Tannins are a unique group of phenolic metabolites with molecular weights between 500 and 30 000 Da, which are widely distributed in almost all plant foods and beverages. Proanthocyanidins and hydrolysable tannins are the two major groups of these bioactive compounds, but complex tannins containing structural elements of both groups and specific tannins in marine brown algae have also been described. Most literature data on food tannins refer only to oligomeric compounds that are extracted with aqueous-organic solvents, but a significant number of non-extractable tannins are usually not mentioned in the literature. The biological effects of tannins usually depend on their grade of polymerisation and solubility. Highly polymerised tannins exhibit low bioaccessibility in the small intestine and low fermentability by colonic microflora. This review summarises a new approach to analysis of extractable and non-extractable tannins, major food sources, and effects of storage and processing on tannin content and bioavailability. Biological properties such as antioxidant, antimicrobial and antiviral effects are also described. In addition, the role of tannins in diabetes mellitus has been discussed.