Everybody loves seafood, and luckily there are thousands of options available! They’re healthy, delicious, and extremely versatile ingredients that accompany thousands of different flavors!
Mussels especially have always been a popular seafood item, but most people only know black mussels. What? There’s more than one type of mussel?! Lucky for you, yes! And green-lipped mussels are actually equally common!
But, what is the difference between black mussels and green mussels? The most obvious difference is the size and color of the mussel. Black mussels are named after their black shells and green mussels after their grey-green shell. Secondly, green mussels are almost twice as big in size, naturally making them more expensive.
Today, we will be looking at not only these differences, but how they differ in the way they are farmed, their availability, what affects their price, and all their uses.
Then we will have a look at how to steam mussels and how you can pan fry them at home!
Black mussels are arguably the most well-known and most consumed species of mussels. They are one of the two most common varieties that can be found in the U.S., the other being green mussel.
These mussels are regularly confused with blue mussels because of how identical they look; however, they are different.
Blue mussels have a blue-ish hue to them whereas black mussels are unmistakenly black. Their shape and sizes are very similar to each other, so to identify them you have to look at the color of their shells.
Black mussels thrive on Pacific and Atlantic coasts where the water is much cooler. Some of these countries with the highest mussel aquacultures include South Africa, Canada, China, and the United States.
These mussels are farmed in nature, meaning they are almost always naturally grown and harvested. Ropes are suspended into densely packed areas so mussels can grow onto them.
This makes it much easier to harvest and control the size of the group attached.
This is another reason black mussels are much more common compared to green mussels. When they grow naturally and with little labor, you can yield bigger batches.
Characteristics of Black Mussels
Black mussels are the most common so you probably already know what they look like. Their average size is around 2.5-inches in length, but this does vary depending on the region you get them from.
Black mussels have extremely intense flavors that are unchallenged by other species. They also boast their tender and soft texture, while also being less chewy than green mussels.
Availability and Cost
Black mussels are available almost everywhere around the world. This is partly because of the way that they are farmed, but also because of their natural presence in a lot of areas.
You can find them either fresh or frozen in many different forms. They can come whole, half-shelled, or as only mussel meat (meaning no shell at all). You will also see that they are often flavored or marinated.
These common mussels are also the species used to produce canned or pickled mussel products.
Being this readily available almost right throughout the year, the price is very affordable, in some countries actually shockingly so!
Like we have previously mentioned, green mussels are another common species available in the U.S. and most other countries. You will also see that they are sometimes labeled as “Green Lipped Mussels”.
These mussels are native to New Zealand and regions in the pacific rim (the western shores of North and South America), although many countries like India have started farming them in open waters.
Because these mussels are native to New Zealand, a lot of countries farm them locally. The restrictions and regulations are extremely strict and closely monitored. Farming mussels require excellent water quality and feed.
Characteristics of Green Mussels
This beautiful mollusk has the traditional shape of most mussels, although they are much larger in size, almost twice as big as your regular black mussel. They average around 6-inches in length, which naturally affects their price tag.
These mussels have very firm, chewy, tender textures. You will find that their flavor isn’t as intense compared to other species, although they still are quite tasty and some even say slightly sweet.
Availability and Cost
Because these mussels are almost exclusively naturally grown in New Zealand or otherwise farmed, the price for them is significantly higher. These aren’t scarce, but they are definitely not as easy to find compared to black or even blue mussels.
The larger size also makes them more expensive as well as their seasonality.
The green mussels, although being harder to find, also comes fresh or frozen, and in forms like whole, half shell, and even meat-only.
What’s The Difference?
So, now that we have discussed each of these seafood items individually, let’s compare their differences side by side.
First and most obviously, their color is what distinguished the two different species the most.
Green-lipped mussels have an obvious grey shell with beautiful green hues whereas the black mussels have a very intense and deep dark blue shell.
The next noticeable feature that makes them stand out from each other is their size. The green mussels are much larger compared to the common black mussel, but both can still vary in size.
Black mussels are well known for their soft and tender texture, while green mussels have a more chewy texture.
When it comes to their flavor, as with all ingredients, it comes down to personal preference so neither is “better” compared to the other. Black mussels have very intense and slightly sweet flavors, whereas green mussels aren’t as prominent.
The way these mussels are farmed also differs considerably. Black mussels are farmed in their natural environment on ropes, making them extremely quick and easy to harvest.
They can also be found in a lot of areas in the world where they grow in abundance.
Green mussels on the other hand are much scarce, despite being common. Their scarcity is based on the fact that they can only be naturally found in New Zealand and some coasts in South and North America.
These green-lipped mussels are farmed, making them much more costly to produce, hence their more expensive price tag.
Both these varieties, seeing that they are relatively common, can be purchased either fresh or frozen. In areas where they aren’t grown or farmed in some way or another, you will find that frozen ones are easier to find.
In local areas where they are abundant, you will see that you can easily find both fresh and frozen forms between which the fresh ones are only slightly more expensive.
