You’ll notice that not all mussels are the same color when you open them. For example, some mussels are cream or beige, while others are bright orange. Are all the different colored mussels the same to eat? Why are some mussels orange when you open them?
Orange mussels have more pigments in their flesh than cream mussels. The orange mussels are female, while the cream mussels are male or immature females. Orange mussels are entirely safe to eat, and their color and texture are the same as cream mussels. Some say orange mussels taste better.
Some people are concerned about seeing bright orange flesh inside a mussel shell. They might think that the mussel is bad. Fortunately, this is not the case. We will discuss the difference between orange and cream mussels and determine if a mussel is fresh or when you shouldn’t eat a mussel, regardless of its color.
Why Are Mussels Different Colors?
There are three main mussel varieties that you can find at your local fish market or grocery store. They are blue shell mussels, black shell mussels, and green shell mussels. These mussels all taste similar. However, they differ in size and external appearance. When you open the mussels, though, you will find that they look almost identical.
However, when opening mussels, you might notice that some are bright orange while others are cream-colored or brownish. You might be accustomed to seeing only cream mussels in restaurants or on TV, making you question whether the orange mussels are safe to eat?
Fortunately, the answer is yes! Orange mussels have more pigments in their flesh, giving them a bright color. This orange color is a clear indicator of a female mussel. Cream mussels are males or immature females, while the brightly colored orange mussels are mature females.
The orange color of a female mussel is thanks to the developing eggs in her flesh. The female will get brighter and brighter as the eggs develop. On the contrary, the cream color of the male mussel is thanks to the sperm cells developing in its flesh. At the right time, the male will release his sperm and the female her eggs, and they will reproduce.
These female mussels are perfectly safe to eat. According to most sources, male and female mussels taste precisely the same. However, some believe female mussels are juicier and more tender than male mussels. We believe this is up to personal preference.
As far as scientific evidence goes, there is no textural or taste difference between orange and cream mussels. This also means that both varieties are perfectly safe to eat if you buy them fresh. The gender of a mussel doesn’t determine its safety for consumption.
In addition, unlike crabs and lobsters, you can harvest female mussels any time of the year. It’s impossible to tell which mussels are male and female without opening them. Furthermore, mussels don’t carry their eggs with them as the other shellfish mentioned, so you aren’t interrupting the mussels’ reproductive cycle by harvesting female mussels.
Mussels reproduce in the same way as many other fish species. First, they wait for a change in the water temperature or another biological signal. Then, the female releases her eggs into the water. Next, the male fertilizes them by releasing his sperm into the water. Finally, the eggs become fertilized and attach to a nearby rock, where they grow to become new mussels.
Mussels can live for 100 years or more under the right circumstances. Mussels are sexually mature at one year old. Most mussels are ready for harvest between 1.5 and 2 years after hatching. Farmed mussels are usually harvested at this time when the flesh is big, plump, and juicy.
How To Tell If A Mussel Is Safe To Eat?
Considering that the color of the mussel doesn’t indicate whether or not it’s edible, you may now wonder how you can determine if a mussel is still safe to eat? Unfortunately, mussels and other seafood decay quickly after being removed from the ocean.
Once the mussels die, harmful bacteria will start to grow on them. This bacteria can cause illness or death. Therefore, knowing whether a mussel is safe to eat is crucial if you buy fresh mussels or harvest wild ones. This is how to tell if a mussel is safe to eat.
1. The Smell Of The Mussel
The mussel’s smell is the first sign that a mussel is dead and no longer safe to eat. Fresh mussels should smell like the ocean. They should have a slightly salty smell. However, if you notice the mussel smells fishy or rotten, it is no longer safe to eat, and you should discard the entire batch if you notice this smell.
2. The Appearance Of The Mussel
When buying fresh mussels, they should look fresh and vibrant. Check that the shells are damp and vibrant green, black, or blue. If the shells look dry, wilted, or crusty, you cannot be sure that the mussels are still alive, and it’s best to avoid them altogether.
The same goes for mussels that you harvest. Choose wet or damp mussels closer to the water instead of bone-dry ones sitting in the sun.
3. The Mussel’s Shell
In addition to the dampness of the shell, you must also consider the condition of the shell. The mussel inside is dead if the shells are broken, cracked, or chipped. In this case, the mussels can make you gravely ill, and you shouldn’t buy, cook, or consume them. Of course, it’s possible that the mussel only broke recently, but that is not a chance you should take.
4. How The Mussels Are Stored
When buying mussels from a fishmonger, you should expect them to be stored correctly. Fresh mussels are alive and should be stored on ice or in the coldest place possible to keep them alive. If you see the mussels lying in a water bowl, you know they are no longer alive, and you shouldn’t buy them. In addition, if the mussels are kept in a closed container, they will suffocate and cannot be consumed.
5. The Mussel’s Response
The final test to see if a mussel is fresh or not is to tap it. If the mussels are out of the water, they will open their shells slightly. However, the shells should close again without any hesitation. If you tap the mussel and the shell doesn’t close or closes very slowly, the mussel is dead or dying and isn’t safe to eat.
Orange mussels are female, while cream mussels are male. Both mussels are perfectly safe to eat and have the same taste and texture. A mussel takes one year to reach sexual maturity, at which time they will release their eggs and sperm to reproduce. Most mussels are harvested at around 1.5 to 2 years old.
You cannot tell the difference between a male and a female mussel from the outside. To determine if a mussel is safe to eat, you must consider its shell condition, smell, how it is stored, and if it closes when you tap it. These indicators will tell you if the mussel is safe to eat or not.