The aim of this study was to ascertain whether international glycaemic index (GI) values, predominantly developed using peoples living in Europe, North America or Australia, are applicable to Asian Indians resident in their own country. Thirty-four Caucasian subjects were recruited in Oxford, UK and thirteen Asian Indian subjects in Chennai, India. Two types of sweet biscuits and three breakfast cereals were tested for glycaemic response in each group. Subjects were served equivalent available carbohydrate amounts (50 g) of test foods and a reference food (glucose), on separate occasions. Capillary blood glucose was measured from finger-prick samples in fasted subjects ( − 5 and 0 min) and at 15, 30, 45, 60, 90 and 120 min after starting to eat. For each test food, the incremental area under the curve (IAUC) and GI values were determined. Although the glycaemic response to the reference food was higher in Asian Indian subjects compared with UK Caucasian subjects (IAUC 219 mmol/min per litre v. 157 mmol/min per litre, respectively; P < 0·01), there was no significant difference in GI values of the five test foods between the two groups. This is the first study known to the authors to examine the role of ethnicity on GI when the subjects are resident in their own countries. The findings from this study have important implications for the use of the GI concept worldwide and support the application of international values to different ethnic groups. The higher glycaemic response to all foods in Asian Indians may represent another mechanism for increased diabetes susceptibility among Asian Indians.