I live in New England. Massachusetts to be specific. Being a foodie in this region has allowed me to eat my fair share of fresh clams and an unhealthy amount of clam chowder. As such, I’m here to provide an educated answer to your question: What do clams taste like?
Clams have a subtly sweet and salty taste. They can have a fishy taste compared to other shellfish, but that fishy flavor should never be overpowering. The taste of the clams can depend on the type of clam, the time of year they were gathered, and the clam’s diet.
I personally love clams, and my team has provided this extensive guide to help you better understand clams, their taste, various types of popular clams, and what to pair with them to get the most out of their flavor.
We cover the following items in this post:
- A Quick Overview of Clams
- The Health Benefits of Clams
- What Do Clams Taste Like?
- The Most Popular Types of Clams and Their Taste
- The Texture Of Clams
- How to Open and Eat Clams off the Raw Bar
- What Tastes Best With Clams? (Our Recommended Pairings)
- What to do Next
A Quick Overview of Clams
Clam is the popular (common) name for many types of bivalve mollusks. Bivalve mollusks are saltwater (marine) and freshwater animals with laterally compressed bodies and two-part hinged shells. Bivalve mollusks also include scallops, oysters, cockles, and mussels.
They produce their own shells as their organ, named the mantle, produces calcium carbonate so their shell growth matches their invertebrate growth. They also spend the majority of their lives burrowed in the sand, hiding from their problems.
There are roughly 76,000 known mollusks today! And many of them have unique, beautiful shells.
The Health Benefits of Clams
Clams are an extremely healthy shellfish option. They’re high in protein, low in total calories, low carb, low in saturated fats, high in vitamins and minerals, and they’re high in omega-3 fatty acids which is great for heart health.
A 3-oz. serving size of clams provides the following nutritional value:
- 126 calories
- 22g of protein
- 4g of carbohydrates (1% of daily value)
- 2g of fat (3% of daily value)
- 57mg of cholesterol (19% of daily value)
- 1022mg of sodium (43% of daily value)
- 534mg of potassium (15% of daily value)
Vitamins and Minerals
- Vitamin A
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin B12
The downside is that clams are high in sodium. If you have preexisting health issues, you may want to pay close attention to the sodium levels in clams and limit your intake.
What Do Clams Taste Like?
Clams taste subtly salty and sweet. They can have a more bitter flavor than oysters, and some say they can have a nutty walnut flavor as well, depending on where they’re from. They generally always have a very nice salty, sweet finish.
The fishy taste that people notice is due to their habitat. Clams often burrow themselves under the sand of the floor of the body of water they’re in — salt or freshwater.
Clams may be sweeter in the summer due to their diet of plankton. They may be saltier in the winter as they consume more algae.
Note that there is a risk when eating clams raw.
This is because clams absorb both nutrients and contaminants when they filter water through their bodies.
Consuming raw clam meat can lead to illnesses like vibrio infection, norovirus infection, and hepatitis A. Common symptoms include vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, stomach aches, reduced strength, rashes, blisters, and more. We share this not to scare you, but to educate you. Ensure you’re eating high-quality meat!
The Most Popular Types of Clams and Their Taste
The below table breaks down popular clam types, their taste, texture, where they’re found, and recommended ways to serve them.
- Hard-shell clams are the most regularly sold clams. Examples include cherrystone, little neck, top neck, and quahog clams.
- Steamers (soft-shell clams) are more fragile than some of the common hard-shell clams listed above. When working with these, be sure to be more gentle so you don’t crack the shells.
- Pacific Razor clams are a great meaty choice for those looking for that type of clam.
- There are over 23 species of Atlantic clams, but the Atlantic Razor clams are best known. These are very hard to capture as fishermen must harvest them by hand in a manually-intensive process.
The Texture Of Clams
Clam meat can have a chewy texture, but it should be a bit tender as well. This can change depending on how you cook the clams though.
- Fried clams have a crunchy and chewy texture with a briny finish.
- Steamed clams have a tender, meaty, and chewy texture.
- Grilled clams have a meaty and chewy texture.
- Baked clams also have a meaty, chewy texture. They can really absorb the flavor of the ingredients they’re baked with.
How to Open and Eat Clams off the Raw Bar
You have to shuck clams to open them. You do this by removing the top shell of the clam and separating the clam meat from both the top and bottom shells. We cover this process in extensive detail below.
- You need a clam-shucking knife to separate the two shells. Note that a clam-shucking knife is different than an oyster-shucking knife.
- Wear gloves to protect yourself from cuts, especially if you’ve never done this before. The clam-shucking knife has a sharp edge that can cut you.
- Remember that clams have two adductor muscles. You’ll have to cut them both from the top and bottom — resulting in four total cuts to free the clam meat.
- You can use a small towel to hold the clams to prevent you from accidentally poking yourself in case your hand slips while holding the knife.
Opening the Clams
- Locate a tiny line where the shells meat. (You may need to wipe the exterior of the shell to locate it.)
- Take the sharp edge of the knife and find the small gap. Then ball the clam on the inside of your palm, using your fingers to push the dull side of the knife in towards the clam (resulting in the sharp side injecting itself into the clam). Squeeze the knife until the blade is in between the two shells.
- But don’t cut completely through! Try to get about 1/3 through the shell. If you go in with the whole blade, you’ll dice through the clam meat.
- Once in, do a minor twist. Then, take the top edge of the knife and attempt to cut the adductor muscle from the top of the clam.
- Once you cut those, maneuver the knife through the shell so you can pop the top open. When it’s partially open, you can inspect the clam meat to ensure the adductor muscle was cut and the meat isn’t stuck to the top shell. If it is, you can use this time to cut loose any additional meat.
- Then cut the hinge of the shell and remove the top shell completely.
- You then have two more cuts on the bottom shell to remove the meat from the other adductor muscle. (These muscles are pink and much smaller than the oyster muscle – so they should be slightly noticeable.) Take your knife and cut through the bottom of the shell to completely release the meat.
- Pro tip: Flip the clam meat if you want to hide any rough-looking cuts, leaving the meat much more presentable.
Eating Clams off the Raw Bar
- Put on any sauce or flavoring you’d like.
- Chew on the clam meat to enjoy it and take in the flavor. (Many assume you should shoot clams, but we highly recommend chewing the meat.)
- Move on to the next one!
If you prefer to learn from a video, we highly recommend this phenomenal guide. Skip to the 8:45 mark so you can focus on clams and not oysters.
What Tastes Best With Clams? (Our Recommended Pairings)
The sweet and salty flavor of clams can pair well with countless options. Instead of listing them all out, we’d rather share an extensive list of well-respected recipes you can try at home!
- Grilled Clams with Garlic Parmesan Basil Butter
- Baked Clams Oreganata
- New England Style Fried Clams
- Steamed Clams in Garlic Butter
- Clam Linguine with a Garlic White Wine Sauce
- Raw Clams on the Half Shell with Cucumber Mignonette Sauce
What to do Next
Go get some clams and give them a try! Try them in multiple different ways with different sauces, sides, and drinks. My favorite way to eat them is in warm clam chowder.
If you’re ever in Massachusetts, try to make it out to Ipswich to have some fresh clams. There are so many good options that I don’t need to recommend one individual spot.