The in vitro activity of human recombinant β-secretase (BACE1) was studied using a fluorogenic substrate based on the cleavage site for the enzyme in the Swedish mutation of amyloid precursor protein. The enzyme was inhibited by a control peptide inhibitor with good repeatability. The enzyme preparation comprised a mixture of pro-enzyme or zymogen and mature enzyme whereby the pro-enzyme sequence forms a ‘flap’ that can obstruct the binding site. ‘Open flap’ forms of the zymogen and mature enzyme are active, but the ‘closed flap’ form of the zymogen is inactive. This mixture of enzyme populations permitted apparent stimulation of enzyme activity under particular conditions, presumably due to facilitating flap-opening of the zymogen. As reported for heparin, enzyme activation was stimulated in the presence of low concentrations of Tween 20 and dimethylsulfoxide before becoming inhibited at higher concentrations. Dietary plant extracts either consistently inhibited (e.g. clove, tea, cinammon) or consistently stimulated (e.g. mushroom, parsley, asparagus) BACE1. Common structural features identified by Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy revealed that BACE1 activity could be explained by differential interactions of either small molecule or polymeric species with mature versus zymogen forms of the enzyme, respectively. Further, enzyme activity could be reversed by mixtures of high and low mass species. These results may have implications for the regulation of β-secretase activity in vivo by either endogenous or possibly dietary factors and for a potential role of BACE1 in stimulation of the production of amyloid beta peptide in sporadic Alzheimer’s disease.