A sensitive spectrophotometric assay has been developed for flavonoids based on their binding with molybdenum, antimony, or bismuth. Acetylation of the hydroxyl group of flavonoids abolished metal binding, thus suggesting a direct role of the hydroxyl groups. From a comparison of several related flavonoids differing in the position of hydroxyl substitutions, the hydroxyl group at position 3 was found to be an important requirement for the formation of a yellow complex. This flavonoid metal complex showed that a specific and significant bathochromic shift in the visible spectrum of the native flavonoid and the corresponding lambda(max) value was used for the colorimetric assays with different metal salts. The molybdenum complex was found to yield higher absorbance compared to antimony and bismuth complexes of various flavonoids. The present method offers a sensitive assay in the 5-25 nM range for these flavonoids and gave comparable results with HPLC quantitative determination.