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Mussels: A Cheap and Sustainable Seafood Option

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Mussels: A Cheap and Sustainable Seafood Option

Not unlike their bivalve cousin, the oyster, mussels are exceedingly delicious and a surprisingly sustainable seafood option. While not as dignified and high culture as the oyster, the mussel is part of the bivalvia mollusca family (like the clam) and exist in both freshwater and seawater and are commonly consumed smoked, boiled, steamed, roasted, barbecued or fried in butter. Sure there are bad mussels out there (I personally have had a dark night of the soul with one of them) but as long as you know a few rules and practice a certain amount of caution, you are more likely to get sick from a jar of peanut butter than a fresh mussel.

Safety is one thing, but with most seafood being a decidedly unsustainable luxury these days, it is refreshing to learn that mussels are almost always farmed sustainably and they naturally filter the water they are cultivated in (think of them as shelled Britta filters). While not all mussels are palatable to humans (the ones we don’t eat the birds and other marine life will certainly enjoy) at least 17 varieties are cultivated for human consumption, with the most common being the Mytilus edulis, M. galloprovincialis, M. trossellus and Perna canaliculus (don’t expect to get anything but blank stares from the fish monger when you ask for them by their Latin name).

As Francis Lam remarked in a piece he wrote on the subject of mussels he wrote for, ” it’s time for mussels to get shown a little love.” Because of their hard shell and the innate fear of poisoning yourself, and your family, the mussel can seem like an intimidating proposition. But fear not. With a minor attention to detail and some consumer savvy, you too can be eating a fast, cheap, and sustainable dinner.

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Eric Steinman

Eric Steinman is a freelance writer based in Rhinebeck, NY. He regularly writes about food, music, art, architecture, and culture and is a regular contributor to Bon Appétit among other publications.


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12:29AM PDT on Apr 20, 2011

Mussels are so delicious especially when your not supposed to eat them!!But as a treat I do sometimes.

11:10AM PDT on Apr 6, 2011


4:20AM PDT on Apr 2, 2011

thanks for sharing.

1:02AM PDT on Mar 31, 2011

Emma, mussels are not vegetable or mineral, so they must be animal. If you are vegetarian you wouldn't eat them.

6:17PM PDT on Mar 30, 2011

i dont eat animals, i think how painful could be for a mussel to die, like everyone else with a portion of life

3:38PM PDT on Mar 30, 2011

I've never dared to try mussles because as a kid, I've seen that Mr.Bean episode where he had waaaaaay too many mussles and ended up sick!
Do I have musslophobia? Perhaps :/

3:25PM PDT on Mar 30, 2011

Interesting. I enjoy mussels so I will look into more recipes involving them. Thanks for the information.

8:45AM PDT on Mar 30, 2011

I enjoy mussels and was glad to read that they are a more sustainable seafood. Yum!

4:44AM PDT on Mar 30, 2011


3:20AM PDT on Mar 30, 2011

See i have always eaten mussles and loved them.. they're nice in rice spanish style like Paella.. now my issue is That i went vegitarian nearly 3 weeks ago and it's a question of do mussels count...? Any veggies out there please give you're opinions.. initially i decided i wouldn't eat anything with a face so Prawns (yum) and Salmon (mmmm) went right out of the window... (from Farm To fridge video posted here 3 weeks ago nearly caused me to go veggie BTW and going strong...

Anyway back to the topic... I was trying to figure out from a pain and suffering perspective is mussels a no no or a Yes go for it.

I mean on one hand they do shut the shells defensively if touched (while on the rocks or mussel farm) on the other hand so does a venus ply trap lol... also they're stationery creatures in that they don't swim areound or away like oysters can...

But then i think am i just trying to make myself feel better ... i've not eaten them anyway but wondered what readers here thought on the subject.


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