Different negative ion electrospray (ES) source conditions are required to concentrate the ion current in [M–H]– for malonylated and non-malonylated ginsenosides. However, both can be ionised optimally in a single liquid chromatography/mass spectrometry (LC/MS) analysis by employing switchable voltages in the post-source ion optics of a quadrupole ion trap mass spectrometer. Coupled with automatic MS/MS scanning and post-acquisition neutral loss data analysis, this method provides a means of profiling the malonylated and acetylated ginsenosides in ginseng extracts. Analyses revealed numerous malonylated ginsenosides that could be partially characterised by serial MS/MS experiments. The ratio of mRb1 to other isomeric forms present and to mRb2 and mRc appears to show consistent differences among Panax ginseng (Asian ginseng), P. quinquefolius (American ginseng) and P. notoginseng (Sanchi ginseng). The ratio of malonylated to non-malonylated ginsenosides is reduced in the red form of Asian ginseng compared with the white form and there is a concomitant increase in the levels of the corresponding acetylated ginsenosides. The ability to analyse malonylated ginsenosides is an important contribution to the range of chemical characteristics that can be used to authenticate the different species of ginseng and will assist in quality control and standardisation. Copyright © 2002 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.