The first committed step in sterol biosynthesis in plants involves the cyclization of 2,3-oxidosqualene by the oxidosqualene cyclase (OSC) enzyme cycloartenol synthase. 2,3-Oxidosqualene is also a precursor for triterpene synthesis. Antimicrobial triterpenes are common in dicots, but seldom found in monocots, with the notable exception of oat. Here, through genome mining and metabolic engineering, we investigate the potential for triterpene synthesis in rice. The first two steps in the oat triterpene pathway are catalysed by a divergent OSC (AsbAS1) and a cytochrome P450 (CYP51). The genes for these enzymes form part of a metabolic gene cluster. To investigate the origins of triterpene synthesis in monocots, we analysed systematically the OSC and CYP51 gene families in rice. We also engineered rice for elevated triterpene content. We discovered a total of 12 OSC and 12 CYP51 genes in rice and uncovered key events in the evolution of triterpene synthesis. We further showed that the expression of AsbAS1 in rice leads to the accumulation of the simple triterpene, β-amyrin. These findings provide new insights into the evolution of triterpene synthesis in monocots and open up opportunities for metabolic engineering for disease resistance in rice and other cereals.