Anytime I talk to people about eating different animals and mention beaver, I’m often met with a discerning look, and “what, can you eat beaver?”
I’m living proof that you can indeed eat beaver. When prepared properly, it is delicate meat with a subtle yet desirable taste.
Can People Eat Beaver?
As I mentioned briefly above, beaver meat is perfectly edible. I frequently eat beaver meat, and it makes up as much a part of my diet as venison or other wild game.
People are often unsure about eating beaver meat because it is an aquatic animal. Like other aquatic mammals like muskrat, people do not know if they are edible.
People understand venison and duck because they can compare them to beef, chicken, or even farm-rared ducks.
However, because people have nothing to compare beaver to, it’s often assumed it is not edible.
What people fail to realize is that there are many hunters and trappers that eat beavers every year.
Washington state estimates that there are approximately 1000 beavers trapped every year. While in Minnesota, there are an estimated 2000 beavers trapped every year.
However, because wanton waste laws typically apply to either the meat or the fur of the beaver, it’s difficult to estimate how many of these beavers are eaten.
All I can say is that any trapper or hunter I know consumes the meat of any beaver that they harvest.
At current rates for fur, the meat is almost as valuable as the fur.
Health Risks of Eating Beaver
The main concern or curiosity surrounding beaver meat is health risks. Again this mainly arises from the mystique of this animal.
Often, terms such as “beaver fever” make people doubt eating beaver.
However, there are very few risks with eating beaver meat. As with most wild game, if it is properly prepared and cooked, then the meat is perfectly edible.
As the government of Canada’s Northwest Territories put it “The benefits of consuming beaver are much greater than the risks of contaminant exposure.”
They also went on to explain that the only concern they had was some slightly elevated levels of the heavy metal cadmium, but it is still safe to consume a moderate amount of beaver livers.
Giardiasis is commonly associated with beavers, hence the name beaver fever. However, although beavers can spread giardia, they are not alone.
Many animals spread this parasite, and studies have shown that muskrats carry more cysts than beavers. It’s also common for infected humans to spread this disease.
But most importantly, eating beaver meat contains no risk of contracting giardiases. The cysts or parasites are spread through contact with infected animal feces and not in the meat or fur of the animal.
What does Beaver Meat Taste Like
I like talking about the different foods I eat. Often people are most curious about meats or animals that I have eaten.
However, describing the taste of meat is usually more difficult than fruit or veg.
Nonetheless, I will try my best to describe the taste of beaver meat.
First, we should look at an animal’s diet to get an idea of the taste of the meat. This is why in a store, you will often see beef advertised as grass-fed or chicken as corn-fed.
An animal’s diet has a direct impact on the taste. Beavers feed on a range of plant materials. The main food that they eat is aquatic plants such as water lilies, cattails, watercress, etc.
In winter, there is less soft vegetation, so beavers consume more woody materials this time of year, such as tree bark.
So a beaver harvested in winter may taste different than a beaver harvested in summer.
However, the difference is subtle, at least amongst the beavers I have eaten.
Most of the beaver meat I have eaten had an extremely mild flavor, akin to a cross between veal and beef.
Beaver is red meat but has a much paler hue than beef or venison.
The meat of a beaver is mild, with a slightly sweet and woody flavor to it. While it is a great meat for holding the flavoring of the seasonings you use around it, it is best to make sure that your seasonings complement the sweet woody flavor of the beaver meat.
Beaver can be used in many places that call for beef or venison. However, while the texture is similar, the flavor does differ, I much prefer beaver over beef, and depending on the dish, it can outperform venison.
Nutritional Value of Beaver Meat
One great thing about beaver meat (besides the taste) is its nutritional value.
Beaver meat is packed with vitamins, minerals, and protein. It’s also low in fat because beavers store most of their fat in their tails.
If we take a look at a boneless roasted 1-pound piece of beaver meat, we can see that it contains 3.8 ounces of protein.
It also contains high levels of calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, and selenium.
It’s also worth noting that beaver meat contains only 366.21 mg of cholesterol, whereas a similar piece of beef contains 420 mg of cholesterol.
History of Eating Beavers
While eating beaver isn’t much popular today, it was once a prevalent part of early settlers’ diets.
Natives, Euro-Americans, and Canadian explorers depended on beaver meat as an integral part of their diet.
In the case of the first Europeans in Canada, beaver meat was often a by-product of their business activity.
Much of the activity there was around trapping, leaving much meat for people to consume.
Beaver tails were often a part of many people’s diets come winter, as they contained much-needed fat.
Beaver tails were often welcomed treat during the Lewis and Clark expedition. They noted in their diaries that beaver tails were one of their favorite things to eat.
They also consumed much beaver meat, with a total of 113 beavers harvested during their trip, according to their diary.
Preparation and Cooking Methods
As I mentioned above, beaver can be substituted for beef in most dishes, but pay attention to the seasonings uses, as a beaver is milder and sweeter than beef.
The most common way of cooking beaver is roasting or stewing. It’s common for people to soak game meat like a rabbit in milk or buttermilk to try and remove the “gamey” taste. However, I have never found this necessary for beaver.
In my opinion, beaver would be the opposite of gamey; I find it to be an extremely tender and mild flavored meat.
Some ideas that spring to mind are roast beaver, beaver stew, and beaver tacos.
Essentially the options are unlimited.
When preparing beaver, I like to handle it much the same as rabbit or raccoon.
Much of the meat of a beaver is in the legs and backstrap, I typically quarter it and cook the meat bone-in, I remove the tail for cooking later. Beaver tail is also an edible part of the beaver, although it is an acquired taste. It can also be rendered and used for bait.
When quartering the animal, it is important to be careful of the castor.
A beavers castor is its scent glands, and while often used in perfume, it’s a very pungent and concentrated scent that you don’t want to contaminate your meat with.
The castor sac is located between the pelvis and the tail. Gently remove this before butchering the animal.
So there you have it, beaver is not only edible, it is tasty, nutritious meat similar to beef that our ancestors have dined on for many years.
There are few health risks with eating beaver, but many benefits.
Rusty enjoys connecting food and nature and has done so since a child. He was fortunate enough to explore cuisine worldwide and work at great European restaurants. He now enjoys thinking up new recipes that he can find around him in nature in North America.