Mussels are a beloved seafood option in various cuisines. However, there are still prevalent misconceptions about these intriguing mollusks. This article will dive into mussel’s myth-busting, nutritional benefits, and culinary versatility – a true oceanic delicacy.

The Myth About Unopened Mussels

There is a common belief that mussels that remain closed after cooking should be avoided due to concerns about spoilage and potential health risks. However, it’s important to note that food safety experts generally recommend discarding mussels that do not open after cooking.

The prevailing thought is that unopened mussels might have died before cooking, which can put you at risk of food poisoning from harmful bacteria. While some studies suggest that mussels might still be safe to eat if they are manually opened and found to be adequately cooked, the potential risks associated with consuming unopened mussels often outweigh the benefits.

Given these considerations, it’s important to exercise caution when deciding whether to consume unopened mussels after cooking. If you encounter mussels that remain closed after cooking, it might be prudent to err on the side of safety and discard them. This cautious approach aligns with the perspective that mussels not opening during cooking could potentially harbor health risks. With that said, Prioritizing food safety is paramount. Adhering to the recommendations of experts and discarding mussels that do not open after cooking is a safer practice. This approach helps prevent the ingestion of potentially harmful bacteria and ensures a dining experience that is both safe and enjoyable.

Mussels: Nature’s Filter 

Mussels are nature’s filter feeders, processing massive volumes of water to obtain plankton and nutrients. A single mussel can filter about a whole bathtub of water per day to get enough food. 

A single adult mussel can filter up to 25 gallons of water daily. Across an entire mussel bed, that equals millions of gallons of water filtered daily. The mussels consume all the microscopic plankton and particles filtered out as food.

This filter-feeding behavior provides ecological services that benefit both mussels and their habitat. By stripping away excess plankton and nutrients, they prevent algal blooms and increase biodiversity. Mussel beds also provide shoreline protection, stabilizing sediments, and buffering wave action. 

Additionally, the water-filtering activity of mussels makes them ideal for integrated multi-trophic aquaculture systems. Here, seafood mussels are farmed alongside finfish like salmon. The mussels filter and feed on particulate waste from the fish, reducing environmental impacts.

Mussels may be small, but these unsung ocean heroes provide ecosystem benefits on a grand scale through their natural filtration. Their clarifying effects enhance water quality and foster a healthier marine environment.

Mussels: A Nutritional Powerhouse

When it comes to nutritional value, mussels deliver in spades. A three-ounce serving of steamed blue mussels contains about:

  • 146 calories
  • 20 grams of protein 
  • 4 grams of fat
  • 6 grams of carbohydrates

Ounce for ounce, mussels deliver a large variety of nutritional benefits. Here’s a chart that represents the nutritional content level: 

Source: USDA FoodData Central

  • Protein – A 3-ounce cooked portion contains around 20 grams of protein. The protein in mussels is complete, providing all nine essential amino acids required in the human diet. This supports muscle recovery and maintenance.
  • Vitamin B12 – Mussels supply over 300% of the recommended daily intake of vitamin B12 per serving. This nutrient is crucial for nerve tissue health and red blood cell formation.
  • Iron – With around 6 mg of iron per 3-ounce serving, mussels are one of the richest food sources of this mineral. Iron is essential for oxygen transport in the blood and energy metabolism.
  • Zinc – Mussels also provide zinc, with approximately 60% DV per serving. This aids immune function, DNA synthesis, and recovery from illness.
  • Selenium – A vital trace mineral, selenium protects cells from oxidative damage. Mussels are an excellent source, providing over 75% DV.
  • Omega-3 Fatty Acids – These healthy polyunsaturated fats found abundantly in mussels promote heart health, brain function, and fetal development. 
  • Manganese – Important for bone health and metabolism, mussels supply over 100% DV of this mineral. 

Besides vitamins and minerals, mussels are low in fat and calories, containing approximately 150 calories per 3-ounce portion. Their impressive nutritional profile makes mussels a superfood from the sea. Consuming these mollusks provides a power-packed health boost.

Understanding the Gender of Mussels

Mussels have two distinct genders – male and female. The color of their meat differs between the sexes. 

Female mussels often have a slightly orange or reddish hue to their meat, while male mussels typically have a cream-colored or pale appearance. Remember that this method requires opening the mussel shell to examine the meat; the difference might be mild in some cases.

