Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
Many of us have enjoyed the taste of wild game, from venison to rabbit and even squirrel. It’s a good bet that few of us have spent any time pondering mice or rats for dinner. That’s no surprise, but in many countries and cultures, mice and rats are a regular part of the menu.
Why Would Anyone Eat a Mouse or Rat?
A lot has to do with the culture and conditions in a society. In many parts of Asia and Africa, eating mice and rats is both accepted and routine. For many people in those areas, mice and rats are part of their regular cuisine, so there’s no hesitation when they show up at a meal.
There are also numerous examples of societies in turmoil due to civil war, drought, or economic collapse resulting in desperate efforts to find the most basic nutrition. In that regard, mice and rats define that basic nutrition, particularly as a source of protein.
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There’s a book titled “Unmentionable Cuisine.” It was written by Calvin W. Schwabe, and he covers the many cultures and occasions when mice and rats made the local menu. He also details mice and rat recipes popular in various countries, and we’ll cover a few of those as well.
Are Mice and Rats Safe to Eat?
Actually, no. A lot depends on their environment, diet, and the prevalence of any endemic diseases affecting the animals. Typically, mice and rats in the wild present the healthiest option from a food safety standpoint.
It’s the rats occupying sewers, subways, and alleys in cities that present the greatest threat when consumed. And contrary to popular belief, rats did not spread the black plague in Europe during the dark ages. Humans did.
Regardless, many people, when confronted with starvation, have been less than particular about the quality of their rat meat. Times of war or revolution often present the greatest challenges, resulting in the indiscriminate consumption of rodents.
There are also references to Pacific Islanders eating mice and rats simply because food sources are so limited on desert islands.
Is One Better Than the Other?
Many people believe that mice are preferable to rats as a food source. This occurs largely in Africa where rats are considered dirty, while mice are believed to be both safer to eat and better tasting.
Conversely, Asian cultures prefer rats over mice due to their larger size and local traditions. In India, there’s actually a holiday on March 7th where rats are consumed as part of a traditional feast…guts and all.
Mice and rats are members of the family rodentia. This is a large category of animals that includes mice, rats, voles, moles, squirrels, chipmunks, porcupines, hamsters, beavers, lemmings, muskrats, and guinea pigs. And for the record, rabbits are not rodents but were considered so up to 50 years ago.
There are some unique characteristics that define a rodent. One of the most prominent is that their teeth continue growing, requiring a rodent to constantly gnaw on anything they can get their teeth into to grind them down.
As a result, most rodents do not actively hibernate during winter, although they become less active. The good news is that they’re available year round—just in case.
If you step back and look at the nutritional value of a rat, you can see why they have historically been consumed by so many cultures.
It’s rare that nutritional values exceed 100% from any food source, but a quick look at the nutrition facts for an average adult rat exceeds the RDV (recommended daily value) for many nutrients including protein, calcium, Vitamin-A, and phosphorous.
Other values also present generous percentages. If you didn’t know it was a rat, you might wonder what this amazing food source could be. The nutrition is similar for mice, although their smaller size reduces the percentages, but pound for pound they are almost identical.
There are 4 species of rats populating North America. All are edible, assuming they are healthy, but the most common rat is also the largest and most prevalent, and probably your best bet.
It’s the Brown Rat, also known as the Norway Rat, and can be found on every continent except Antarctica. Other rats that could make the menu are smaller but still larger than the largest mouse.
Should You Start Eating Mice and Rats?
Probably not. But in times of extreme distress, disaster, or survival, mice and rats are a definite consideration. What’s important is to consider their habitat. Rodents in the wild from a natural area are going to be safer to eat.
City rats and mice are more problematic, especially if they’ve been spending any amount of time eating or drinking from a sewer or alley. Then again, desperate times call for desperate measures, and properly cooking them can go a long way toward making them safer to eat. Now all you have to do is catch them.
Rat and Mice Catching Skills
Rats and mice are nocturnal animals, so if you have any thoughts of actively hunting them, you better have night vision. Some will appear during the day when they are disturbed, but as a general rule any nocturnal animal openly and actively scurrying around during the day is either scared, starving, or rabid. As a result, actively hunting a healthy mouse or rat is difficult, leaving us to consider traps as a capture method.
And don’t assume that catching mice or rats is as easy is buying a bunch of spring loaded mouse or rat traps. Those traps are intended for extermination, and while they do an effective job at catching mice and rats, there’s a catch.
Most mice or rats killed by a spring loaded mouse or rat trap will be dead for hours unless you meticulously monitor them. And that’s bad. Even the cleanest, safest wild mouse or rat will pose a threat if it has been allowed to spoil for hours.
The best way is to capture and keep them alive so they’re as fresh as possible before you eat them. Otherwise, you’ll need to eat them immediately after they are killed.
