Cyanidin 3-glucoside (C3G) is one of the major dietary anthocyanins implicated in the prevention of chronic diseases. To evaluate the impact of human intestinal bacteria on the fate of C3G in the host, we studied the metabolism of C3G in human microbiota-associated (HMA) rats in comparison with germ-free (GF) rats. Urine and faeces of the rats were analysed for C3G and its metabolites within 48 h after the application of 92 μmol C3G/kg body weight. In addition, we tested the microbial C3G conversion in vitro by incubating C3G with human faecal slurries and selected human gut bacteria. The HMA rats excreted with faeces a three times higher percentage of unconjugated C3G products and a two times higher percentage of conjugated C3G products than the GF rats. These differences were mainly due to the increased excretion of 3,4-dihydroxybenzoic acid, 2,4,6-trihydroxybenzaldehyde and 2,4,6-trihydroxybenzoic acid. Only the urine of HMA rats contained peonidin and 3-hydroxycinnamic acid and the percentage of conjugated C3G products in the urine was decreased compared with the GF rats. Overall, the presence of intestinal microbiota resulted in a 3·7 % recovery of the C3G dose in HMA rats compared with 1·7 % in GF rats. Human intestinal bacteria rapidly degraded C3G in vitro. Most of the C3G products were also found in the absence of bacteria, but at considerably lower levels. The higher concentrations of phenolic acids observed in the presence of intestinal bacteria may contribute to the proposed beneficial health effects of C3G.