Then, you will see that you can find whole mussels, half shell, and mussel meat in both fresh and frozen forms. You can also find these in pickled or canned versions, even in a variety of delicious and refreshing flavors.
|Traits||Black Mussels||Green Mussels|
|Size||Averages around 2.5 inches||Averages around 6 inches|
|Shape||Traditional shape||Traditional shape, just larger|
|Color||Deep dark blueish black shell||Grey shell with obvious green lip and hues|
|Texture||Soft and tender texture||While still tender, they tend to be chewier|
|Taste||Very intense flavors, some even say slightly sweet||Less intense flavors, but equally delicious|
|Availability||Available in almost all parts of the world and during most months.||Can be found in some form throughout the year, but only grows in New Zealand, so is often farmed and exported.|
|Cost||Very cost-effective because of availability||Very expensive because of their scarcity, despite being a common variety|
Uses of Green and Black Mussels
When we look at how each of these is used, they are to a certain extent interchangeable. Their flavors and textures are so similar that you can mainly choose one over the other because of availability, cost, and aesthetic looks.
People mainly consume mussels for two reasons; health and diet, or simply because it’s delicious.
Mussels have many health benefits and are fine to consume in a pesco-vegetarian diet. They are high in healthy and nutritious proteins, omega-3 fatty acids, as well as various other minerals and vitamins.
The most common ways to cook virtually any type of mussels includes steaming them whole or in half-shells, or pan-frying mussel meat.
In terms of flavor, both green-lipped mussels and black mussels pair well with the same ingredients. The best flavor accompaniments for seafood are always fresher flavors like lemon juice or zest, fresh herbs, olive oil, and even pickled foods.
Garlic and wine is also a classic and effective flavor pairing and enhances the natural flavors of the mussels beautifully.
Some inspiring ideas for mussels recipes include steam garlic, fennel, and wine mussels, some deep-fried herb-crusted mussel meat, or some cheesy baked mussels.
Steamed Green and Black Mussels
When steaming mussels, you can use any form available. Most commonly whole mussels and half shell mussels are steamed, although mussel meat can also be steamed to retain its nutrients.
Both these species of mussels will cook in the same way but their times vary slightly. Because green mussels are naturally larger, they have to cook a bit longer compared to black mussels.
Black mussels only have to cook for about 5-7 minutes, whereas green mussels have to cook for 10-12 minutes.
Steaming mussels is a fantastic cooking method that helps the mussel meat retain its flavor, moisture, nutrients, and even enhances its beautiful color.
Steaming also allows you to infuse flavors of other ingredients like wine, garlic, herbs, and onion. You have a world of flavor to play around with.
How to Steam Mussels
- Sauté any vegetables, spices, herbs, or aromatics that you want to incorporate.
- Add the mussels to the pot and immediately add your liquid base. This can be broth, stock, wine, or even just water.
- Cover the pot or pan with a lid and allow black mussels to cook for about 5 minutes, and green mussels for about 10 minutes.
- Remove the lid and see if most of them have opened – this is when they are fully cooked. If they are still not done, place the lid back on the pot and continue cooking for another 1-2 minutes.
- Serve warm, preferably with the cooking liquid, and garnish with fresh herbs and zest.
Pan-fried Green and Black Mussels
Another fantastic and extremely popular way to cook mussels is by pan-frying the mussel meat. This helps release their natural flavors and add additional smokey notes.
The easiest mussels to pan-fry are ones without any shells; however, there are recipes that sautees whole mussels which are then added to a sauce base to further cook once opened.
The shells themselves also have delicious flavors that can be incorporated into a dish.
Pan-frying mussels should preferably be done with a liquid or wet ingredient. This is simply to prevent them from drying out too much, sticking to the pan, and even overcooking. Nothing is worse than a chewy, rubber-like mussel!
How to Pan-fry Whole Mussels
- Saute the base ingredients like vegetables, garlic, herbs, and spices.
- Add a dollop of extra oil before adding in all of the whole mussels and tossing them for roughly 2 minutes. They should start to open.
- Add your liquid base like wine or broth and continue cooking them until they are fully opened.
- Serve immediately while they are still warm and freshly cooked and garnish with some accompanying flavors like lemon or dill.
Now that we’ve gone over the differences between black and green mussels, let’s take a look at few related questions we thought you might’ve had while reading this article!
Can you eat mussels raw?
You can definitely eat mussels raw; however, they need to be properly prepared beforehand, preferably in some sort of acid marinade.
The acidity helps cure the mussel meat, essentially cooking it and making it safe to consume. You cannot eat mussels without this step or them being completely cooked in some other way.
Are mussels dangerous to eat?
Mussels are generally safe to consume; however, there are risks when using or when harvesting fresh mussels from certain areas.
Firstly, there is a high risk of red tide in some areas of the world. Red tide is a natural phenomenon where toxic algal blooms on the surface of the ocean. This contaminated the waters and the mussels in them.
Secondly, mussels grow in one place throughout their lives, making them susceptible to toxins and harmful bacteria in the area.
Always make sure to get your mussels from a reputable supplier.
Are mussels healthy?
Mussels are excellent sources of protein and omega-3 fatty acids! They also contain a fantastic amount of zinc, folate, iodine, iron, and selenium.
You should definitely consider incorporating more of these in your diet!