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What Do Mussels Taste Like? The Ultimate Mussel Flavor Guide for Seafood Lovers and Foodies Alike

What Do Mussels Taste Like? The Ultimate Mussel Flavor Guide for Seafood Lovers and Foodies Alike

Have you ever perused a restaurant menu and glossed over any item(s) containing mussels simply because you don’t know what they are or how to eat them? You’re not alone!

People usually opt for other seafood options with which they are more familiar. Regarding mussels, the most common question we see is: What do mussels taste like?

Mussels are salty, mild, and sweet. This delicious seafood is a hit whether served cold, hot, or on a bed of pasta.

I’ve had roughly 1 million mussels in my life and I’ve yet to find any I don’t like. (Maybe 1 million is a bit of an overestimation, but you get the point!) As such, I feel this guide will provide detailed answers to your questions about flavor, texture, and more.

We cover the following items in this post:

A Quick Overview of Mussels

A group of mussels on the beach

These little husks of meat are classified as bivalve mollusks. They have dark, oval-shaped shells and live in saltwater and freshwater environments.

They’re filter feeders, which means they obtain nutrients in the water by passing, or filtering, the water through their bodies. This also helps to keep the oceans clean! Other bivalve mollusks include some popular options like oysters, clams, and scallops.

There are many different types of mussels found in our oceans, with over a dozen of them edible. Some common types of mussels are:

  • Blue mussels (Mytilus edulis) — also referred to as farmed mussels, bay mussels, and Prince Edward Island (PEI) mussels
  • Pacific Blue mussels (Mytilus trossellus) — sometimes referred to as black mussels
  • New Zealand green-lipped mussels (Perna canaliculus)
  • Mediterranean mussels (Mytilus galloprovincialis) — sometimes referred to as black mussels
  • Horse Mussel (Modiolus modiolus)
  • Zebra Mussels (Dreissena ploymorpha)

How Do You Eat Mussels?

A plate of cooked mussels. What do mussels taste like?

Mussels can be steamed, baked, and pan-fried. No matter your chosen method, they take little time to cook! Just be sure you only consume the meat inside the shell once you sit down to enjoy a plate of mussels because the mussel shell isn’t edible. Neither is the hinge — the tendons holding the top and bottom shells together!

Mussels are often served with their shell intact. Meaning you need to:

  1. Open the shell by using your fingers or silverware. We recommend placing the shell in your non-dominant hand and using your dominant hand to force the shell open.
  2. Remove the meat from the shell by using a fork or your fingers. It’s always a bit classier to use your silverware.

I recommend opening the shell by hand, using a fork to remove the meat, and then dipping the mussel meat in the sauce the meal came with — if any. It’s common for mussels to be served with white wine or butter-based dipping sauces.

And remember to be careful! Wielding a fork between sharp shell edges can be dangerous, so be gentle when removing the meat from the shell. Especially when some wine is in play — take your time opening the mussels so you don’t jab yourself.

Do You Chew or Swallow Mussels?

Similar to oysters, it’s best to chew on the meat so you can get the full flavor and texture of the shellfish. Especially when there is a good sauce served with the mussels and you get to enjoy the combination of flavors.

Avoid trying to cut the mussel meat into smaller pieces. Mussels are already so small, and trying to cut them may cause you to rough up the meat and diminish quality.

Due to their small size, mussels are often served with crusty bread to soak up the sauce and help fill you up. My personal favorite is when the bread is slightly toasted as it still retains some crunch, even when dipped in sauce.

You should only consume cooked mussels as raw mussels may cause harm in the form of foodborne illnesses. Mussels should also always be cleaned properly before cooking and subsequent consumption.  

What Do Mussels Taste Like?

An opened mussel shell with meat inside

The Taste of Mussels

Mussels are fresh, salty, and light in flavor. Some even consider them somewhat bland, allowing them to blend into many dishes, taking on surrounding flavors easily.

If you’ve eaten clams or oysters, rest assured that mussels are less slimy than their shellfish siblings, although their flavor profiles aren’t far off. Although, clams tend to be saltier than mussels.

The Texture of Mussels

With a subtle salty flavor, they also do not taste as briny. However, mussels are not as tender as clam meat, meaning they have a slightly chewy texture.

