This systematic review and meta-analysis was conducted to evaluate the safety of gelatin versus hydroxyethyl starches (HES) and crystalloids when used for cardiopulmonary bypass (CPB)-priming in cardiac surgery. MEDLINE (Pubmed), Embase and CENTRAL were searched. We included only randomized, controlled trials comparing CPB-priming with gelatin with either crystalloids or HES-solutions of the newest generation. The primary endpoint was the blood loss during the first 24 hours. Secondary outcomes included perioperative transfusion requirements, postoperative kidney function, postoperative ventilation times and length of stay on the intensive care unit. Sixteen studies were identified, of which only ten met the inclusion criteria, representing a total of 824 adult patients: 4 studies compared gelatin with crystalloid, and 6 studies gelatin with HES priming. Only 2 of the studies comparing HES and gelatin reported postoperative blood loss after 24 hours. No significant difference in postoperative blood loss was found when results of both studies were pooled (SMD -0.12; 95% CI: -0.49, 0.25; P=0.52). Likewise, the pooled results of 3 studies comparing gelatin and crystalloids as a priming solution could not demonstrate significant differences in postoperative bleeding after 24 hours (SMD -0.07; 95% CI: -0.40, 0.26; P=0.68). No differences regarding any of the secondary outcomes could be identified. This systematic review suggests gelatins to have a safety profile which is non-inferior to modern-generation tetrastarches or crystalloids. However, the grade of evidence is rated low owing to the poor methodological quality of the included studies, due to inconsistent outcome reporting and lack of uniform endpoint definitions.