Two in vitro and one in vivo experiments were conducted to investigate the effects of a selection of plant compounds on rumen fermentation, microbial concentration and methane emissions in goats. Treatments were: control (no additive), carvacrol (CAR), cinnamaldehyde (CIN), eugenol (EUG), propyl propane thiosulfinate (PTS), propyl propane thiosulfonate (PTSO), diallyl disulfide (DDS), a mixture (40 : 60) of PTS and PTSO (PTS+PTSO), and bromochloromethane (BCM) as positive control with proven antimethanogenic effectiveness. Four doses (40, 80, 160 and 320 µl/l) of the different compounds were incubated in vitro for 24 h in diluted rumen fluid from goats using two diets differing in starch and protein source within the concentrate (Experiment 1).The total gas production was linearly decreased (P<0.012) by all compounds, with the exception of EUG and PTS+PTSO (P⩾0.366). Total volatile fatty-acid (VFA) concentration decreased (P⩽0.018) only with PTS, PTSO and CAR, whereas the acetate:propionate ratio decreased (P⩽0.002) with PTS, PTSO and BCM, and a tendency (P=0.064) was observed for DDS. On the basis of results from Experiment 1, two doses of PTS, CAR, CIN, BCM (160 and 320 µl/l), PTSO (40 and 160 µl/l) and DDS (80 and 320 µl/l) were further tested in vitro for 72 h (Experiment 2). The gas production kinetics were affected (P⩽0.045) by all compounds, and digested NDF (DNDF) after 72 h of incubation was only linearly decreased (P⩽0.004) by CAR and PTS. The addition of all compounds linearly decreased (P⩽0.009) methane production, although the greatest reductions were observed for PTS (up to 96%), DDS (62%) and BCM (95%). No diet–dose interaction was observed. To further test the results obtained in vitro, two groups of 16 adult non-pregnant goats were used to study in vivo the effect of adding PTS (50, 100 and 200 mg/l rumen content per day) and BCM (50, 100 and 160 mg/l rumen content per day) during the 9 days on methane emissions (Experiment 3). The addition of PTS and BCM resulted in linear reductions (33% and 64%, respectively, P⩽0.002) of methane production per unit of dry matter intake, which were lower than the maximum inhibition observed in vitro (87% and 96%, respectively). We conclude that applying the same doses in vivo as in vitro resulted in a proportional lower extent of methane decrease, and that PTS at 200 mg/l rumen content per day has the potential to reduce methane emissions in goats. Whether the reduction in methane emission observed in vivo persists over longer periods of treatments and improves feed conversion efficiency requires further research.