Female mussels contain an orange hue that holds eggs and larvae. Males lack this vibrant gland but instead have a milky-white cream. For most diners, though, the gender of a mussel is irrelevant. Both provide the same delectable taste and nutritional value when cooked.

Beyond their gender, mussels’ unique features contribute to their survival and culinary enjoyment.

The Beard of Mussels: More than Just Aesthetics 

The beard on a mussel, also known as the byssus, serves an important biological function. They are composed of sticky filaments, and the beard anchors the mussel firmly to rocks, pilings, and other objects. This prevents mussels from being swept away by strong currents or waves.

When preparing mussels for cooking, the beard must be removed. Give a quick sharp tug perpendicular to the shell, and the byssus will release its grip. Debearding prevents the fibrous material from getting stuck in the diner’s throats. On the whole, mussels are a flavorful and sustainable choice for seafood lovers.

Mussel Farming: A Sustainable Practice

Most mussels consumed across the globe are produced through aquaculture or mussel farming. This typically involves suspending mussels from long ropes or rafts. As filter feeders, farmed mussels require no additional feeding, foraging nutrients directly from the ocean.

This efficient farming method is highly sustainable. Mussels also enhance water quality by filtering out excessive plankton and nitrogen-rich nutrients. Their minimal environmental impact and high nutritional yield make mussel aquaculture a smart, eco-friendly way to meet global seafood demand.

Most mussels consumed across the globe are produced via aquaculture or mussel farming. This typically involves suspending mussels from long ropes or rafts. As filter feeders, farmed mussels require no additional feeding, foraging nutrients directly from the ocean.

Mussel Farming Methods

Source: FAO

While farming practices ensure a sustainable supply of mussels, it’s essential to understand the importance of cooking live mussels.

The Importance of Cooking Live Mussels

Mussels must be cooked live for both food safety and taste purposes. Live mussels have tightly closed shells, indicating freshness.

In contrast, shells of dead mussels will gap open due to the decomposition of the adductor muscles that keep them shut. Cooking deceased mussels encourages bacterial growth and raises the likelihood of foodborne illness. For this reason, you must cook mussels that are alive and discard mussels with cracked shells or foul odor. 

Steaming live mussels also lock in flavor and texture not found in those that are dead. Cooking fresh seafood mussels the day they are harvested or purchased makes for a briny and enjoyable experience.

Now that we’ve covered the importance of cooking live mussels let’s explore their culinary versatility.

Mussels: The Ultimate Flavor Enhancers

In the realm of shellfish, mussels are one of the most versatile ingredients. Their mild briny flavor pairs easily with various ingredients and cooking styles.

Steam mussels in a broth infused with garlic, onion, tomatoes, herbs, and white wine for a comforting bowl of moules marinières. Or, go Mediterranean with a tomato saffron broth. Curries, chowders, paellas, and pasta dishes all get an enhanced flavor from the addition of plump, succulent mussels.

Grill mussels over an open flame or high heat to intensify their smoky flavor. Chill them on the half-shell for easy appetizers. Marinate mussels for a tangy twist on their inherent savoriness.

This bivalve has an incredible ability to absorb and complement other flavors. So don’t be afraid to get creative with mussels in your cooking!

As we conclude our deep dive into the world of mussels, let’s address some frequently asked questions.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What happens if you eat a mussel that doesn’t open during cooking?

It’s advised to discard unopened mussels after cooking. Not opening suggests they might have been dead before cooking, risking food poisoning from bacteria. Prioritize safety and avoid consuming them.

2. How can you tell if a mussel is bad?

Rely on your senses – sight, smell, touch – to identify bad mussels. Avoid any with cracked shells or a foul, ammonia-like odor. The meat should look plump and shiny, not mushy or discolored. When fresh, raw mussels will smell briny or like the ocean.

3. What are the health benefits of eating mussels?

Mussels offer a powerhouse of nutrition, packed with protein, healthy fats, iron, zinc, manganese, selenium, B vitamins, and omega-3s. Eating mussels provides many benefits, including boosting immunity, heart health, growth and development, and healthy bones, skin, hair, and nails.


Mussels have so much more to offer than just delicious flavor. These bivalves filter our waters, provide ecological benefits, and deliver a wealth of nutrition. 

While shrouded with misconceptions, mussels live up to their reputation as supremely sustainable seafood. We’ve only just begun to uncover the captivating world of mussels – but one thing is clear: these ocean gems make for a unique culinary experience.