Human Flesh Looks Like Beef, But the Taste Is More Elusive | Smart News | Smithsonian

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Human flesh might resemble this nice beef fillet. (Photo: Alpha)

Human Flesh Looks Like Beef, But the Taste Is More Elusive

It's like pork. Or maybe veal.

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Even if you have no desire to eat the flesh of fellow humans, it's not so uncommon to wonder from time to time what human flesh looks and tastes like. io9 recently took up the first question and explained that human flesh firmly falls into the red meat camp. Beef, they concluded, would be the closest visual equivalent of a human fillet or rump roast. io9 explains the science behind the color:

Muscle's red color can be traced to the presence of a richly pigmented protein called myoglobin and, more specifically, hemes, the chemical compounds that myoglobin uses to bind and store oxygen as a fuel source for active muscles. 

According to the Meat Science section of Texas A&M University's Department of Animal Science, pork, lamb and beef average 2, 6 and 8 milligrams of myoglobin per gram of muscle (that translates to a myoglobin concentration of 0.2%, 0.6% and 0.8%), respectively. 

The concentration of myoglobin in human muscle tissues is relatively high – even relative to pigs, sheep and cows, coming in at close to 20 mg per gram of certain muscle fibers, or a 2% concentration of myoglobin.

But, according to the testimony of people who have actually eaten other people, the taste of human meat does not reflect its beef-like appearance. Both serial killers and Polynesian cannibals have described human as being most akin to pork. But not all cannibals agree with this description. William Seabrook, an author and journalist, traveled to West Africa in the 1920s and later described an encounter with man-flesh in great detail in his book, Jungle Ways. Human, he said, in fact tastes like veal. Here's Seabrook's description

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.

This account is the most descriptive to date, but it has also been called into question. As Slate reports, Seabrook "later confessed that the distrustful tribesmen never allowed him to partake in their traditions." Instead, the author insisted that he attained samples of human flesh from a Parisian hospital and cooked it up himself.  

Regardless of Seabrook's credibility, however, Slate points out that, like any meat, the flavor of human would likely depend a great deal on how it is prepared, and also what cut is sampled. The Azande tribe's human stew likely tastes entirely different from the deep-fried, parsley-strewn human genitals a Japanese exhibitionist artist recently served at a dinner party. In the end, both pork and veal might be accurate approximations to the flavor of human meat, though—thankfully—most will never find out for themselves. 

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