What Does “Chew the Cud” Mean in The Bible?

“Chew the cud” or “bring up the cud” is a phrase that appears several times in the Bible, primarily in verses that discuss which animals are clean or unclean for eating. But what does it actually mean?


In the Bible, God gives instructions about which animals are acceptable to eat and which ones are prohibited. One of the criteria for whether an animal is clean or unclean is whether it chews the cud. For example, Leviticus 11:3 (NKJV) states:

Among the animals, whatever divides the hoof, having cloven hooves and chewing the cud—that you may eat.

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Deuteronomy 14:6 (NKJV) similarly says:

And every animal that has cloven hooves and chews the cud—you may eat.

So it’s clear that chewing the cud is an important distinction according to biblical dietary laws. But if you’re not a farmer or veterinarian, you may not know what “chewing the cud” actually means! Let’s take a closer look at what the Bible means when it refers to cud and cud chewing.

Key takeaways:

  • “Chewing the cud” or “bringing up the cud” refers to the process of ruminant digestion
  • Ruminants are animals like cows, sheep, and goats that have a 4-chambered stomach
  • They initially swallow their food without fully chewing, then later regurgitate and rechew it as “cud”
  • The Bible uses cud chewing to distinguish between clean and unclean animals
  • Clean animals like cows and sheep chew the cud, while unclean animals like pigs and camels do not
What Does "Chew the Cud" Mean in The Bible?

What are ruminants?

In order to understand cud chewing, it helps to know a bit about ruminant animals. Ruminants are hoofed mammals that have a unique digestive system that allows them to get nutrients from fibrous plant materials like grasses, leaves, and twigs.

There are about 150 ruminant species, including cows, sheep, goats, buffalo, deer, elk, giraffes, and camels.[1] These animals have a stomach that is divided into four compartments: the rumen, the reticulum, the omasum, and the abomasum. The rumen is the largest compartment, and it acts as a fermentation vat where microbes break down and digest fiber.[2]

The reticulum is sometimes called the “honeycomb” stomach because its lining forms honeycomb-like cells. The omasum absorbs water and other nutrients from digesta. Finally, the abomasum is similar to the stomach of non-ruminants, secreting gastric juices to continue digestion.

How do ruminants chew the cud?

Ruminants have a unique digestive process that involves regurgitating their food and chewing it again as “cud.” Here is the basic ruminant digestion process:

  1. The animal grazes and swallows vegetation without fully chewing it. The food travels to the rumen and reticulum.
  2. The food rests in the rumen, where it is broken down by microbes and softened. The reticulum separates out foreign objects like metal or plastic that the animal may have ingested.
  3. The rumen muscles contract and push up a ball of partially digested food called “cud” back to the animal’s mouth.
  4. The animal chews on the cud to break down fiber and further mix it with saliva. This is called “rumination” or chewing the cud.
  5. After chewing, the animal swallows the cud again, and it goes back to the rumen and reticulum for more microbial digestion.[3]
  6. Later, small amounts of digesta pass to the omasum to absorb nutrients. Indigestible material is eliminated as feces.

So in summary, “chewing the cud” refers to the process where ruminants regurgitate their partially digested food and rechew it before swallowing again for further digestion. This cycle of rumination allows ruminants to fully digest plant materials like grass.

Examples of ruminants and non-ruminants

The Bible distinguishes between clean animals that chew the cud and unclean animals that do not. So what are some examples of ruminants and non-ruminants?

Ruminants (chew the cud):

  • Cows
  • Sheep
  • Goats
  • Deer
  • Buffalo
  • Caribou
  • Camels
  • Llamas
  • Alpacas
  • Giraffes

Non-ruminants (do not chew the cud):

  • Pigs
  • Horses
  • Donkeys
  • Rabbits
  • Rodents
  • Hippos
  • Rhinos
  • Elephants
  • Humans

As you can see, the common livestock animals that God considered clean and acceptable to eat in the Bible—cows, sheep, and goats—are all ruminants. On the other hand, prohibited animals like pigs and camels do not have a four-chambered stomach or the digestive process of “chewing the cud.”

The purpose of the Mosaic dietary laws

God gave the Israelites instructions about clean and unclean animals when He was establishing them as His chosen nation. The Mosaic dietary laws served several purposes:

  • Spiritual – To remind the Israelites that they were set apart and holy unto God (see Leviticus 11:44-45)
  • Health – To protect the Israelites from disease. Pork was more prone to contain parasites and toxins.
  • Separation – To keep the Israelites distinct from neighboring pagan nations who ate unclean animals
  • Self-control – To teach discipline and obedience to God’s commands

So the laws concerning cud-chewing animals helped the Israelites honor God and maintain their status as the holy people of God. Knowing which animals ruminated helped them follow the standards God had set for their health and holiness.

Additional references to cud chewing animals

Besides the verses already mentioned, here are some other places the Bible refers to cud chewing animals:

  • Leviticus 11:4-6 lists the camel, the rock hyrax, and the hare as unclean because even though they chew the cud, they do not have divided hooves.
  • Deuteronomy 14:4-5 says that even though the camel, the hare, and the rock hyrax chew the cud, they should not be eaten because their hooves are not split.
  • Deuteronomy 14:7-8 permits the eating of cattle, sheep, goats, deer, gazelle, roebucks, wild goats, antelope, and mountain sheep because they all chew the cud and have cloven hooves.

So the Bible reiterates that cud chewing with split hooves makes an animal acceptable for food. Camels chew the cud but do not have divided hooves, so they remained prohibited. This distinction helped the Israelites understand God’s instructions completely.

Additional key takeaways

  • Only land mammals qualify as clean or unclean—the Mosaic law does not discuss the diet of seafood.
  • There is no mention of cud chewing in relation to clean and unclean birds—this distinction was likely based on the bird’s diet or type of prey.
  • While pigs do not chew the cud, archaeology suggests the prohibition against pork also had health benefits as swine were susceptible to parasites in the Ancient Near East.
  • Jesus declared all foods clean (Mark 7:19), indicating the Mosaic dietary regulations were fulfilled with His coming. They served an important purpose at the time but are not required anymore.


To “chew the cud” or “bring up the cud” refers to the ruminant digestive process where animals regurgitate partially digested food and rechew it as cud. The Bible described clean animals like cattle, sheep, and goats as those that chew the cud, while unclean animals like pigs and camels do not. This distinction helped the Israelites follow God’s guidelines for diet and holiness. While these ancient dietary laws served an important purpose, Jesus fulfilled them so that Christians are free to eat any food today. The key is to remember that all good gifts come from God and should be received with thanksgiving.

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