In South Africa, especially on the Coast, you will come across thousands of black clam-looking species on the rocks at certain sea shores – these are called mussels.
Restaurants (Especially Caffe San Marco at the V&A Waterfront in Cape Town) serve the finest mussels in a creamy white wine sauce and harbours such as Hout Bay Harbour sell fresh mussels straight off the boat. I always found mussels a little gross as the “black sack” on the side of them looks a little off-putting. I’ve now matured a little and have come to love them – in pastas, paellas, with white wine sauce & even grilled with garlic and breadcrumbs.
Last weekend I enjoyed mussels at Basilico and the horrible thought of the “black sack” popped into my head again. My mind began to race. Is it really the poo? Maybe it’s the brain? It’s probably the stomach? But then where are the reproductory organs? How do mussels even reproduce? I couldn’t get the idea of mussels reproducing out of my mind for the remainder of the day. Hence the purpose of this post: WHAT ARE MUSSELS AND WHAT IS THAT BLACK SACK?
• Part of the clam family, classified into two categories: freshwater and marine mussels (ocean water). Humans eat marine mussels, which fresh water mussels are eaten by otters, ducks, geese etc.
• In most marine mussels the shell is longer than it is breadth, hence the wedge-shape.
• The external colour of the shell is often dark blue, blackish, or brown.
• Mussels feed on plankton and other microscopic sea creatures
What is that black stuff?
It is the plankton (and other microscopic creatures) eaten by the muscle that are still in its digestive tract when caught and cooked – ie. the undigested remnants the mussel did not have time to digest. Yes, I also just scrunched up my face a bit at the thought of eating “undigested ruminants” – However, at least now I know what I am eating.
The little suckers do taste pretty good and the “waste” still inside them does come from microscopic species and plankton, which have also not been digested yet. So in actually fact, I am not eating poo. At least I’m happy about that. Also, I have not once gotten sick from them, so I think I will continue to eat them. I tend to consider myself quite an adventurous eater though – I’m still waiting to cross blowfish off my bucket list!
If the idea of eating mussels still scares you (or if I have made it scare you), I’m sorry – And I think it’s best to just eat them and not look inside. Why let a little plankton hold you back?