Clams vs Mussels: 6 Main Differences Explained

Written by Lex Basu
Updated: September 15, 2022
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Key Points:

  • Some differences between clams and mussels can be observed visually, such as their different shell shapes and textures. Clams also have the potential to grow much larger than mussels.
  • Clams tend to reside half-buried and do not undergo a parasitic stage. Mussels usually live together in groups attached to a substrate and spend a stage of their lives as parasitic glochidia on fish.
  • For culinary purposes, clams have a strong flavor, can be better kept out of water, and may be eaten raw. Mussels have a more mild taste, spoil easily, must be cooked, and typically require a sauce.

Clams and mussels are popular seafood. Some people like one over the other, while other people enjoy both, and some have never eaten either. They can be somewhat intimidating for people who are hesitant about shellfish. If you want to try them, it’s best to get familiar with them.

Clams and mussels are both mollusks, and although they are obviously different in flavor, people don’t know much else off the top of their heads. How would you be able to tell between the two? Which one has better nutrition? How do you cook them? We’ll go through all of their unique features below.

Comparing Clams vs Mussels

HabitatFreshwater & saltwater; halfway buriedFreshwater & saltwater; attached to substrate in groups
ShellRound or long (razor) shaped, stout, fat, smooth, oval equally-sized halves, organs inside, hard to openOblong, irregular round, thin, rough, and either black, dark blue or brown, silver or grey inside
SizeVarious sizes; largest is 4.25 ft long and 500lbsMarketable at 40mm
DietFilter feedingFilter feeding
Life cycleNo parasitic stageGlochidia stage
TasteStrong flavor, salty, fishy, chewy, keeps better out of waterSomewhat bland, mild, tender, chewy, spoils easily
Cooking techniqueRaw or cooked various waysCooked various ways; needs sauce
TaxonomyPhylum Mollusca, class Bivalvia, most are subclass HeterodontaPhylum Mollusca, class Bivalvia
NutritionVitamin C, vitamin B12, potassium, copper, calcium, phosphorusVitamin B1, iron, selenium, folate, magnesium

6 Key Differences Between Clams and Mussels

Clams vs Mussels: Shell

There are many types of clams and mussels, and they can be of different sizes. Some clams can grow to be much larger than mussels, though. If you look at and handle their shells, you can notice several differences no matter their species. A clam’s shell always has two equally-sized halves and they tend to be oval, except for the razor clam, and it’s also smooth and being very tightly closed, making it hard to open. But a mussel’s shell is rough and irregularly round or oblong, thin, and longer than it is wide. It is either black, dark brown, or blue in color, with a silver or grey inside.

Within the shell, you will notice both have muscular feet and pearls but there’s another difference, which is the clam’s presence of organs. A clam has a heart, circulatory system, and some digestive system parts. A mussel has an enveloping mantle to secrete the shell, front and back adductor muscles to open or close the shell, two pairs of gills, and labial palps to move food to its mouth.

Clams vs Mussels: Habitat

You can see clams and mussels living in either fresh or saltwater, but how they live is different from each other. Clams are halfway buried in sand or riverbeds, which is why finding clams is called clam-digging. Mussels live in groups and attach themselves to a substrate using thin threads called byssal threads.

Clams are most likely to be found in areas with shallow water. Various species of clams can be found in all of the world’s oceans. Freshwater clam varieties make their homes in ponds, lakes, and rivers. Mussels are easiest to find in intertidal zones, areas that are only under seawater during high tide. Most mussels live in areas with temperate, mild climates.

Clams vs Mussels: Life cycle

When it comes to reproductive cycle, clams and mussels both reproduce sexually. Clams male and female both release the sperm and egg into the water when it is around 10 degree C, the eggs are then fertilized and in the next 12 hours turns into trocophore larvae and after a few days the start to form the shell.

Mussels on the other hand have a different reproductive cycle. The male mussel releases the sperm in the water, which is then taken in by females. The eggs are fertilized inside the female mussels gill and when the grow into a larvae, also known as glochidia. These glochidia are then released into the water where they have a parasitic stage in which the larvae attaches itself to the gills, fins, or bodies of other fish to be distributed throughout a body of water.

Clams vs Mussels: Taste

Clams and mussels are both well known in the culinary world as one of the best seafood. Although they are both chewy, clams have a stronger flavor reminiscent of the sea and are salty or fishy, and mussels have a milder, tender flavor that is somewhat bland, so they tend to be served with a sauce or in a stew.

Clams vs Mussels: Cooking technique

Both clams and mussels can be cooked in various ways, including steamed, stuffed and baked, roasted, grilled, and stewed. Steaming is the easiest and most common cooking method for mussels, while clams are best known in clam chowder. You can choose to eat clams raw, but mussels must be cooked. Also, clams keep better out of the water but take longer to cook.

Clams vs Mussels: Nutrition

Both clams and mussels are good for you as great sources of protein, low in calories and saturated fats, and they contain all of the essential amino acids you need, especially omega-3 fatty acids. They differ in the types of nutrients and the number of nutrients they have, although there are individual differences between species as well. Both are rich in zinc, phosphorus, copper, magnesium, potassium, calcium, iron, and sodium. Compared to mussels, however, clams, in general, have more vitamin C, vitamin B12, calcium, phosphorus, copper, and potassium. Mussels have more vitamin B1, iron, selenium, folate, and magnesium than clams They also have less sodium, so they’re better for people who need to watch their sodium intake.

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The photo featured at the top of this post is ©

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About the Author

Lex is a green-living, tree-hugging, animal-lover, who at one time was the mother to twenty one felines and one doggo. Now she helps pet owners around the globe be the best caretakers for their most trusting companions by sharing her experience and spreading love.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

Which are better, mussels or clams?

Overall, clams are richer in nutrients but mussels have less sodium.

Are mussels and clams the same thing?

No. Both are bivalve mollusks but that’s where their similarities end.

Are clams or mussels healthy?

Yes. They are even higher in protein than finned fish, and have omega-3 fatty acids and all other essential amino acids.

Are mussels or clams cheaper?

Mussels are much cheaper than clams. It’s because it’s easier to grow mussels, which can be grown on ropes suspended in water than to dig clams from sand or the seafloor.

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