Clams vs. Mussels: What’s the Difference?
Many people don’t get to eat seafood as much as they would love to. But even seafood regulars may not easily differentiate between all the different kinds of fish and shellfish — like clams vs. mussels.
Both are popular in various meals, like pasta, bakes, stir-fry, and even standalone dishes. However, mussels and clams have distinct flavors in meals, so knowing about them can help you choose the right meal in a seafood restaurant or your next recipe at home.
Also, if you’re looking to try these shellfish for the first time, you should know what to expect. This article will explain the basics of mussels and clams and help you differentiate them.
What are Mussels?
Mussels are bivalve mollusks — a family of shellfish distinguished by an external shell comprising two hinged parts that protect a soft invertebrate. Oysters, scallops, and clams also belong to this family of shellfish.
Mussels can be found in freshwater and saltwater, with long shells that aren’t as circular as clams. Depending on the species, these shells are rough and commonly dark blue, black, or brown, and silver or gray on the inside.
These shellfish move together and securely attach to the surfaces they live on by a thin, strong thread (byssus). Mussels have a much milder flavor compared to clams, making them preferred in sauces.
What are Clams?
Clams are also bivalve mollusks found only in freshwater, on the floor of the water they live in, usually hiding underneath the sand. They’re also circular and have two equal shell halves. The unique thing about clams is their bodily organs, including the heart and digestive and circulatory systems. Like oysters, clams have a unique fishy taste, and you can eat them raw.
What Do Clams Taste Like?
Clams can be cooked in numerous ways or eaten raw. They taste nice and salty, almost like the taste of saltwater. They also taste like fish, but not overpowering or grossly. It’s hard to describe their texture, but they’re chewy and can be slightly rubbery depending on how they’re cooked.
What Do Mussels Taste Like?
Ironically, you could describe mussels as the “chicken of the sea” based on their taste. They have a mild taste, kind of like the sea they inhabit. They’re soft and tender when prepared properly.
You can prepare mussels in several ways, and their mild taste makes it easy to take on the taste of the delicacy you’re making with them.
Mussels vs. Clams
The main difference between mussels and clams is their taste. Mussels have a mild, bland flavor, while clams have a strong, fishy taste. For this reason, mussels are considered more versatile in cooking since they can adapt to any flavor.
You must consider the fishy flavor when cooking with clams and ensure you don’t add a flavor that may be overpowered by or clash with the taste. You should also note that clams can be eaten raw, while mussels cannot.
How Do You Cook Clams?
You can fry or bake clams and even try the classic Clam Chowder. However, seafood lovers claim they’re best eaten raw with lemon. They’ll turn out great however you cook them.
How Do You Cook Mussels?
Many people may prefer mussels in paella, but they’re also great in seafood scampi. You can also steam and eat mussels dipped in butter, but note that the butter may overpower the mussels’ mild taste.
Do Mussels Taste Like Clams or Oysters?
Mussels have a similar texture to other shellfish, like oysters and clams, but have a slightly chewy texture. However, unlike these other shellfish, you can’t eat mussels uncooked, so you don’t have to worry about experiencing a slimy texture.
Considering flavor, clams, mussels, and oysters are different, with clams and oysters having a distinct fishy flavor. The flavor of mussels is subtle and natural, considered bland by some. This is why mussels aren’t served without stew or sauce.
Can You Substitute Clams for Mussels?
Clams can be substituted for mussels due to their similar texture. It is important to remember that clams have a slightly different flavor than mussels, which can’t be served raw. If you choose to substitute clams for mussels in your recipe, remember that mussels have s subtler flavor, unlike the intense fishy taste of clams.
Can You Eat Mussels Raw?
Unlike clams, you can’t eat mussels raw. Mussels must be cooked to avoid the increased risk of foodborne illness. Higher-risk individuals, such as people with cancer, immunosuppressed, and other disabling factors, are at a greater risk of major illness from eating raw mussels.
And though it’s okay to eat raw clams, there may be risks similar to eating raw oysters, such as contracting vibrio vulnificus, which can cause serious illness.
Do Mussels Taste Fishy?
Unlike most seafood, mussels don’t taste fishy. They have a natural ocean flavor that can be quite intriguing. Fresh mussels smell salty and fresh; if they smell fishy, it could mean they aren’t fresh. Therefore, you should discard them.
Mussels and clams are delicious shellfish that you can enjoy in various dishes. The main distinction between them lies in the taste and methods of preparation. Now that you know more about them, you can confidently enjoy these seafood delicacies.