The post-genomics era has brought with it ever increasing demands to observe and characterise variation within biological systems. This variation has been studied at the genomic (gene function), proteomic (protein regulation) and the metabolomic (small molecular weight metabolite) levels. Whilst genomics and proteomics are generally studied using microarrays (genomics) and 2D-gels or mass spectrometry (proteomics), the technique of choice is less obvious in the area of metabolomics. Much work has been published employing mass spectrometry, NMR spectroscopy and vibrational spectroscopic techniques, amongst others, for the study of variations within the metabolome in many animal, plant and microbial systems. This review discusses the advantages and disadvantages of each technique, putting the current status of the field of metabolomics in context, and providing examples of applications for each technique employed.