This post is part of a series meant to spotlight ingredients, providing nutritional background, a little culinary inspiration, and perhaps encourage you to take an adventure into new markets and cuisines.
Have you met… Mussels?
Mussels — like clams, oysters and scallops — are bivalve mollusks with two hinged shells of their own making, each with a retractable “foot” that allows movement and burrowing. While found in both marine and fresh habitats, the latter are typically left for otters, raccoon and larger aquatic predators. Mussels themselves are filter-feeders, effectively straining microscopic plants and animals as food from the waters around them. Among these filtered nutrients is iron, which is used to produce an adhesive material for attachment to rocks, boats, piers and other submerged surfaces along the shoreline.
Fun fact: Some species of mussels can live to up to 100 years. At the maximum rate of filtration of 20 gallons per day, that’s 730,000 gallons in one lifetime — nearly 100,000 more than is contained in one Olympic-sized swimming pool!
What’s so great about them?
One 3-ounce serving of cooked mussels provides approximately 146 calories and is a great source of high-quality complete protein — more than 20 grams. This serving offers over 100% of your daily selenium, more than 250% of manganese, and nearly 350% of vitamin B12. In addition, mussels are a good source of antioxidant vitamin C, folate, phosphorous and zinc.
Ounce for ounce mussels provide more than 3x the amount of dietary iron than a beef tenderloin steak (5.71 mg vs. 1.74 mg), but are much leaner. Total and saturated fats are very low – 4 grams and less than 1 gram per serving, respectively. They are also among the richest sources of unsaturated fats in shellfish, associated with improved triglyceride levels, better heart and skin health, and reduced risk of certain cancers, age-related cognitive decline and diseases of the eye. Found in particularly high amounts are eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) – over 600 mg per serving – considered the most beneficial omega-3 fats.
Mussels are a natural source of sodium, providing roughly 315 mg of the ≤ 1,500 mg/day. And even though mussels, like shrimp and other shellfish, are higher in cholesterol (about 48 mg per serving) they are exceptions in the high cholesterol category due to minimal saturated fat and no trans fat – the two dietary factors that directly, and more importantly, contribute to higher blood cholesterol levels.
Because of the current farming methods used, mussels are one of the most sustainable, ocean-friendly shellfish and are considered a “best choice” on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch list. They are also low in contaminants, toxins and heavy metals, like mercury. Furthermore, they are far less expensive than other shelled seafood, such as crab or lobster.