Mussel is the common term for members of several families of freshwater and marine bivalve mollusks.
They belong to the marine family Mytilidae and to the freshwater family Unionidae.
Worldwide in distribution, they are most common in cool seas.
Freshwater mussels, also known as naiads, include about 1,000 known species inhabiting streams, lakes, and ponds over most of the world.
Marine mussels are usually wedge-shaped or pear-shaped and range in size from about 5 to 15 cm (about 2 to 6 inches). They may be smooth or ribbed and often have a hairy covering. The shells of many species are dark blue or dark greenish brown on the outside – on the inside they are often pearly.
Mussels attach themselves to solid objects or to one another by proteinaceous threads called byssus threads – they often occur in dense clusters. Some burrow into soft mud or wood.
Both marine and freshwater mussels are filter feeders – they feed on plankton and other microscopic sea creatures which are free-floating in seawater.
Also, both marine and freshwater mussels are gonochoristic, with separate male and female individuals.
Principal enemies of the mussel are birds (e.g., herring gulls, oystercatchers, ducks), starfish, and dog whelks.
Humans have used mussels as food for thousands of years.
About 17 species are edible for humans. Some specie are are raised commercially. M. edulis, which attains lengths of up to 11 cm (4.3 inches) and is usually blue or purple, has been cultivated in Europe since the 13th century.
In the US during the Second World War, mussels were commonly served in diners and eateries across the country. This was due to the lack of access to red meat (such as beef and pork) for the general public, in relation to the aspect of the American wartime rationing policy concerning food, with much of the meat available being sent to aid the US military’s war efforts abroad. Instead, mussels became a popular substitute for most meats (with the exception of chicken).
In Belgium, the Netherlands, and France, mussels are consumed with French fries (“mosselen met friet” or “moules-frites”) or bread. In Belgium, mussels are sometimes served with fresh herbs and flavorful
vegetables in a stock of butter and white wine. Fries and Belgian beer sometimes are accompaniments. A similar style of preparation is commonly found in the Rhineland where mussels are customly served in restaurants with a side of dark bread in “months containing an R”, that is between September and April. In the Netherlands, mussels are sometimes served fried in batter or breadcrumbs, particularly at take-out food outlets or informal settings. In France, the Éclade des Moules, or, locally, Terré
de Moules, is a mussel bake that can be found along the beaches of the Bay of Biscay.
In Italy, mussels are mixed with other sea food, they are consumed often steam cooked (most popular), sometimes with white wine, herbs, and served with the remaining water and some lemon. In Spain, they are consumed mostly steam cooked, sometimes boiling white wine, onion and herbs, and served with the remaining water and some lemon. They can also be eaten as “tigres”, a sort of croquette using the mussel meat, shrimps and other pieces of fish in a thick bechamel then breaded and fried in the clean mussel shell. They are used in other sort of dishes such as rices or soups or commonly eaten canned in a pickling brine made of oil, vinegar, peppercorns, bay leaves and paprika.
In Ireland they are boiled and seasoned with vinegar, with the “bray” or boiling water as a supplementary hot drink.
In Turkey, mussels are either covered with flour and fried on shishs, or filled with rice and served cold and are usually consumed after alcohol (mostly raki or beer).
In Cantonese cuisine (cuisine of the Guangdong province of China), mussels are cooked in a broth of garlic and fermented black bean.
In New Zealand, they are served in a chilli or garlic-based vinaigrette, processed into fritters and fried, or used as the base for a chowder.
In Brasil, it is common to see mussels being cooked and served with olive oil, usually accompanied by onion, garlic and other herbs. The plate is very popular among tourists and low classes, probably because of the hot climate that favours mussels reproduction.
In India, mussels are popular in Kerala, Maharashtra, Karnataka-Bhatkal, and Goa. They are either prepared with drumsticks, breadfruit or other vegetables, or filled with rice and coconut paste with spices and served hot.
Nowadays, freshwater mussels are generally considered to be unpalatable and are almost entirely not consumed, although the native peoples of North America ate them extensively and still do today.
The fastest time to open 100 mussels is 1 min 55.28 sec achieved by Angela Fredericks (New Zealand) at the Havelock Mussel Festival, Havelock, New Zealand, on 19 March 2016.
The largest serving of mussels is 4,898 kg (10,798 lb 3 oz) and was created by Havfruen Fiskerestaurant (Norway), in Trondheim, Norway, on 3 August 2012.