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Is Leather Edible? – A Mix of Science and Stories

Imagine you’re really hungry, and there’s nothing to eat in the fridge. Do you consider munching on that leather jacket? Is leather edible? I will discuss the science and stories behind whether leather is actually edible.

Most leather is not safe to eat, but some leather is considered edible, including vegetable tanned, untanned, fruit, and vegetable “leather.” Historically, people have eaten leather in times of famine, but it lacks nutrition and is mainly unsafe to eat and not for long-term survival.

Have you ever wondered if people could eat leather? If there was an apocalypse and severe food shortages, would you rather forage for food or eat your leather wallet?

Is Leather Edible?

According to some sources, the short answer to whether or not leather is edible is yes; however, it is not suggested that anyone should consume it. Leather is usually processed and tanned with methods that render it completely unsafe and inedible.

What We’ll Explore

  • Clearing up Myths & Misconceptions
  • Did People Historically Eat Leather
  • Is Leather Edible Overview Table
  • Why You Might Think Leather is Edible
  • Is Leather Safe to Eat?
  • Is Leather Edible if it’s Untanned?
  • Can You Survive by Eating Leather?
  • Does Leather Contain Nutrients?
  • Is Vegan Leather Edible?
  • My Personal Research Into Leather’s Edibility
  • Helpful Insights About Leather’s Edibility
  • Key Takeaways
Rolls of Edible Fruit Leather - Is Leather Edible - Liberty Leather Goods
Rolls of Edible Fruit Leather

Clearing Up Myths & Misconceptions

One misconception about leather is that because it is animal skin, it can be eaten. This is false because many types of leather are treated with chemicals or made with plastic that would be harmful to eat.

Another myth regarding the ability to eat leather is that people can survive by eating leather when food is scarce. While the Donner party may have done this briefly, humans cannot survive on heavily boiled, untanned leather alone.

When speaking of wallets, jackets, rugs, or shoes, leather is absolutely unsafe to eat.

Did People Historically Eat Leather

In historical times (well before tanning was invented in 1819), there were occasions when people had to eat leather to survive. The Jerusalem Siege in 70 CE lasted five months and led to famine, so defenders ate leather armor and shields to survive. The year 1559 saw travelers in Tristan de Luna also eating leather during the extended expedition. 

Is Leather Edible Overview Table

Chrome tanned leatherInedible
Vegetable tanned leatherEdible
Oil tanned leatherEdible
Synthetic tanned leatherInedible
Faux leatherInedible
Characteristics of Edible Leather

Why You Might Think Leather is Edible

Leather is made from animal hides or skins from cows, sheep, snakes, alligators, and more, so one might think it is edible because we eat fried or roasted chicken with the skins. We often send our children to school with fruit leather (fruit roll-ups) in their lunches.

According to researchers Wahyuni et al., vegetable leather or nori is used to make traditional Japanese sushi and other foods. So in those cases, leather is edible, but in most cases, it is not. 

Is Leather Safe to Eat?

When speaking of wallets, jackets, rugs, or shoes, leather is absolutely unsafe to eat. This leather is tanned using chrome salts and other processing agents that make the leather durable and long-lasting. These chemicals are not for human consumption and can lead to serious illness.

Faux leather may not be tanned, but it contains synthetic materials and plastics that are also unsafe to eat. Finishes, dyes, and other chemicals used to make and process leather are good for durability but not for consumption.

Watch this short video from Hermann on how to make edible leather — fruit leather!

Is Leather Edible if it’s Untanned?

Untanned leather is considered safe to eat, but that doesn’t mean one should eat it if resources are scarce. It does have high levels of water and protein but not much else in terms of nutritional value. Untanned leather would have to be boiled for several hours to make it soft enough to consume, and the flavor is probably nothing like fried chicken.

Can You Survive by Eating Leather?

Once upon a time, when resources were scarce and one had to fight for survival, it was said that people had to eat things like leather. Thankfully we live in a time now where resources are relatively plentiful, transportation and delivery are available, and eating leather isn’t something one needs to consider. 

That being said, one can survive temporarily in part by eating vegetable or oil tanned or untanned leather. Vegetable and oil tanned leather is processed and preserved using vegetable byproducts and fish oil, respectively, which are not harmful to consume.

It would take boiling for several hours to render it soft enough to eat, but unless we find ourselves in some type of apocalypse, eating one’s wallet or belt shouldn’t be necessary. 

Does Leather Contain Nutrients

Leather does not contain the essential nutrients for long-term survival. It may have a high quantity of water and protein, but it will not sustain anyone for a significant time. It has no vitamins or minerals, no antioxidants or fiber, and is unhealthy to consume.

Is Vegan Leather Edible?

Vegan leather is actually edible in some cases because it is made from plant products. There are vegan leathers made from paper, pineapple leaves, mushrooms, and apple skins that would be safe to eat. Other vegan leathers contain polyester, cotton, polyurethane (PU) or polyvinyl chloride (PVC), and cork that would not sit well in a human’s digestive tract. 

My Personal Research Into Leather’s Edibility

People have historically eaten leather for survival in tough times, but would they do it now? I polled friends and family to see if there was an apocalypse or similar event that wiped out resources. Would they consider eating leather? I then asked them to expand upon why they would or wouldn’t consume leather products.

Would You Consume Leather?PercentageReasons
No77%1. It’s not edible
2. Chemicals used to tan are toxic
3. It would be too chewy
4. No flavor
5. It’s just not right
6. Would rather keep for warmth or protection
7. Are you crazy?
Yes23%1. Only for survival
2. Temporarily until other resources are found
3. Better than eating bugs or people
Top Reasons For (Not) Eating Leather

Helpful Insights About Leather’s Edibility

Can you eat a leather jacket?

In most cases, no, you cannot eat a leather jacket. Most leather jackets are chrome tanned, meaning heavy metals and salts are used to process and tan the leather to make it durable and preserve the material. If it is a faux leather jacket, it is definitely not edible because it is made with different types of plastic that are not good for human consumption.

Can humans eat leather?

It is not recommended for humans to eat leather. Tanning and processing of leather add chemicals and heavy metal salts that are considered toxic. Untanned leather may be considered safe to eat, but it is lacking in nutritional value and not suggested for consumption.

Can leather be made into food?

No, leather can not specifically be made into food. It can be tenderized and boiled to make it less tough, but it is not considered food. There are much better sources of nutrition than leather!

Is there protein in leather?

Leather is an animal product and is high in protein at about 30–35%. Technically humans need protein to survive and be healthy, but it should come from animal meat or fruits and vegetables rather than leather. Besides, a cheeseburger tastes much better than untanned leather!

How does leather taste?

People have reported that leather needs salt and seasoning because it is gamey and tough. After washing and boiling it for several hours, some have reported that leather has an earthy taste and is tough. Some vegetable tanning creates a bitter taste, so not very pleasant to eat.

Key Takeaways

  1. Vegetable or oil tanned and untanned leather is considered safe to eat but not recommended for human consumption.
  2. Vegan leather from pineapple leaves, apple skins, and other plant sources is safe to eat but not recommended.
  3. In general, leather is unsuitable for human consumption as it does not contain essential nutrients.

In Closing

Some leathers may be considered safe to eat; however, they should be kept as a very last resort if one is in a dire situation. Far too many unknowns and unsafe substances are used to make many types of leather, so it is not worth the risks involved. I don’t know about you, but I’d much rather eat plants and bugs than chew on my shoes!

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