Mussels and Clams and Oysters -Oh My! (oh, and Scallops too!)... How different are they?

It’s a family affair when talking about these animals of the sea. They all belong to the mollusk family (you’ve heard of the mollusks, haven’t you? They’re quite a popular group of edibles). So, what makes them a mollusk? They’re invertebrates, which means they have a soft, entirely whole body and one or two or more shells that completely or partly enclose it.

There are other members of this family as well (you might think of them as “distant” cousins), consisting of snails, squids, and octopuses. However, there’s something special about the “first cousins” of mollusks, in a manner of speaking. That’s because even though oysters, clams, mussels, and scallops are typically harvested for food, they also all have a unique ability to produce a pearl!

Now, aside from that rather impressive attribute to their pedigree, some of the more unique features that differentiate this group of mollusks from each other are these:

  • Oysters are among a few of the edible, marine, bivalve mollusks of the Ostreidae family of mollusks. Oysters tend to cling to the floor of shallow water, and like to affix themselves to objects like rocks.

  • Clams are another one of the bivalve mollusks that are of an edible variety because not all clams are meant for eating. However, they sure know how to make a move when they have to. They simply open their shell and stick out a strange looking “foot” that resembles a tongue. This appendage pushes them along to where they want to go.

  • Mussels are from the Mytilidae family of bivalve mollusks, an edible marine species that’s also from the Uniondale family of freshwater clams.

  • Scallops are energetic (by comparison) bivalve mollusks that like to “show off” how fast they can swim by quickly clapping together their fluted shell valves (isn’t there a show off in every family?).

So, what similarities are there between this mollusk foursome? Well, as we said above, clams and scallops are able to move around from one location to another.

On the opposite side of the mobility meter, mussels and oysters are stationary creatures, preferring to root wherever they’ve attached their shell, although mussels do in fact have feet! They’d just rather not use them!


Shell game

Oysters, clams, mussels, and scallops all have shells, plus, they all have a similar appearance, yet there are distinct differences. Take their shapes for instance. Oysters are known to have round or oval shell shapes, whereas mussel shells are more oblong looking. Clamshells are short and squat in general and can either have a wide wavy pattern or a nice, smooth surface.

If you’re on the lookout though for seashells by the seashore, you’ll want to scoop up a scallop shell on the beach. That’s because scallop shells have the iconic, wavy shape that most people think of when they look at a seashell.


Sizing Them Up

On the measurement side of things, mollusks come in a variety of sizes. As the “runt” of the mollusk family, the mussel is typically the smallest animal, with a width of only a couple of inches from side to side. They do make up for it by coming in a great variety of colors!

Next up are the scallops. Ranging from a size of about two inches to three inches, large, deep-sea scallops can top out at five or six inches from side to side.

Now, for creatures that are apparently so sedentary, oysters and clams can really get super sized! One of the largest oysters discovered measured in at about fifteen inches! Not to be outdone, there was a gigantic clam that topped out at over six feet long (imagine the amount of clam chowder that baby could make!).


Taste the Difference!

If you’re a relative novice to the world of shellfish seafood, you might want to start with scallops for a delicious entry into the endless recipes that these wonderful sea creatures are used in. Scallops are unique in that they have a texture that’s similar to fish after they’re cooked. Grilled and seared to perfection with a mild, slightly sweet flavor, they’re irresistible. They’re particularly delicious when paired with cured meats, bacon, or chorizo in recipes.

Clams are a pretty common seafood delicacy, especially if you’ve grown up liking clam chowders, or even clam dip! If it’s baby steps you’re taking into the mollusk family, you can’t beat ‘em. A superb clam chowder is the perfect starter meal if you’re a pure beginner!

As for mussels and oysters, they cook quickly and are able to absorb the flavors of broths and sauces when cooked. They also cook in very little time but have a “beard” on the side of their shells which must be removed when they’re cleaned. Also, remember to only cook mussels and oysters with shells that are closed tightly.


Ready to Plunge In?

When you’re ready to indulge in some fabulous eating, check out the many, many recipes that range from levels as easy-as-pie to top-chef-challenging to find out your own go-to favorite. Clams, mussels, oysters, and scallops are some of the sea world’s most amazing creatures, steeped in history and fascination. Put them on your next menu to try out and enjoy!