Although the emission of acetaldehyde from plants into the atmosphere following biotic and abiotic stresses may significantly impact air quality and climate, its metabolic origin(s) remains uncertain. We investigated the pathway(s) responsible for the production of acetaldehyde in plants by studying variations in the stable carbon isotope composition of acetaldehyde emitted during leaf anoxia or following mechanical stress. Under an anoxic environment, C3 leaves produced acetaldehyde during ethanolic fermentation with a similar carbon isotopic composition to C3 bulk biomass. In contrast, the initial emission burst following mechanical wounding was 5–12‰ more depleted in 13C than emissions under anoxia. Due to a large kinetic isotope effect during pyruvate decarboxylation catalysed by pyruvate dehydrogenase, acetyl-CoA and its biosynthetic products such as fatty acids are also depleted in 13C relative to bulk biomass. It is well known that leaf wounding stimulates the release of large quantities of fatty acids from membranes, as well as the accumulation of reactive oxygen species (ROS). We suggest that, following leaf wounding, acetaldehyde depleted in 13C is produced from fatty acid peroxidation reactions initiated by the accumulation of ROS. However, a variety of other pathways could also explain our results, including the conversion of acetyl-CoA to acetaldehyde by the esterase activity of aldehyde dehydrogenase.