Lycopene is present mainly as cis-isomers in human serum and tissues whereas all-trans-lycopene predominates in tomato products, suggesting that all-trans-lycopene is isomerised in the body or is less bioavailable. The objectives of the present study were to develop processing conditions for tomatoes to obtain products with different cis-trans-lycopene isomer distribution and to assess their bioavailability. Healthy adult subjects (n 12) were recruited for this randomised cross-over trial. Each intervention was preceded by a 2-week washout period. Two tomato sauces, one rich in all-trans-lycopene (32·5 mg total lycopene/100 g sauce; 5 % cis-isomers), the other high in cis-lycopene (26·4 mg total lycopene/100 g sauce; 45 % cis-isomers), were produced by different heat-processing techniques. Each sauce (150 g) was served in a standardised meal at 08.00 hours after overnight fasting. Plasma TAG-rich lipoprotein fractions over 9.5 h following test-meal consumption as a measure of lycopene absorption were obtained and expressed as baseline-corrected area under the concentration v. time curves (AUC), using HPLC-electrochemical detection. AUC values adjusted for the amount lycopene consumed showed that total, total cis-, and all-trans-lycopene responses were significantly higher from the cis-isomer-rich sauce, compared with the all-trans-rich sauce, being 7·30 (sem 1·45) v. 4·74 (sem 1·08) nmol × h/l (P = 0·002), 3·80 (sem 0·76) v. 1·98 (sem 0·37) nmol × h/l (P = 0·0005) and 3·50 (sem 0·76) v. 2·76 (sem 0·76) nmol × h/l (P = 0·01), respectively. The present study demonstrates significant lycopene bioavailability from cis-lycopene-rich tomato sauce and highlights the importance of considering isomer-distribution for lycopene bioavailability. Furthermore, processing parameters can be controlled to alter isomer patterns of tomato products and influence lycopene bioavailability.