One solution is the glue traps often used for mice and rats. If you’ve ever used a glue trap for mice, you’re familiar with the troubling appearance of a small animal quietly and desperately squealing while it struggles to free itself from a glue trap.
The good news is that’s exactly what you want if you’re trying to catch your lunch. Just don’t ignore them for too long because the animals will quickly exhaust themselves and die, and you’ll be no better off than if you used a spring loaded trap.
If you’re aware of a location populated by mice or rats, a pellet gun or BB pistol is another option. Don’t even think about firearms. Even a small caliber, small load .22 round will blow a rat to bits, and you may never find the mouse. In a pinch, a slingshot could work, or even rocks or a stick used as a club.
There are also traps designed to capture and keep mice and rats with self closing doors in the trap. Those are good, but be vigilant and check those traps often.
You can improvise a trap including a deep pit trap that a mouse or rat will fall into but can’t escape. You can use a frog gig or even a sharp stick to retrieve the rodent. Don’t even think about grabbing a live mouse or rat with your hand. They will bite and any wild animal bite is dangerous.
And for obvious reasons, don’t even think about using poison. All you’ll end up doing is poisoning yourself.
Cleaning and Skinning Rats and Mice
There are some YouTube videos that demonstrate simple ways to skin and gut mice and rats. It’s actually a little more complicated than you would think because of the small size of the animals. On a side note, some tribes have used mouse skins turned inside out as fingers on a glove. If you’re in a survival situation in winter without gloves, it’s worth remembering.
Eating Whole Mice
Some cultures don’t bother with skinning or gutting mice and simply cook them whole fur, bones, guts and all. A Canadian biologist named Farley Mowat lived on a diet of whole mice to prove that wolves were not attacking caribou and reindeer herds in the Canadian wilderness. Mowat never saw a wolf attack a reindeer but frequently observed them catching and eating field mice.
To prove a large mammal could live on mice, he made that his total diet. He cooked them a variety of ways but ate them whole the same way the wolves did. He survived in good health and later wrote a book titled Never Cry Wolf which was later made into a movie.
The Rat and Mouse Gourmet
Even if you’re not ready to put mice on the menu, it’s worth knowing a thing or two about cooking them in case events make them your easiest and maybe only source of regular protein. Most recipes grill the rodents over fire or coals, but they can also be boiled, barbecued, deep-fried, and even made into jerky.
So let’s get to cooking and review some of the most popular mouse and rat recipes. They tend to be very simple, and most recommend skinning and gutting the animal.
Stewed Cane Rat
- Skin and eviscerate the rat and split it lengthwise.
- Fry until brown in a mixture of butter and peanut oil.
- Cover with water, add tomatoes or tomato purée, hot red peppers, and salt.
- Simmer the rat until tender and serve with rice.
Stuffed Dormice / Ancient Rome
- Prepare a stuffing of dormouse meat or pork, pepper, pine nuts, broth, and some anchovy paste.
- Stuff the mice and sew them up.
- Bake them in an oven on a tile at 350º F for 25 minutes.
Roasted Field Mice (Raton de campo asado) / Mexico
- Skin and eviscerate the mice.
- Skewer them and add salt and pepper.
- Roast over an open fire or coals.
Farley Mowat shared this arctic explorer’s recipe for souris à la crème.
Mice in Cream (Souris à la crème)
- Skin, gut, and wash some fat mice without removing their heads.
- Cover them in a pot with alcohol and marinate for 2 hours.
- Cut a piece of salt pork or sowbelly into small dice and cook it slowly to extract the fat.
- Drain the mice, dredge them thoroughly in a mixture of flour, pepper, and salt, and fry slowly in the rendered fat for about 5 minutes.
- Add a cup of alcohol and 6 to 8 cloves, cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
- Prepare a cream sauce (béchamel).
- Transfer the sautéed mice to it and warm them in it for about 10 minutes before serving.
Fire Roasted Rats
- Skin, gut and wash the rat and remove the head.
- Skewer the rat so that the legs and arms are spread out from the body.
- Grill over open coals for 5 minutes a side, turning 3 or 4 times while basting with butter or oil.
- Salt and pepper the rat on the meat side and roast for another 5 minutes.
- Skin, gut, and wash the rat.
- Slice thin strips of meat from the rat.
- Marinate in soy sauce or saltwater for 2 hours.
- Place the rat meat in a dehydrator or on a charcoal grill off the coal side of the grill and indirect cook until the meat appears dry with jerky-like characteristics.
Would You Ever Have to Do This?
Hopefully not. There are usually plenty of wild options available from rabbit and squirrel to birds and frogs, and even possum before most of us would turn to mice or rats. A lot depends on circumstances and events. If you look back at the times and places when people saw rats as the only alternative to starvation, those times were very bleak indeed.
The only positive we might take out of this are those nutrition facts that define an excellent nutritional profile for rats and mice. Now we just have to get over the idea that what we’re actually eating is a rat or a mouse.
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