The aim of this study was to assess the ability of the FFQ to describe reliable and valid dietary pattern (DP) scores. In a total of 134 participants of the European Prospective Investigation into Cancer and Nutrition-Potsdam study aged 35–67 years, the FFQ was applied twice (baseline and after 1 year) to assess its reliability. Between November 1995 and March 1997, twelve 24-h dietary recalls (24HDR) as reference instrument were applied to assess the validity of the FFQ. Exploratory DP were derived by principal component analyses. Investigated predefined DP were the Alternative Healthy Eating Index (AHEI) and two Mediterranean diet indices. From dietary data of each FFQ, two exploratory DP were retained, but differed in highly loading food groups, resulting in moderate correlations (r 0·45–0·58). The predefined indices showed higher correlations between the FFQ (r(AHEI) 0·62, r(Mediterranean Diet Pyramid Index (MedPyr)) 0·62 and r(traditional Mediterranean Diet Score (tMDS)) 0·51). From 24HDR dietary data, one exploratory DP retained differed in composition to the first FFQ-based DP, but showed similarities to the second DP, reflected by a good correlation (r 0·70). The predefined DP correlated moderately (r 0·40–0·60). To conclude, long-term analyses on exploratory DP should be interpreted with caution, due to only moderate reliability. The validity differed extensively for the two exploratory DP. The investigated predefined DP showed a better reliability and a moderate validity, comparable to other studies. Within the two Mediterranean diet indices, the MedPyr performed better than the tMDs in this middle-aged, semi-urban German study population.