Pre-processed foods often contain a high percentage of lipid, present as emulsions stabilised with various surface-active agents. The acidic gastric environment can affect the behaviour of such emulsions, modifying the lipid spatial distribution and, in turn, the rate of gastric emptying and nutrient delivery to the gut. The aim of the present study was to use echo-planar magnetic resonance imaging (EPI) to determine the behaviour of model olive oil emulsions during gastric processing. Six healthy male volunteers were intubated nasogastrically on two separate occasions and fed 500ml 15% (w/w) olive oil-in-water, surfactant-stabilised emulsions designed to have identical droplet size distribution and which were either stable or unstable under gastric acid conditions. EPI was used to assess the oil fraction of the intragastric emulsions, gastric emptying and to visualise the spatial distribution of the oil at 10, 30 and 50min postprandially. The in vivo imaging measurements of the oil volume fraction of the emulsions correlated well (r 0·66, acid-stable; r 0·52, acid-unstable) with that assayed in the gastric aspirates. Compared with the acid-stable emulsion, the acid-unstable emulsion in the gastric lumen rapidly separated into lipid-depleted ‘aqueous’ and lipid layers. Phase separation in the acid-unstable meal allowed the oil-depleted component to empty first and more rapidly than the stable emulsion as determined by the gastric emptying curves. These pilot data suggest that gastric processing and emptying of high-fat foods could be manipulated by careful choice of emulsifier.