Wild Mussels vs. ‘Farmed’ Mussels

Wild MusselsWhy would anybody want to forage for wild Mussels? Especially when one considers that ‘farmed’ Mussels are actually wild Mussels themselves, only they have been gathered when young and encouraged to grow on man-made structures – often ropes studded with plastic spikes – for easy harvesting when fat enough for eating. Moreover, these Mussel ‘farms’, when managed responsibly (which they usually are), serve as a natural boost to the local marine environment. 

The Common MusselMussels (and other bivalves) are nature’s means of organic filtration. Every day a single 5cm Mussel will suck through 50 litres of sea water, filtering microscopic nutrients through its flesh and essentially cleaning the water that passes through it. What’s more, Mussel farms naturally enhance local biodiversity: they attract seaweeds and anemones, which then act as ideal nurseries for several species of fish and crustaceans. Indeed, the Marine Conservation Society (MCS) regard rope-grown Mussels as one of the most environmentally friendly forms of aquaculture. Their website, FishOnline: The In-depth Guide to Sustainable Seafood, gives the farms a rating of 1 out of 5 for sustainability – the highest possible. (The website also rates hand-gathered Mussels (i.e. foraged) as a 1, though there are other farming methods that don’t rate so highly.)

The other great thing about farmed Mussels is that you don’t have to worry about cleaning them, or indeed worry about the cleanliness of the water that they are taken from. Truly wild Mussels that you gather yourself have to be scrubbed and ‘de-bearded’ before consumption – a time-consuming exercise – otherwise they will be intolerably gritty when it comes to eating. (Keep watching this blog for how to scrub, de-beard and purge Mussels.) And, of course, you also have to be 100% sure that you don’t gather wild Mussels from a shoreline that harbours a sewage or other industrial outlet, for obvious reasons.

Wild MusselsSo why would anybody want to bother foraging for Mussels – worrying about the pollution-levels of the waters you take them from; scrubbing them until your fingers are sore; purging them at home for hours to remove most (though certainly not all) grit? Why indeed, would anybody want to take a small adventure down to the seashore, grubbing around and splashing about the rock pools like they were 8 years old again? Why would anybody want to rekindle an ancient and lost instinct for the hunt? Why would anyone want to acquire the wisdom of season and habitat of the vulnerable wildlife – edible or otherwise – of our precious coastline? Why would anybody want the fresh smells of the salty shores adorning their kitchens while their quarry purges quietly away, waiting to be cooked. Why, indeed, would anybody want the satisfaction of feasting on a seafood delicacy that they have acquired, scrubbed and grafted for themselves?

Well, I know that I would – but you tell me…

Identification – See my Edible Molluscs A-Z page for full pictures and description.

EatingThai-style Mussels with Noodles

Warning – Avoid months without an ‘r’ – May-August.

Moules Marinere is the classic way to prepare Mussels, and hard to beat. Check out a fantastic recipe for them on the blog Chop, Stir, Grate. You can, of course, ring the changes: use cider instead of wine; coconut milk instead of cream. But please try my Thai-style Mussels with Noodles – just as easy, fragrant and fresh.


About J P Waldron

John Waldron is a technology and business writer for markITwrite digital content agency, based in Cornwall, UK. He writes regularly across all aspects of marketing and tech, including SEO, social media, FinTech, IoT, apps and software development.
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8 Responses to Wild Mussels vs. ‘Farmed’ Mussels

  1. I would love to gather and purge some , but I’m in thailand and can’t find any! 😉 x

  2. My foraging trips are allways fun, great exersise as the beach is 10 miles and several hills away.
    I also ocasionaly find rock oysters, this is a nice treat. I bring home cockles, sea beet and more.
    So long as there is no overpicking, its part of a great experience. It saves me roughly £6- 10, as we get more than one meal. Not much to many people. To me on part time winter wages, it makes a difference. I have learned a lot about the area I pick mussles from. I also notice other people are now gathering mussles, teaching their children the skills.

  3. The mussels I pick are often quiet salty, don’t know why. Using them in a Thai dish can be a way of offsetting this (no salt or similar required). Cockles from the same area don’t have this problem. My thoughts on this are only guesses. Any help much appreciated.
    Possibly it’s the shells of older mussels (some are quiet thick).
    Nice site , about to look around it some more.

    • J P Waldron says:

      Thanks very much! Unfortunately I have no idea why your Mussels may be salty – I’d advise you contact your local authority to try and find out. Are they unpleasantly/unpalatably salty? Could be a cause for concern. Glad you enjoy the site – happy hunting!!

  4. Just Salty, but to salty for mussles in cider or the French dish. I have now worked out it’s the shells. I did stuffed mussels, no problem. The recipe of the Net: 1kg (about 32) fresh mussels
    • 1 cup water
    • 1 cup fresh white breadcrumbs
    • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
    • 1/4 cup flat-leaf parsley leaves, finely chopped
    • 1 small lemon, rind finely grated
    • 20g butter, melted
    what a combo, great result

  5. Also Hughes 3 good things.
    Tomato Clam Garlic is a real winner.
    I used cockles, purging them seems to take a long time 36 hrs plus, several water changes, still gritty.
    Used oatmeal, perhaps more salt is needed, some time out of the water in-between water changes perhaps? Any help is welcome.

  6. Pingback: Summer Cioppino Recipe - Savory Nature

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