Mussels for Muscles


Mussels are one of the world’s most perfect foods.  They are extremely high in proteins, calcium and iron, an excellent source of selenium and Vitamin 12, and a good source of zinc and folic acid, while low in fat and calories.  Mussels are also the best shellfish for your heart, containing the highest amount of omega-3s - the naturally occurring fatty acid that lowers blood pressure.  According to the USDA, a 3.5-ounce portion of mussel contains 95 calories, 14.4 grams of protein and 2.2 grams of fat.  By contrast, a T-bone steak contains 395 calories, 14.7 grams of protein, and 37.1 grams of fat.  Could mussels also become a staple for building muscles?America needs a campaign for promoting the benefits of cultured mussels that are by far the best value for the seafood dollar.  These bivalve shellfish produce affordable protein and are a renewable resource.  A campaign for fresh mussels providing a price point matching the economic recession and should be promoted in the context of health and sustainability.  This, coupled with locally produced from pristine offshore waters could cause market growth for mussels reaching consumption levels in other parts of the world.  Per-capita consumption is significantly lower in America than in Europe.  Mussels were one of the first seafood success stories and remain one of the most reliable cultured shellfish farmed on both coasts of the United States as well as in China and Europe.  Most farmers here use the “rope” or “raft” culture in which small mussels are seeded in mesh tubes, suspended from heavy lines in coastal bays.  The mussels require little attention as they feed on drifting plankton, and harvesting is a simple matter of pulling up the lines and stripping off the mussels.  

Global mussel production is about 2 million metric tons worth over $1 billion dollars and U. S. consumption is skyrocketing.   Americans import about 42 million pounds or about 10 times what we produce.  2010 was a milestone for the mussel industry in Canada surpassing New Zealand for the first time in exports to the U.S. worth $27.4 million, up from $26.7 million in 2009.  Canada supplies 99 percent of fresh-farmed mussels to the U.S. market with the majority imported 4,000 miles away via expensive airfreight from Prince Edward Island, which also has unfavorable exchange rates making locally farmed shellfish more competitive.  Wild mussels grow slower than farmed and can take seven to twelve years to reach 2 ½ inches and tend to be inconsistent sizes with imperfect shells.  Harvesting from intertidal beds of older, wild mussels, has led to quality problems.  Wild mussels grow on the bottom, where they are vulnerable to crabs, starfish, and other predators.  As a natural defense mechanism they grow a tougher and thicker shell.  Farmed mussels are suspended above the ocean bottom and out of reach from predators so they spend more time and energy growing body mass instead of growing shell.  The result is a mussel with a lighter shell and plumper, tenderer meat for better food value and higher meat to shell ratio than the wild variety.  In contrast to shellfish harvested from intertidal congested and polluted bays and estuaries, open ocean farming harvests shellfish from anchored longlines in pristine offshore waters.  The abundance of plankton and algae from upwelling provide shellfish food for rapid growth and the cool water currents deter disease.   The mussel most widely cultured in eastern North America is the blue mussel named for its solidly blue-black shell, or occasional brown shell.  This species occurs naturally on both sides of the Atlantic.  The Mediterranean mussel has been introduced by humans to coastal marine environments throughout the world and is not considered a new invasive species.  They are larger, faster growing and has greater meat content than the Blue mussel (50% vs. 35%) and they are more tolerant to heat and salinity.  Among other locations, the Mediterranean mussel favors offshore oil platforms, where it can produce a substantial crop.  

Back in the late 1980s, Ecomar Marine Consulting harvested up to 500,000 pounds of mussels a year from 12 platforms in Southern California owned by five oil companies.  The Mediterranean mussel is also easy to farm, and it offers a distinct advantage to Northwestern mussel growers.  Oddly enough, given the names, the Baltic mussels are susceptible to dying on a large scale in winter; however, Mediterranean mussels survive the winter temperatures just fine.  But an even bigger advantage for the Mediterranean has to do with its spawning cycle, which influences eating quality.  Like other bivalves, mussels are in their best eating condition during the six months or so preceding their spawning season, and at their poorest, during and just after, spawning.  Spawning time varies by species and location; with the Eastern mussels and the Baltic type on the West Coast spawning in early summer, and offering their best quality from late fall through spring.  Mediterranean mussels, on the other hand, spawn in winter, and are in their prime in the summer, just when the others are pulled off the market.  By the time July rolls around, they are at their peak, mild and sweet.  Thin shell farmed mussels can contain as much as 60 percent edible yield.  The orange mussels are female and the white mussels are male.   There is little difference in taste between the two, and it as always a pleasant surprise to see what you find on your plate.