While seafood comes in all shapes and sizes, snails aren’t often on the menu…
But this small selection is slowly changing in a big way with the giant sea snail known as the abalone!
This week we’re taking a look at why these enormous mollusks are so cherished in some parts of the world, why they’re so expensive, and some facts and statistics that will blow your shells off.
Table of Contents
- Is Abalone Good To Eat?
- How Does it Taste?
- Is Abalone Good For You?
- Is Abalone Safe To Eat Raw?
- The History of Eating Abalone
- Why is Abalone So Expensive?
- Hope for the Future: Abalone Farming
- Facts About Abalone
Is Abalone Good To Eat?
Absolutely! Abalone is a prized seafood delicacy known for its sweet, tender meat reminiscent of scallop and squid. When sourced sustainably, it offers not only a unique culinary experience but also a range of nutritional benefits, including rich protein and Omega-3 fatty acids.
How Does it Taste?
Abalone is said to taste sweet, salty, savory and buttery all at the same time. It is a little chewy on the outside, but also surprisingly soft on the inside. The texture is very similar to calamari.
Some liken the taste to a buttery, richer version of scallops, with the salty taste of the sea being evident underneath.
If you enjoy scallops, clams squid or octopus…you’ll love the taste and texture of Abalone.
How is Abalone Prepared?
After abalone is harvested by divers, the meat first must be carefully ‘shucked’ or removed from its shell.
This is a very delicate process as the organs, which are removed afterwards, are easy to damage. This can contaminate the meat, giving it an unpleasant taste.
Abalone meat is chewy and rubbery when freshly shucked, so it must be tenderized before it can be enjoyed. In some recipes, such as traditional Japanese sushi, the meat is sliced thin and pounded into small steaks to tenderize it.
Other recipes use long, slow cooking methods, or a combination of both techniques.
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Is Abalone Good For You?
Absolutely! In simple terms, abalone is like a protein-packed snack from the sea.
It’s full of good stuff like protein (which is great for muscles), Omega-3s (good for the heart), and important vitamins and minerals (like Vitamin B12 and iron, which keep you energized).
Just keep an eye on the salt content if you’re watching your salt intake.
|– Saturated Fat
|– Omega-3 Fatty Acids
|– Dietary Fiber
Is Abalone Safe To Eat Raw?
Yes, abalone can be eaten raw and is often served this way in dishes like sashimi, especially in Japanese cuisine.
However, like all raw seafood, there are some precautions to consider:
- Freshness is Key: Always ensure that the abalone is extremely fresh. If it smells off or too “fishy,” it’s best not to consume it raw.
- Source Matters: Purchase abalone from reputable sources. Knowing where and how the abalone was harvested can help ensure it’s safe for raw consumption.
- Storage: If not consumed immediately, raw abalone should be stored in the refrigerator at a temperature close to freezing and eaten within a day or two.
- Health Risks: Raw seafood, including abalone, can sometimes carry harmful bacteria or parasites. While it’s rare, there’s still a risk. Vulnerable populations, like pregnant women, the elderly, or those with compromised immune systems, should be especially cautious.
The History of Eating Abalone
Abalone has been eaten by various people and cultures around the world for millennia.
Archaeologists have discovered evidence of these snails being eaten by people 1500 years ago in China, and as far back as 300 BCE on the South Korean island of Jeju.
But the earliest evidence is from California’s channel islands, where 12,000 year old abalone shells have been found at archaeological sites!
Native Americans in the coastal Pacific region have long included foods like barnacles and abalone as a staple part of their diets.
Why is Abalone So Expensive?
Abalone was traditionally never farmed, and only ever harvested by divers.
The preparation necessary to make abalone edible and appetizing also requires lots of skill and training, which means that the people who can properly prepare this meat are in short supply.
These two factors combined mean that this dish was never cheap, but recent events have made it even more expensive.
Overharvesting of abalone around the world has caused populations to collapse in many key regions.
Even when left alone, climate change and habitat loss mean that the snails have fewer and fewer places to live in peace. This is causing their numbers to remain at record lows in the wild.
As an example, California’s red abalone population was commercially fished until the 1990s when collapsing stocks forced the fishery to close.
Recreational fishing was allowed until 2017, when even that was banned due to there being so few individuals left.
Nowadays, regulations in place to protect the species mean that it’s often illegal to harvest abalone in many areas. Even in the places where they can be harvested, they’re a lot rarer than they used to be.
When combined with paying for divers and preparation costs, this means that abalone is one of the most expensive seafoods out there; sometimes over $50 for a single snail!
Whether or not it’s worth the price is a matter of opinion, but regardless, these are some truly valuable univalves.
Hope for the Future: Abalone Farming
While wild-caught abalone is becoming increasingly scarce, breakthroughs in aquaculture technology have allowed for farms to successfully raise abalone for food in captivity!
Starting in China and Japan in the mid 20th Century, the practice has been replicated in America, Mexico, South Africa, Namibia, New Zealand and others.
Taking only three or four years to reach marketable size, these snails are kept both in cycled tanks and in offshore pens.
They are low-maintenance and can subsist on easily farmed or harvested seaweeds. If the industry takes off, perhaps the price of abalone may begin to fall in the future.
Facts About Abalone
- Abalones are a family of marine mollusks that live almost exclusively in cold ocean waters around the world.
- Their shells are smooth and rounded, and have a small spiral off to the side Their shells sometimes have of holes running up them, used for respiration.
- What makes abalone really special, though, is their incredible size- the largest snails can grow their shells to upwards of a foot long, and weigh in at over 10 pounds.
- Harvesting one adult abalone can net you over seven pounds of meat. This certainly isn’t your everyday garden snail!
- Abalone can live for over 50 years, and are considered juvenile for the first three to seven years of life. They’re slow growers, but to some adventurous chefs and diners, it’s worth the wait.
Whether you’re a gourmet thrillseeker or a lover of all things oceanic, abalone is a rare treat and the chance to try it should not ever be passed up.
This incredible animal is not only a king among snails, but a king in the kitchen as well.
So snack on these shelled delicacies with pride! And now with the advent of farming, you can be confident that you’re choosing a sustainable seafood option.
Thanks for reading!
Growing up in Florida, I’ve been surrounded by saltwater my entire life…and I love sharing my passion with others.
To learn more about why I started Saltwater Mecca, visit the ABOUT page.
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