Can you eat leather?

In this brief guide, we’ll address the query: “Can you eat leather?” Also, we’ll address what leather is, where it is sourced from, what are some famous events in which leather has been used as sustenance, and why treated leather shouldn’t be eaten. 

Can you eat leather? 

In some instances, leather may be edible. Though this will depend on whether or not it’s been treated, and on how it’s been treated. 

As an animal product, leather is edible by nature but the process of making it rugged for everyday use (such as wear and tear) may involve the use of some substances that can permeate into the leather and make it potentially noxious to eat.

Raw leather is considered the safest to eat, as no substances have been used to treat it. Leather that has been tanned with vegetable oils may be edible, as can leather that has been tanned with chromium. 

However, leather that has been treated with organic solvents and tannins is not edible, as these substances may be noxious if ingested.  

What is leather? 

Leather is an animal product, used to refer to hides (skins) that have been treated and tempered, making them ideal to use as garments and protection from the elements. 

Unlike furs, leather is treated to remove most of the flesh, fat, hair, and other components that may spoil if left untreated. 

Animal hides are susceptible to rotting unless they’re stripped of organic components that may rot or otherwise go rancid, and cause spoilage. 

In short, leather is treated animal skin that has been subjected to chemical substances (sometimes natural, sometimes synthetic) to keep it from rotting. 

From there, it can be used to make various items such as belts, jackets, gloves, handbags, shoes, holsters, scabbards, and other items. 

Where is leather sourced from? 

Leather can be sourced from many types of animals. Most commonly, it can be made from the hides of livestock such as beef (steers and calves), pigs, and sheep. 

However, other animals such as big game species can also be used for leather. Animals such as crocodiles, big cats, bison, snakes, lizards, alligators, ostriches, elephants, cape buffalos, and many others can be sourced for their hides, and then have their skins treated to make leather. 

While some animal rights advocates argue that the practice of using animal skins to manufacture apparel isn’t ethical, others argue that in the case of livestock animals, not using the hides would constitute a waste. 

Additionally, in big game species, the right to hunt and exploit these animals is not free, as fees, registrations and licenses are purchases, which fund reserves and park ranger salaries. 

What are some famous events in which leather has been used as sustenance? 

There have been many instances throughout history in which chroniclers have documented the consumption of leather goods as a means of sustenance. 

Leather has never been a staple food in people’s diets, but on occasion, it has been recorded as being used as nourishment. 

The crew of the notorious pirate captain Lawrence Morgan was at one pushed to this fringe while embarking on a raid in Panama, and being poorly supplied, on account of them believing they could forage the wilderness for food. Nevertheless, by the fourth day of their expedition, they resorted to eating leather.  

On a separate occasion, in the 1970s, a family of outcasts was discovered in the Siberian wilderness and were reputed to have survived harsher seasons by eating leather. 

In the history of Rome, it was recorded that the Numantines were being starved by Roman forces, and resorted to eating leather and even other humans to survive,  

Why should treated leather not be eaten? 

Treated leather should not be eaten, because it may contain noxious chemicals. Notably, some hides may be tanned with organic solvents or other poisonous chemicals to wash away fat and other components of flesh that’ll rot. 

Leathers that are treated with tannins are also not fit for eating, as the tannins have anti-nutrient properties that will prevent you from absorbing nutrients from foods you consume. 

In short, leather that is processed but not treated with synthetic or organic solvents may be edible, but it is often the last resort and only regarded as food when no other options are available.


In this brief guide, we addressed the query “Can you eat leather?” Also, we addressed what leather is, where it is sourced from, what are some famous events in which leather has been used as sustenance, and why treated leather shouldn’t be eaten. 


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