This chewy texture should also be soft to your mouth, meaning you shouldn’t have to chew hard to enjoy them. If the mussels have an overly rubbery texture, then they’ve been overcooked!

Additional Nutritional Facts

Mussels are low in fat, high in protein, and contain Vitamin C and Vitamin B12 as well as Omega-3 fatty acids. So, whether you’re dining out or trying out a new recipe with mussels, this superfood is an excellent choice.

Do Mussels Taste Fishy?

Mussels don’t generally have a fishy taste. If they taste overly fishy, they may be spoiled.

Their salty flavor is often compared to the taste of the ocean instead of fish. This lack of fishy flavor also contributes to the ease with which mussels adapt to many dishes. Many people refer to mussels as the chicken of the sea, as they have a subtle flavor and their white meat can be used in many recipes!  

Some say mussels possess a fishy undertone like catfish, but everyone’s taste buds differ. Others say a mussel’s flavor is comparable to a mushroom, especially the subtle sweetness in the meat. But, of course, different types of mussels taste different. So, the only way to know if you like mussels is to try one!

How Different Cooking Methods Bring Out the Flavor of Mussels

A man steaming mussels by walking pedestrians

Steaming is the most common cooking method used with mussels. A steamed mussel will have much of the salty, agreeable flavor it is known for. However, you can add a broth or other foods to the boiling liquid used to steam the mussels; ingredients such as herbs, tomato, onion, and garlic infuse the meat with additional flavors perfect for appetizers.

Mussels can also be baked in an oven, though they must be steamed first. To pack the meat with extra flavor, top the mussels with lemons, sauces, or creams that will seep into the meat or turn into a crispy topping in the oven! You can place some garlic cloves around the mussels in the oven to help enhance the flavor further. Baked mussels are a very hearty dish best enjoyed as a complete meal.

If mussels are grilled, they take on a different flavor and texture than usual, but they are just as delicious. Cold mussels are also delightful, and both kinds can be left or drizzled with a classic garlic butter sauce and topped with fresh herbs.

Regardless of the cooking method you choose, a little added butter — or a lot — always pairs well with mussels. If you’re looking for a slightly healthier option, olive oil is also a strong compliment when preparing mussels.

What Drinks and Side Dishes Best Compliment the Flavor of Mussels

A glass of white wine

Many cooks pair mussels with foods like pasta, rice, French crusty bread, roasted potatoes, and salad. They are an excellent protein served on a bed of carbs and often embellished with a lemon garlic-butter sauce. Generally, the flavors that work best with mussels include garlic, dill, thyme, cilantro, parsley, and saffron. 

Horseradish cream and white wine sauce are popular dressings for mussels, and a cold glass of white wine pairs well with most mussel-centered dishes. You can substitute white wine for other types of wine if you enjoy them more.

No matter the chosen added flavor or cooking method, mussels are a favorite seafood option worldwide—and for good reason! They are delicious, agreeable with other dishes, and a healthy, sustainable food option.

So next time you have the chance to order linguine, paella, or seafood chowder with mussels, try it out! After all, now you know what to expect.

What to Do Next

Whether it’s your first time trying mussels, or it’s been a while, go out and enjoy some! Try different types of mussels, prepared in different ways, and let us know what you think.

Also, check out this delicious recipe:

And if you’re interested in learning more about how various shellfish taste, check out our guide on what shrimp taste like.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Do Mussels Scream When Cooked?

No, mussels don’t scream when cooked. They don’t have vocal cords, so screaming is not a possibility!

Are Mussels Alive Until You Eat Them?

Mussels are alive and should be alive up until the point when you cook them. When it comes to any seafood, you want it as fresh as possible to prevent bacteria growth and foodborne illnesses. Regardless of whether they’re freshwater mussels or saltwater — it’s a good thing!

Are Mussels Clean to Eat?

If you’re in the US — the mussels you’re purchasing follow strict food safety requirements. This means they can only be caught in “approved waters” where the local state and governing bodies approve the water quality. These local specialists measure for type and volume of contaminants to ensure the mussels, and other delicacies, are safe for consumption. As such, they are clean to eat!

When you make mussels at home, it’s always a good idea to wash them prior to cooking to remove any unwanted residue and give yourself some extra peace of mind.