted furans to varying degrees. Whereas chemically synthesised 5-sulphooxymethylfurfural was mutagenic in TA100, furfuryl sulphate was bacteriotoxic, only leading to marginal increases in the number of revertants. Furfuryl acetate, an uncharged ester of FFA, used as fragrance and food flavouring, was clearly mutagenic. We determined half-life times of 120 min, 20 s and 10 h, respectively, for 5-sulphooxymethylfurfural, furfuryl sulphate and furfuryl acetate at 37°C in water. It is likely that the short lifespan of furfuryl sulphate, together with its charge, led to insufficient penetration of the bacteria when added externally, although it was mutagenic when generated by appropriate SULTs from FFA within the cell.