The aim of the present work was to study the effects of tannins from carob (CT; Ceratonia siliqua), acacia leaves (AT; Acacia cyanophylla) and quebracho (QT; Schinopsis lorentzii) on ruminal biohydrogenation in vitro. The tannins extracted from CT, AT and QT were incubated for 12 h in glass syringes in cow buffered ruminal fluid (BRF) with hay or hay plus concentrate as a substrate. Within each feed, three concentrations of tannins were used (0·0, 0·6 and 1·0 mg/ml BRF). The branched-chain volatile fatty acids, the branched-chain fatty acids and the microbial protein concentration were reduced (P < 0·05) by tannins. In the tannin-containing fermenters, vaccenic acid was accumulated (+23 %, P < 0·01) while stearic acid was reduced ( − 16 %, P < 0·0005). The concentration of total conjugated linoleic acid (CLA) isomers in the BRF was not affected by tannins. The assay on linoleic acid isomerase (LA-I) showed that the enzyme activity (nmol CLA produced/min per mg protein) was unaffected by the inclusion of tannins in the fermenters. However, the CLA produced by LA-I (nmol/ml per min) was lower in the presence of tannins. These results suggest that tannins reduce ruminal biohydrogenation through the inhibition of the activity of ruminal micro-organisms.