Can you eat coal?

In this brief guide, we will answer the question, “Can you eat coal?” with a thorough analysis of coal, the different types of coal, why do some people eat coal and the dangers associated with eating coal. 

Can you eat coal?

No, you can not eat coal. Coal is not edible. It is a non-food item that can be sharp and may disrupt your stomach lining. Also, you do not know whether it has bacteria, viruses, toxins or parasites on it. So, it is highly not recommended to eat coal. 

What is coal?

Coal is a sedimentary rock that has a brownish-black colour and is made up of carbon and hydrocarbons, which contain energy that can be released through combustion. 

Peat is the precursor to coal which is a soft, organic material made up of partially decayed plants and mineral substances. When peat is placed under heat and high pressure, it undergoes chemical and physical changes to form coal.

Uses of coal

Coal can be burned for fuel and is used to produce electricity. The heat generated by the burning of the coal is employed to convert water into high-pressure steam, which drives a turbine, generating electricity. 

Some types of bituminous coal are also used to make steel. The coal used in steel production should have high carbon levels and low phosphorus, moisture, ash, and sulfur content. Coal that has these characteristics is referred to as metallurgical coal. 

Coal also has a lot of other uses, for instance, coal is also used in producing cement, medicines, carbon fibres and foams, synthetic petroleum-based fuels, tars, and home and commercial heating.

Types of coal

Four major types of coal are known. These include:

Anthracite: Anthracite is the highest rank of coal. It is hard, black lustrous coal that breaks easily and is sometimes referred to as hard coal. It contains a high amount of fixed carbon and a low quantity of volatile matter.

Bituminous: This type of coal is middle-rank coal that comes between sub-bituminous and anthracite. Bituminous coal typically has a high heating point and is mostly used in the generation of electricity and steel production. It is patchy and appears shiny and smooth when you first see it but when you examine closely you will notice it has alternating, shiny, thin, and dull layers. 

Sub-bituminous: This type of coal is black and is mainly dull, unlike bituminous coal. It has low-to-moderate heating points and is mostly used in the generation of electricity.

Lignite: Lignite coal, also known as brown coal, is the lowest grade coal with the minimum amount of carbon. It has a low heating point and a high moisture content and is also used in the generation of electricity.

Why do pregnant women crave coal?

Coal craving is mostly due to a condition called pica. Pica is considered an eating disorder where you crave or eat non-food items that have no nutritional value such as coal, soap, soil, ice, washing powder, chalk and paper.

Anyone can have this disorder but it is especially common in pregnant women. Undoubtedly, cravings are normal during pregnancy. It is because women undergo extreme hormonal and physical changes during pregnancy and their sense of taste and smell can be greatly affected.

However, pica also often occurs if someone has the following conditions:

  • Intellectual developmental disorders
  • Iron-deficiency anaemia
  • Autism
  • Schizophrenia
  • Depression
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder 

While no one exactly knows what causes pica, it is thought to be induced by nutrient deficiency such as a lack of iron or zinc as well as by psychological reasons. In addition, pica is also sometimes linked with anaemia.

It is believed that this eating disorder could occur in pregnancy because the additional requirements by your body mean your diet might not satisfy all your nutritional needs. It is also assumed that a coal craving could be an indication of iron insufficiency, which can lead to a condition called iron-deficiency anaemia.

Anaemia is common in pregnant females and can be caused by extreme demands on your blood supply and circulation, abnormal bleeding and also by not consuming enough iron.

Why do we not get energy after eating coal?

Enzymes are particular in their function, which means specific enzymes are required for the breakdown of a particular substance. Since coal is made up of carbon, in the human body no enzyme can help in the release of energy from coal. That is why we do not get any energy when we eat coal, instead, we might vomit after eating coal. That is because carbon provokes irritation and it is also poisonous as it has hydrogen sulphide.


In this brief guide, we have answered the question, “Can you eat coal?” with a thorough analysis of coal, the different types of coal, why do some people eat coal and the dangers associated with eating coal. 


Hi, I am Charlotte, I love cooking and in my previous life, I was a chef. I bring some of my experience to the recipes on this hub and answer your food questions.