Since meeting Hannibal Lector, many have quietly asked themselves "What does human taste like?" According to several famous cannibals, it's not that different from the meat you already eat.
When The Silence of the Lambs was released in the early 1990s, it popularized the novel’s villainous Hannibal Lector, a man known for literally having friends for dinner. Since the film’s release, the taboo act of cannibalism has left many curious, with most even quietly asking themselves: “What does human taste like?”
Well, human flesh falls into the category of red meat and, by most accounts, has the consistency of beef. The taste is much more subtle according to anecdotes from humans who have actually dined on human flesh.
William Seabrook, an author and journalist, traveled to West Africa in the 1920s where he documented, in great detail, his experience with a cannibal tribe. Upon returning to Paris after his journey, Seabrook visited a local hospital for human meat and cooked it himself.
It was like good, fully developed veal, not young, but not yet beef. It was very definitely like that, and it was not like any other meat I had ever tasted. It was so nearly like good, fully developed veal that I think no person with a palate of ordinary, normal sensitiveness could distinguish it from veal. It was mild, good meat with no other sharply defined or highly characteristic taste such as for instance, goat, high game, and pork have. The steak was slightly tougher than prime veal, a little stringy, but not too tough or stringy to be agreeably edible. The roast, from which I cut and ate a central slice, was tender, and in color, texture, smell as well as taste, strengthened my certainty that of all the meats we habitually know, veal is the one meat to which this meat is accurately comparable.
Armin Meiwes, who ate nearly 40 pounds of meat from a man who actually agreed to be his meal, said in an interview from prison that human flesh tastes rather like good pork only a bit tougher and a bit more bitter.
Issei Sagawa, who is currently roaming Tokyo as a free man, spent two days eating a 25-year-old woman he had killed as a student in Paris. He’s gone on record to note that the buttocks melted on his tongue like raw tuna and that his favorite meat was the thighs, which he described as “wonderful.” However, he also said that he didn’t like the breasts because they were too greasy.
These anecdotes are perhaps the most credible and most detailed, but others have weighed in on what human meat tastes like.
A few infamous cases from the 1920s in Europe seem to point towards a pork-like flavor profile.
Prussian serial killer Karl Denke sold the parts of 40 victims as pickled pork at a village market. German madmen Fritz Haarmann and Karl Grossmann marketed their “products” as pork in the black market, with the latter even selling his meat from a hot dog stand.
Two other anecdotes, both from America, say that human meat is very sweet to the taste. Alferd Packer killed five members of his Rocky Mountains expedition in the late 1800s when provisions ran low. The intrepid explorer told a journalist in 1883 that the breast muscle was the sweetest meat he ever tasted.
Omaima Nelson, who killed and ate her abusive husband in 1991, said his ribs were very sweet. However, that could have been because of the barbecue sauce she dipped them in.
Although eating humans for meat is generally taboo, there are some historic instances in which cannibalism was necessitated by circumstance.
Sailors called the practice “the custom of the sea.” The idea was that if provisions were running low or there is an emergency at sea with no possible rescue in the foreseeable future, crew members would cast lots to determine which person would be killed and eaten first.
Sometimes crews would cannibalize people who were already dead, thereby obviating the need to draw lots. Just as in nature, no good meat went to waste. The custom of the sea went on for centuries up until the late 1800s. That’s because, at the time, sailors generally had no idea when they would see land again if they became lost or stranded.
In terms of human survival, cannibalism actually saved the lives of the 16 survivors of the 1972 Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 air disaster. The crash site was so remote that it took rescuers 72 days to find the survivors.
Cannibalism of the 29 dead directly contributed to the miraculous survival of those 16 people. The decision to eat the dead did not come lightly. Some of the dead were friends, colleagues, and teammates of those who lived.
Even more than 45 years later, cannibalizing the dead from that crash still haunts some of the survivors. They turned the frozen flesh of the dead bodies into strips of meat that dried in the sun. The survivors gradually ate the flesh when they had the courage to do so.
For obvious moral and health concerns, cannibalism is not something to trifle with. However, if you ever find yourself low on provisions and stranded with little hope of survival, at least you now know that human meat probably isn’t the worst tasting protein in the world.