Among other things, the ocean provides us with food – one-sixth of the human population rely on it as their main source of protein. But it can only continue doing so if we take care of it with the help of sustainable aquaculture. As consumers, we can also contribute by buying seafood produced by such practice. And this is where mussels come in. They may well be one of the most sustainably farmed sources of protein.
Growing mussels requires little energy. Their carbon footprint is 20 and 50 times less than that of chicken and beef, respectively. Thanks to their lazy nature and the byssal threads that they themselves produce, mussels are quite easy to farm. What they do is simply attach themselves to whatever comes their way with their byssal threads. This makes it easy to imagine why they are grown on ropes, which are hung in the ocean. This means that the ocean floor is not disturbed.
Moreover, this mussel farming practice requires few or no chemicals, which is one reason why it is eco-friendly. Also, mussels feed on plankton naturally, so they don’t require supplemental feeding. Being filter feeders, they also help improve the quality of water.
So how is it done?
Again, mussels are clingy creatures, so to speak. So just give them something to attach themselves to – in this case, a rope (even a frayed one works). Hang the ropes in the water to catch the mussel larvae. This is typically done in the late spring – mussels start spawning as temperatures increase. By fall, they will be ready for socking, which means that they will be placed inside long mesh tubes. They are sorted according to their size, though, which helps maintain uniform shell sizes. While they are stuffed into the sock, they will gradually move out of the sock over the next few months. Of course, this is with the help of the above mentioned byssal threads. The sock eventually collapses into a thin rope in the centre of the mussel column. They are left to grow in the ocean for at least one year. After which, they are ready to be harvested.
As with anything you buy, there are things you need to take note when buying mussels. Pick those with tightly closed shells as this indicates that they are fresh. Then avoid those with chipped, broken, damage shells. Also, before cooking them, check if they are alive; their being open and responsive can mean that they are dead. If such is the case, discard them – enzymes quickly break down the meat, so they can be unpalatable or poisonous after dying.
All things considered, mussels are a great seafood option. You get to enjoy your mussels rather guilt-free, in terms of its environmental impact. Mussels are really healthy too, so eating them can also be guilt-free in that sense. They are a great source of protein. They are also rich in vitamins and minerals, such as the vitamins A, C, and B12 and manganese, selenium, and zinc.