Can you eat gunpowder?

In this brief article, we are going to answer the question “Can you eat gunpowder?”. We will discuss the common myths surrounding it and the dangerous side effects that its ingestion can cause. We will take a closer look at its constituents and determine their uses and harmful effects. 

Can you eat gunpowder?

No, you can not eat gunpowder. Eating it means you are ingesting potassium nitrate (saltpeter), sulfur, and carbon. All of these can cause harm and even cause death if ingested in high quantities.

You will not be harmed by the elemental sulfur, which will flow through you. Because your gut has no mechanism for absorbing carbon, it will likewise flow right through you.

However, nitrate can be an issue, especially if it is partially converted to nitrite. Nitrite might induce methemoglobinemia, which is dangerous because it stops red blood cells from transferring oxygen. 

In the long run, too much nitrite consumed without enough ascorbic acid can result in the formation of nitrosamines, which are recognized carcinogens.

Although it is a common myth that it was used to preserve food, saltpeter, one of the ingredients of gunpowder, can keep meat from spoiling. Saltpeter, called potassium nitrate mixed with salt, was used to cure meat before storing it.

What is gunpowder?

The first known chemical explosive is gunpowder, usually called black powder to distinguish it from current smokeless powder. Sulfur, charcoal, and potassium nitrate (saltpeter) are all present. Sulfur and carbon serve as fuels, whereas saltpeter serves as an oxidizer. Gunpowder has long been employed as a propellant in firearms, rocketry, artillery, and pyrotechnics.

Ingestion of gunpowder can be lethal to health. There is a rare case study showing the effect of taking gunpowder as a medication, which resulted in Stevens-Johnson’s syndrome. 

History of gunpowder

The earliest verifiable mention of what might be termed gunpowder in China was in the 9th century AD under the Tang dynasty in 808, and then around 50 years later in the Zhenyuan Miaodao yaolüe, a Taoist treatise.  

According to ancient Taoist writings, Chinese alchemists invented gunpowder as an unintended result of their efforts to manufacture the elixir of life. Its name in Chinese is huoyao, which means “fire medicine,” which reflects its experimental medical origins. Saltpeter and sulfur have been used in a variety of therapeutic combinations.

What is saltpeter in gunpowder?

Saltpeter (potassium nitrate) is an ionic salt comprising potassium ions K+ and nitrate ions NO3 that has been used in fertilizer and pyrotechnics. If potassium nitrate is ingested, it can be fatal. It can cause renal damage, anemia, migraines, and digestive problems, among other things.

Saltpeter is a group of nitrogen-containing chemicals that includes potassium nitrate.

Pesticides and explosives include potassium nitrate. It can be present in soil and plants in their natural state. Potassium nitrate is commonly used in propellants and fireworks. It has been used as a food preservative since the Middle Ages and is one of the key elements in gunpowder (black powder).

Preservatives containing nitrates damage blood vessels, limit insulin production and alter blood glucose management, all of which may raise the risk of illness and diabetes. Exercise caution when curing meat at home, measure curing salts carefully, and rigorously follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Excessive nitrate consumption should be avoided.

Potassium nitrate is used to preserve ham and other meats and seafood. Curing removes moisture from the meat and kills microorganisms. The United States Department of Agriculture limits the use of saltpeter, which is poisonous at high concentrations.  

Food preservation

Since the Middle Ages, potassium nitrate has been a frequent component in salted meat for food preservation, although its usage has mostly been phased out due to uneven outcomes when compared to more contemporary nitrate and nitrite compounds. Even yet, saltpeter is still used in select foods.

The chemical is known as E252 when used as a food additive in the European Union; it is also allowed for use as a food additive in the United States.

Nitrate salts can produce carcinogenic compounds nitrosamine and can cause long-term detrimental effects.

Prevention of Botulism

Botulism is caused by a bacterium called “Clostridium Botulinum,” which can lead to death. Saltpeter is used to eliminate the bacteria that cause botulism during the curing process.  

What are the potential side effects of saltpeter?

When inhaled, potassium nitrate or saltpeter can cause eye and skin irritation, irritate the nose and throat, resulting in sneezing and coughing. High amounts can impair the blood’s capacity to transport oxygen, resulting in headaches, weariness, dizziness, and a blue tint to the skin and lips. 

Higher amounts can induce breathing difficulties, collapse, and even death. Potassium nitrate has the potential to harm the kidneys and induce anemia.


In this brief article, we answered the question “Can you eat gunpowder?”. We discussed the common myths surrounding it and the dangerous side effects its ingestion can cause. We took a closer look at its constituents and determined their uses and harmful effects. 

Hope you found this blog resourceful, let us know what you think.


Was this helpful?

Thanks for your feedback!