Can you eat ivory? 

In this article, we will give a response to the question, “Can you eat ivory? We will also discuss the composition of ivory, sources of ivory, the restriction in sourcing ivory, and the uses of ivory.

Can you eat ivory?

No, you cannot eat ivory even though they are not poisonous per se, but just like you cannot eat the tooth of a human, you cannot equally eat ivory. Ivory is nothing but an extension of the teeth of some animals. This aside, there are legal restrictions on ivory obtained from Elephants and endangered species.

What is ivory?

Ivory is a hard white to a gray substance that is usually an extension of the incisor (part of the teeth) of some animals such as elephants, hippopotamus, and walrus, some toothed whales such as narwhals and sperm whales, and wild boars (wild pig), and warthogs. 

The elephant tusk which is the source of the most valuable ivory is rare and highly-priced. This is because it can grow to about 2 meters in length weighing about fifty pounds. The longest tusk is found in elephants of African descent while that from Asian elephants is generally shorter.

What is the composition of ivory?

Ivory is composed of predominantly a hard bone-like matter called dentine infused with collagen in a protective casing called enamel. Ivory is made of both organic and inorganic constituents. The inorganic components include calcium (most abundant), Phosphate (usually bonded to calcium), magnesium, and fluoride. Elements such as zinc, iron, and copper are also present in trace amounts.

The organic components are mainly collagen and amino acids (lysine, proline, hydroxylysine, and hydroxyproline). These components vary depending on where the ivory is sourced.

What are the various types of ivory?

There are two types of ivory: animal ivory and vegetable ivory. Vegetable ivory is produced from the endosperms of some trees such as palms, precisely palm trees belonging to the phytelephas genus.

Because the number of elephant species is increasingly depreciating, many countries have kept restrictions on the trade of animal ivory precisely that from elephants and other species classified by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) as endangered. Hence vegetable ivory is used as an alternative to elephant ivory.

Prior to the emergence of plastics, buttons for shirts were made from vegetable ivory. Also, vegetable ivory is used in the making of dice for tabletop gaming and also knife handles.

What are the general applications of ivory?

Ivory is very useful in diverse ways thus;

  • Ivory is widely used in Chinese Traditional Medicine (TCM) to treat various diseases. Ivory is converted into powder which is believed to be helpful in detoxifying the body. It is also used in managing parasitic infections in humans.
  • Ivory is used in the making of jewelry, piano parts, and similar objects of aesthetic significance.
  • Ivory also has industrial applications, especially in the making of some electrical appliances for parts of airplanes.

How beneficial is the collagen in ivory to humans?

The collagen in ivory makes them beneficial to humans in the following human endeavors;

Beauty Industry

Collagen has excellent skin revitalizing and rejuvenating potential, hence it is incorporated into many skincare products. The peptides in collagen are water-loving (hydrophilic) and hence can easily blend with the water phase in cosmeceutical products. They therefore can penetrate deeper into the skin thus assisting in the regeneration of skin cells.

Optical and mechanical applications

The structural orientation of the mineralized collagen fibers in ivory gives it impressive mechanical and optical properties. 

Art and Archaeology

Ivory is shaped into valuable crafts by taking advantage of its aesthetic properties (fineness of polished particles, luster, tactile appeal). Artifacts or sculptures carved from ivory have impressive aesthetic value and are generally durable.


The collagen in ivory is also very relevant in regenerative medicine for skin disorders such as wounds. Collagen can also be used as a drug delivery agent for targeted therapeutic effect.


In this article, we have answered the query, “can you eat ivory?” We have also discussed the structural and biochemical composition of ivory. We then went further to mention the major sources of ivory, as well the general applications and specific benefits of the major component of ivory to man.

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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.