Tannins can cause beneficial or harmful nutritional effects, but their great diversity has until now prevented a rational distinction between tannin structures and their nutritional responses. An attempt has been made to study this problem by examining the octanol-water solubilities of tannins. A relatively simple HPLC method has been developed for screening mixtures of plant tannins for their octanol-water partition coefficients (K-ow coefficients). Tannins were isolated from the fruits and leaves of different Acacia, Calliandra, Dichrostachys, and Piliostigma species, which are known to produce beneficial or harmful effects. The K-ow coefficients of these tannins ranged from 0.061 to 13.9, average coefficients of variation were 9.2% and recoveries were 107%. Acacia nilotica fruits and leaves had the highest K-ow coefficients, that is, 2.0 and 13.9, respectively. These A. nilotica products also have high concentrations of tannins. The combined effects of high octanol solubilities and high tannin concentrations may explain their negative effects on animal nutrition and health. It is known that compounds with high octanol solubilities are more easily absorbed into tissues, and it is, therefore, proposed that such compounds are more likely to cause toxicity problems especially if consumed in large quantities. According to the literature, tannins in human foods tend to have low K-ow coefficients, and this was confirmed for the tannins in Piliostigma thonningii fruits. Therefore, unconventional feeds or browse products should be screened not only for their tannin concentrations but also for low octanol-water partition coefficients in order to identify nutritionally safe feeds and to avoid potentially toxic feeds.