Can You Eat Opossum? Things to Know Before Dining

Virginia Opossum at Night
randimal/iStock via Getty Images

Written by Kristen Holder

Published: January 22, 2024

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Foodies and hunters know that there are many types of consumable meat outside of what’s normally available at the supermarket. Animals like pigeons, bears, kangaroos, alligators, and others all qualify as dinner plate fare. How about opossums? Can you eat opossum? Things to know before dining are covered below.

What Is An Opossum?

Virginia opossums are the only marsupial that's native to the United States.

Virginia opossums are the only marsupials that are native to the United States.

The Virginia opossum (Didelphis virginiana), colloquially known as the opossum or possum, is a marsupial about the size of a big house cat. This specific opossum is the only marsupial that’s native to the United States. There are other types of opossums endemic to the Americas, but this article focuses on the species found in the USA.

Where Do Opossums Live?

Opossums do best in habitats made by humans like suburbs and farmlands.

Opossums do best in habitats made by humans, like suburbs and farmlands.

Opossums can live in almost any habitat as long as there are hiding places and food sources. Some traditional habitats include mangroves, shrublands, and forests. However, they overwhelmingly prefer to live in habitats created by humans, like farmlands and suburbs.

When Europeans first arrived in North America, opossums only lived in the South. It took them a few centuries to make their way into the North and beyond. Today, they inhabit most of the continent. They followed people as human settlements came with easy access to food, water, and shelter.

Can You Eat Opossum?

Yes, opossums are edible. They were a regular food item for indigenous Americans, and this tradition was passed on to arriving Africans and colonizers. They were an especially popular meat source in African American communities since they could be hunted without guns.

Until the early twentieth century, opossums were considered worthy enough to be the center of a Thanksgiving dinner. That’s because opossums were fattest in the Fall which is the same time as this American holiday. They tasted the best, too, since they consumed in-season chestnuts, persimmons, and acorns at this time of year.

What Does Opossum Taste Like?

Opossum is traditionally served baked with sweet potatoes.

Opossum is traditionally served baked with sweet potatoes.

Opossum has been described as a pork-like meat. They’re high in fat with gamey flesh, and they have a reputation for being greasier than ducks or geese. The traditional way of eating them is baked with sweet or white potatoes, though they’re also good barbequed or roasted.

Making gravy from the opossum’s juices is the best way to experience the full taste of the animal. However, some prefer to serve their opossum with a cream sauce. They also make great stew meat.

How to Legally Harvest Opossum

In almost all areas of the United States, it is not illegal to shoot or trap opossums. However, sometimes, places have specific hunting seasons that need to be considered. There are also local ordinances that may be in place that will affect an opossum hunt.

To some farmers, opossums are considered varmints because they can destroy crops if their numbers are left unchecked. Hunters are sometimes deployed on private properties to harvest them en masse. Among these hunters, opossum meat is considered a valuable food commodity.

Some think that capturing an opossum alive and feeding it table scraps for up to a week is the best way to ensure a tasty experience. That’s because what an animal consumes affects the quality of their flesh. Since opossums eat a lot of different things like carrion and insects, feeding them better-tasting items makes for better eating.

How to Stay Safe Eating Opossum

As with all wild game, raw opossum meat should be handled with gloves and frozen for a week.

As with all wild game, raw opossum meat should be handled with gloves and frozen for a week.

As is the case with any harvested wild animal, there are health risks. When processing an opossum, you should wear gloves. Once the animal is cleaned and cut, wrap and freeze the meat for a week. This helps to ensure that unwanted larvae and parasites in the meat are killed.

Rabies is not a big concern when eating opossum. That’s because their body temperature is too low to make them huge harbingers of the disease. They can be carriers, but other wild animals, like foxes and raccoons, come with a much higher risk of infection.

Despite some health concerns, opossums come with less of a risk of tick-related disease than other wild critters. However, that isn’t because they dine on ticks in excess. It’s because they’re somewhat immune to a lot of the diseases that ticks carry.

Keep in mind that nothing shared here is a safety guarantee. As with all wild game, there is a risk of disease and infection when eating opossum despite all precautions taken.

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About the Author

Kristen Holder is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering topics related to history, travel, pets, and obscure scientific issues. Kristen has been writing professionally for 3 years, and she holds a Bachelor's Degree from the University of California, Riverside, which she obtained in 2009. After living in California, Washington, and Arizona, she is now a permanent resident of Iowa. Kristen loves to dote on her 3 cats, and she spends her free time coming up with adventures that allow her to explore her new home.

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