How Does Human Flesh Taste? This Is What The Science Says

Published July 1, 2023
Updated February 23, 2024

Technically considered red meat, most accounts say human flesh tastes like pork with a consistency of beef. But this is what the science says.

What Does Human Taste Like

Wikimedia CommonsAn engraving of human cannibalism by Theodor de Bry based on Hans Staden’s account of his 1557 captivity in Brazil.

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 some quietly pondering “What does human taste like?”

Obviously, it would be better not to put this question to the test as, while cannibalism is not technically a crime in the United States, the process by which any person could obtain or consume human meat is most certainly outlawed. Plus, it’s still rather frowned upon by most people.

Still, no one could be blamed for their morbid curiosity. Fortunately — or perhaps, unfortunately, depending on how you look at it — there is an answer to this question. Known cannibals have shared their experiences with this most taboo of meats, to satiate the inquisitiveness of those who want to know but would never try it for themselves.

So, what do the experts have to say about human meat?

Human Flesh Apparently Tastes Like Beef, But More Subtle

Human flesh technically falls into the category of red meat and, by most accounts, has the consistency of beef. The taste, however, is much more subtle according to anecdotes from people 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 own experience with a cannibal tribe in his book Jungle Ways.

William Seabrook

Wikimedia CommonsWilliam Seabrook, the journalist who allegedly partook in cannibalism on at least one occasion.

According to Slate, however, there is some issue regarding the validity of Seabrook’s description, as the cannibal tribe he interacted with never trusted him enough to let him partake.

Rather, Seabrook said that upon returning to Paris after his journey, he visited a local hospital for human meat and cooked it himself. Of his dish, he wrote:

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.

Whether Seabrook truly ate a body he had acquired from a hospital or not, his description remains one of the most detailed, at least from what could be considered an academic sense. Seabrook, however, was not a known cannibal, aside from this singular instance (and perhaps another, though he could never confirm it).

There are other accounts, though, from cannibals who did not approach this foul meal from the perspective of a journalist or academic, but rather an insatiable desire to chow down on human flesh.

How Do Cannibals Describe The Taste Of Human Meat?

Armin Meiwes, who ate nearly 40 pounds of meat from a man who actually agreed to be his meal, said once in an interview from prison that human flesh tastes rather like good pork, only a bit tougher and a bit more bitter.

“The first bite was, of course, very strange,” he said. “It was a feeling I can’t really describe. I’d spent over 40 years longing for it, dreaming about it. And now I was getting the feeling that I was actually achieving this perfect inner connection through his flesh. The flesh tastes like pork but stronger.”

Issei Sagawa, who spent most of his life as a free man in Tokyo, spent two days eating a 25-year-old woman he had killed as a student in Paris.

Issei Sagawa

Noboru Hashimoto/Corbis via Getty ImagesIssei Sagawa died at age 73 in December 2022.

He had spoken at length about what human meat taste likes, and has said 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.

A few infamous cases from the 1920s in Europe also 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 also marketed their “products” as pork in the black market, with the latter even selling his meat from a hot dog stand.

Mongol Cannibalism

Wikimedia CommonsA depiction of Mongol cannibalism from the Chronica Majora.

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 later told a journalist in 1883 that the breast muscle was the sweetest meat he had 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 considered taboo, however, there have been some unfortunate circumstances throughout history which necessitated cannibalism — and the accounts can be harrowing.

Times Humans Were Forced To Each Each Other To Survive

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.

Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571

YouTubeSurvivors of the Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571 air disaster.

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 five decades 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 take lightly. 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.

Now that you know the answer to what humans taste like, read about Michael Rockefeller and the cannibals behind his disappearance. Then learn about a Jameson’s heir dark history of cannibalism.

William DeLong
A graduate of Missouri State University with a degree in English and creative writing, William DeLong is a freelance wordsmith who has written approximately 40,000 articles since 2009.
Austin Harvey
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Austin Harvey has also had work published with Discover Magazine, Giddy, and Lucid covering topics on mental health, sexual health, history, and sociology. He holds a Bachelor's degree from Point Park University.
Cite This Article
DeLong, William. "How Does Human Flesh Taste? This Is What The Science Says.", July 1, 2023, Accessed April 20, 2024.