For people who either don’t live near open water or don’t have seafood in their regular diet, it can be hard to differentiate between all the different types of fish and shellfish.
Clams and mussels fit right into that, as even seafood regulars often don’t know the differences between the two.
Both shellfish are popular in various meals, such as pasta dishes, stir-fry, bakes, or as a standalone dish.
However, clams and mussels offer different flavors to a meal, so knowing the specifics can help ensure your next recipe is a stand-out. It can also help you pick the perfect meal at a seafood restaurant.
You may hope to try these shellfish for the first time and want to know what to expect. This guide will break down the basics of clams and mussels and how they are alike and different. We will also cover some frequently asked questions about these two mollusks.
What Are Clams?
Clams are bivalve mollusks, a family of shellfish characterized by an external shell made of two hinged parts that house an invertebrate with a soft body.
Other types of bivalve mollusks are mussels, scallops, and oysters.
Clams and other bivalve mollusks can be found in fresh and saltwater environments.
These shellfish are found on the floor of the body of water they inhabit, often burrowed underneath the sand.
Clams taste most similar to oysters, meaning they have a more prominent fishy taste. Like oysters, clams can be eaten raw.
What Are Mussels?
Mussels are also bivalve mollusks, as explained above for clams.
Mussel’s shells, depending on the species, can be either black, blue, or dark brown, and the inside is a gray or silver color.
Unlike clams, which are found individually burrowed in sand, mussels travel together and attach themselves to solid surfaces.
Mussels can do this because they can create a byssus, a thin but strong thread that a mussel attaches to a firm surface (typically rocks), so it can stay in one place.
Mussels have a far milder flavor than clams. This subtle flavor is why they are often served in sauces because the mussel can absorb the flavor of any sauce introduced.
How Are Clams and Mussels Different?
The primary difference between clams and mussels is their taste. Clams have a strong, fishy flavor, while mussels have a mild, somewhat bland flavor.
This taste difference is why mussels are considered more versatile in cooking because they can adapt to any flavor.
When cooking with clams, you have to consider the fishy flavor and ensure you aren’t introducing a flavor that may clash with or be overpowered by that taste.
In addition, clams can be eaten raw, often served similarly to oysters, but mussels cannot be eaten raw and must be cooked before consumption.
Frequently Asked Questions
Here are some frequently asked questions people have about clams and mussels.
Do mussels taste like clams or oysters?
The texture of mussels is very similar to other shellfish like clams and oysters, with a slightly chewy texture.
However, unlike clams and oysters, mussels cannot be eaten raw, so you will not experience a slimy texture with mussels.
Flavorwise, mussels, clams, and oysters are different. Clams and oysters both have a distinct fishy flavor.
Mussels have a very subtle natural flavor, which some consider bland. For this reason, mussels are rarely served without a sauce or stew.
Due to their somewhat bland natural flavor, mussels can adapt to different flavors very well. Especially in a stew or sauce that cooks for a long time, mussels soak up the flavor of whatever they are in.
Can you substitute mussels for clams?
Due to their similar texture, mussels can be a substitute for clams.
The important things to remember are that mussels have a slightly different flavor than clams, and mussels cannot be served raw.
If substituting mussels for clams in a recipe, it’s good to remember that mussels have a subtler flavor, and you shouldn’t expect an intense fishy taste like clams.
If substituting clams for mussels, it’s necessary to know that clams have a strong fishy flavor and adjust your recipe for that.
Can you eat mussels raw? Can you eat clams raw?
Clams can be eaten raw, but mussels cannot be eaten raw. Mussels must be cooked because consuming raw mussels puts you at greater risk for food-borne illness.
Those considered at higher risk, such as those with cancer, immunosuppressed individuals, and other disabling factors, are at an increased risk for serious illness from consuming raw mussels.
Although raw clam consumption is considered alright, there are risks similar to those associated with consuming raw oysters.
These risks include the contraction of vibrio vulnificus, a bacterium that comes from consuming raw oysters or clams and can cause serious illness.
Clams and mussels are both delicious types of shellfish that are enjoyed in a variety of meals.
The main differences between these two mollusks are the taste and how they can be prepared. Now you can enjoy everything the world of seafood has to offer!