Direct asymmetric catalytic aldol reactions have been successfully performed using aldehydes and unmodified ketones together with commercially available chiral cyclic secondary amines as catalysts. Structure-based catalyst screening identified L-proline and 5,5-dimethyl thiazolidinium-4-carboxylate (DMTC) as the most powerful amino acid catalysts for the reaction of both acyclic and cyclic ketones as aldol donors with aromatic and aliphatic aldehydes to afford the corresponding aldol products with high regio-, diastereo-, and enantioselectivities. Reactions employing hydroxyacetone as an aldol donor provide anti-1,2-diols as the major product with ee values up to >99%. The reactions are assumed to proceed via a metal-free Zimmerman-Traxler-type transition state and involve an enamine intermediate. The observed stereochemistry of the products is in accordance with the proposed transition state. Further supporting evidence is provided by the lack of nonlinear effects. The reactions tolerate a small amount of water (<4 vol %), do not require inert reaction conditions and preformed enolate equivalents, and can be conveniently performed at room temperature in various solvents. In addition, reaction conditions that facilitate catalyst recovery as well as immobilization are described. Finally, mechanistically related addition reactions such as ketone additions to imines (Mannich-type reactions) and to nitro-olefins and alpha,beta-unsaturated diesters (Michael-type reactions) have also been developed.