Previously reported levels of iron absorption from common Southeast Asian meals composed of rice, vegetables, and spices were too low to be consistent with the known prevalence of iron deficiency. In the present paper the cause of the low absorption was systematically sought. Variables investigated comprised methodological errors, factors in the diet such as certain foodstuffs, or contaminants inhibiting the absorption and characteristics of the subjects accompanied by malabsorption of dietary iron. The latter was excluded by comparing the absorption from both wheat rolls and a composit rice meal in Thai and Swedish women using the absorption of a small dose of ferrous ascorbate as a common basis of comparison. Two main factors were identified as causing the low absorption in the previous studies: the homogenization of the labeled meals before serving and the use of rice flour instead of rice. Iron absorption from nonhomogenized meals of identical composition as studied previously was many times higher (on an average 0.16 mg) and was consistent with the actual prevalence of iron deficiency in lower socioeconomic groups of Thais mainly consuming the simple meals studied. Recent modifications of the method to measure nonheme iron absorption from composite meals have thus not only made the determination simpler but also more accurate.