Is Leather Edible?

Is leather edible

Have you ever journeyed away from home and wondered to yourself if you got stuck and run out of food, what could you possibly eat in the absence of food?

Can you possibly eat the leather (natural) items you have on like shoes, belts, hats just to survive till help comes? I “nerded” out on the possibilities of eating leather and here’s what I found.

So, Is Leather Edible? Yes!. Leather is absolutely edible. Leather largely contains 60 – 70 percent water and 30 – 35 percent protein making it absolutely fine to eat. However, the best leather to eat is the one not tanned.

Before we go on, I’m not a medical doctor or a nutritionist, these are just my opinions, so you should seek the advice of a competent medical professional in your jurisdiction.

In the year 70 CE during the Siege of Jerusalem, Jewish defenders were reduced to eating their shields and other leather kits just like the Spanish travelers did in 1559 during the Tristan de Luna expedition.

However, in 1972 a group of rugby players had a plane crash on their way to Chile for a game. The plane crashed on the high mountains and had to survive days without food.

They were confronted with a temptation to either eat the leather seats of the plane or the dead bodies of their friends who had passed on in the crash.

They forfeited eating the leather seats for their friends because they were not sure if the leather was indeed edible.

Upon rescue, they were questioned on how they had survived and the rescue team and general public were appalled by what they had done. The became famous not for their survival story but for how they munched down a couple of their dead friends and relatives.

So yes, leather is edible but I know there are few caveats and a couple of questions on your mind. How do you eat it? what do I look out for in the leather? how do I ready it for eating? and is it safe to eat leather? I answer these questions below.

How to Eat Leather

The pre-historic men used to soften leather with their teeth to make it workable and would only eat leather when food was scarce.

The truth is, the hides and skins they used as body apparels were not chemically treated but rather plant extracts were used to turn fresh skins into leather making it harmless to eat.

Their concern was not about how edible leather (skins) was but how exposed they would be to the harsh weather conditions if the leather was on the menu.

Eating Untanned Leather

Tanning is the processes skins of animals go through to become leather and will not decay. Untanned leather is the opposite, that is, skins of animals that have not been treated into the leather and so can decay.

The turning of skins into leather has greatly evolved over the years and has become more and more chemical-based today. So in modern times, the best form of any leather to eat is the skins removed from an animal that has not been tanned yet.

It is very common to find people eating untanned leather all over the world especially in Africa and some parts of Asia.

In a very funny leather ecosystem, most people are alarmed by the killing of animals for food, while leather enthusiasts, on the other hand, are agitated when people eat the portion of the animal that could be processed for leather.

This is how untanned skins of animals are preparing for food.

  1. After obtaining the skin of the animal, the skin can be salted and allowed to thoroughly dry.
  2. Once the skin is dried, place the skin on an open fire and tumbled for an even burn.
  3. Boil the burnt skin with water overnight. The fact that you will have to boil the untanned skin overnight should tell you how tough the leather fibers are.
  4. Finally, wash thoroughly and voila!, it is ready.

Eating Tanned Leather

At this point, you might have your eyes on a piece of leather lying around or a leather product and wondering, How do I eat this if I want to? Well, before we go into that, let me reiterate what tanning is since we have a fair idea of what leather is.

Tanning is the process that turns skins into leather. There are several tanning techniques both industrial and domestic but I have highlighted Five tanning techniques that are commonly used today and how they result in leather you could possibly eat if the need arises.

What types of Tanned Leather can you possibly eat?

The possibilities of eating leather that have been tanned basically draws on the materials used during the tanning process. These are:

  1. Vegetable Tanned Leather
  2. Mineral Tanned Leather
  3. Chrome Tanned Leather
  4. Oil-Tanned Leather
  5. Combination Tanned Leather

1. Vegetable Tanned Leather

What is vegetable-tanned leather? The vegetable-tanned leather is leather that has been treated by a process that involves using plant extracts to treat hides or skins against decomposing. 

Oak and spruce barks, Tara pods, seeds, olive leaves, and stems are common ingredients in the vegetable tanning process.

Vegetable-tanned leather is commonly used for saddles, holsters, belts, and wallets. So there you go, if you have any of these items with you in a dire situation, it is possible it is made out of vegetable-tanned leather and there’s a chance you could eat it after boiling in for a couple of hours.

Related: What is Vegetable Tanned Leather?

2. Mineral or Alum Tanned Leather

What is Mineral or Alum Tanning? Mineral or Alum tanning is an ancient tanning process and was originally called tanning.

Our ancestors used alum salt and egg yolk in this tanning process. Mineral tanning is one of the fastest tanning methods and it is still practiced by some artisans today.

If you happen to have any gloves, there is a slight chance it is made using alum tanned leather.

3. Oil-Tanned Leather

In oil tanning, animal fat, fish oil, cod liver oil is used to turn animal skins into leather. The oils and fatty substances are applied to the skin.

The process is also very fast to execute as it takes just about an hour to complete. Amongst other things, oil-tanned leather is commonly used for gloves.

4. Chrome Tanned Leather

Chrome Tanning is a tanning method that uses chromium salts as its tanning agents. It takes on average 2 days to tan and usually chrome tanned leather is used for shoe uppers, gloves, wallets, luggages, holders. Chrome tanning is the fastest and most popular tanning technique today.

Related: What’s the difference between Vegetable tanning and Chrome tanning?

5. Combination Tanned Leather

The combination method of tanned leather results from the chrome and vegetable tanning techniques. Leather tanners use tree backs and chromium salts to convert pelts to leather. It is commonly used for soft garments, shoe uppers, and gloves.

Is It Safe to eat leather?

At this point, we have learned a lot about leather and you definitely know right now what you would be ingesting if you decide to eat any piece of leather.

The real question now is, is it safe to eat leather? And the real answer is, Yes! provided it is not tanned.

Leather prior to tanning is quite nutritious. Using tanning agents during the tanning process removes the nutrients and in most cases replaces it with toxins. The first notable mention of eating leather is Captain Sir John Franklin.

Captain Sir John Franklin during his overland expedition to find the North-West passage at a point in 1821 survived for several days on shoe leather. Compared to other crews who ate items like a sleeping robe, making soup with their shoe upper was quite a delicacy to some extent.

To eat a piece of leather, you must have access to water and fire as you will have to wash and boil the piece of leather very well before ingesting it. Bon Appetit!

It is important to add that, since we are all different and react differently to things, I will say this in no way shape or form an all-encompassing solution to a starvatous situation.

Related Questions

What are some of the pre-tanned leather delicacies?

Waakye and stewed pre-tanned leather (wele). Waakye is a Ghanaian dish made up of cooked rice and beans.

A typical waakye meal is served with vegetables, black sauce, boiled eggs, stewed meat or stewed fried fish, and stewed pre-tanned leather popularly known as wele.

There are other delicacies such as okro soup, palm nut soup, groundnut soup, etc. that’s often enjoyed with pre-tanned leather.

What is the composition of Leather?

Leather is broadly made up of collagen-based animal skins or hides, and tanning agents. Tanning agents render the skin or hide of animals imperishable, workable and durable for numerous leatherwork activities.

Leather (Natural) is usually from a cow, although goat, sheep are also alternative sources.


Hi! I’m Kwabena, the owner and founder of Favored Leather. I’m a huge Leathercraft enthusiast and I’ve been that for almost 13 years now. I'm excited to share my experiences and all the new stuff I learn each day about leather craft, leather cleaning & care, and everything in-between!

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