You’ve heard of “playing possum,” but do people actually eat them?
Many Americans cringe at the idea of eating possum meat. These critters are generally considered some of the nastiest vermin in our current culture.
But possums didn’t always have this reputation. Rumor has it that several historical American presidents adored this down-home dish. And the furry creature remains a popular treat in many cultures today.
Read on to learn more about this marvelous marsupial and whether it’s safe for human consumption.
What Is a Possum?
Possums are small marsupial animals that are native to the Australian continent. Although there are several breeds, the Brushtail possum is the most common. These omnivores survive on fruit, insects, small rodents, and even birds in their natural habitats.
Possums are furry everywhere except on their bellies and feet. They possess long, brushy tails that help them climb and nest in trees. These nocturnal critters hunt and move around primarily at night. Many Australian possums live near urban areas, having adapted to being near humans.
At birth, an infant possum is about the size of a bee. They stay near their mothers for their first few months of life before setting out on their own. Fully developed adults hunt and scavenge at night. They’re known for their bad eyesight, but their hearing and smell are quite powerful.
Are Opossums the Same as Possums?
If you live in North America, you probably mistake your neighborhood opossums for possums. But don’t worry. This is a common mistake! Despite being distinctly different from possums, the North American critters are usually called by the same name.
Like their Brushtail cousins, opossums are also marsupials that use pouches to carry their young. They’re also both nocturnal tree-dwellers that eat a varied diet. But that’s where the similarities end.
Unlike Brushtails, opossums grow as long as two or three feet. They also lack the bushy tail, possessing a naked pink tail instead. Young opossums use these pink tails to hang upside down from branches.
Brushtail possums lack the distinct, pointy snouts and sharp teeth of opossums. They also typically give birth to one offspring at a time, whereas their North American cousins birth whole litters. These offspring are called joeys.
Despite these differences, “possum” and “opossum” are used interchangeably in North American countries. Because of this, it’s easy to get them mixed up!
Why Would You Want to Eat a Possum?
You might find the thought of consuming possums and opossums pretty unappetizing. But these small marsupials are a common food source for many people worldwide. In fact, they’re a treat in several countries like Australia, New Zealand, New Guinea, Indonesia, and Sulawesi.
Opossum meat can be delicious. Creatures with healthy natural diets yield meat with a pleasant, mild flavor. The taste is similar to that of squirrel or rabbit meat. People frequently cook it with side dishes like carrots and potatoes.
Before cooking, you skin the whole opossum with its organs, head, and feet removed. A layer of fat between the fur and skin can be removed to avoid a gamey flavor. After this, the critter is ready to cook.
This meat is treated as a delicacy because it’s a very high-cholesterol food. It also contains a good deal of fat and protein.
Why You Might Not Want to Eat Possums or Opossums
Although possum and opossum meat is beloved in many countries, it’s not always tasty. Animals living in urban areas usually subsist on garbage and roadkill rather than healthy natural diets. This can ruin the flavor of their meat. These bad diets also give the flesh a greasy, unappetizing texture.
North American cultures don’t consider opossums a treat. Because of their reputation as vermin, they aren’t consumed much. Communities that eat opossum meat are typically poor and live in isolated rural areas.
But there’s another reason to avoid consuming these marsupials. They’re extremely beneficial as pest control providers. A single possum ingests an estimated 5,000 ticks per year! They also hunt other common pests like rats and snakes. And their natural resistance to diseases like rabies makes them perfect neighbors. For these reasons, many people welcome possums’ presence in their communities.
Can You Get Sick From Eating Possums?
Opossums are generally safe to eat. However, like most wild game, these creatures can carry several germs and diseases. Some may possess a bacteria that causes tularaemia, an illness with symptoms similar to the flu. They can also harbor the bacteria that causes tuberculosis.
To avoid foodborne illness caused by opossums, soak the meat in a salt-and-vinegar brine for at least 24 hours. This will help kill any bacteria that may be present. Once the meat is brined, cook it to a safe internal temperature of 165 degrees. These steps will ensure your meal is delicious and germ-free.
What President Ate Possums?
The opossum has waned in popularity over the years. However, it used to be a common dish throughout the American south, especially in Black communities. Because of this reputation, many American presidents are said to have used opossum-based meals as political theater.
Rumor has it that President Benjamin Harrison ate the animals. According to the Presidential Pet Museum, Harrison had two pet opossums. But additional documentation, including a letter where he requested two opossums ahead of winter weather, suggests they might have been food rather than pets.
President Theodore Roosevelt was also said to consume the critter. After inviting Booker T. Washington to dine at the White House, rumors circulated that the meal included “possum ‘n taters,” a popular southern dish. Roosevelt even received an opossum in the mail, which he announced he would eat.
Following his predecessors’ footsteps, President William Taft once requested a “possum feast” for an Atlanta dinner. Taft understood this as a move that would generally appeal to southerners but especially to people in Black communities.
Would You Eat a Possum?
Despite their murky reputation in North America, opossums and possums are a common food source across the globe. Those who enjoy them often consider them a delicacy! These marsupials are perfectly safe to eat when correctly sourced and cooked. Whether eaten for fun or as a political stunt, possums will remain part of people’s diets for a long time.
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