After a somewhat discouraging look at Chilean farmed salmon last month, it has been a pleasure to discover
’s other aquaculture: mussels--delicious, clean, nutritious, environmentally sustainable and socially responsible seafood. Chile
Source: Yokota Mussel Farming in Chile
Mussels have been part of human diet for about as long as we have been human: early Homo sapiens at Pinnacle Point near
South Africa's Mossel Bay on the Indian Ocean were harvesting and eating mussels 164,000 years ago (+/-12,000 years). Closer to (my) home, archaeological sites on the Chilean Island, Chiloé, provide evidence that by 6,000 years ago blue mussles (choritos, Mytilus sp.), giant mussels (choros zapatos, or maltones, Choromytilus chorus) and ribbed mussels (cholgas, Aulacomya ater) were part of the diet of early Chileans , just as they are today.
Marine mussels (there are also freshwater mussels) inhabit the tidal zones of temperate oceans around the world, many on rocky shores exposed to breaking waves. When covered with water they feed by filtering plankton from the surrounding sea, and when exposed by low tides their shells close tightly maintaining liquid within. Reproduction occurs in the spring when males release clouds of sperm and females release eggs into the surrounding water. The offspring pass through several free floating larval stages before settling, then attach to a firm object with byssal threads—their “beards.” 
Mussel cultivation in
Chile has his its roots in the 1940s, when over-exploitation of both cholgas and choros zapatos in the area between and Chiloé let to experiments in collecting mussel larva for replenishing natural beds. By the 1960s these efforts resulted in Valdivia ’s first farmed mussels and by 1982 production had expanded to commercial scale with production of over 1,600 metric tons. By 2003 production had increased to 60,000 tons, of which 85% was exported, 90% to Chile Europe. 
The cultivation process begins with the collection of “seed” mussels on stationary nets where they attach themselves. By midsummer they are ready to be transferred to ropes suspended vertically in “long line” cultivation systems, where they remain to “fatten” for 12 to 24 months, before being harvested.
Artisanal mussel production (photo Germán Henriquez)
Processed mussels, largely for export, are frozen or canned, but in
So, are you ready? Begin by buying a kilogram or so of choritos , which will yield about 200 gm of mussel meat. Refrigerate them (don’t put them in water) until you are ready to cook—2 or three days should be okay. Then scrub with a stiff brush or scouring pad and scrape off any attached barnacles with a knife.
Discard any that don’t close (or at least move) when tapped or that are broken.
For your first meal I suggest you serve them simply—steamed as a first course with Chilean salsa verde. Bring an inch or so of water to a boil in a pot large enough to hold the mussels. Dump in the mussels, cover the pot, and cook for about 10 minutes; almost all will open, but any that don’t need not be discarded if they look okay. Serve on the half shell. For the salsa verde, mince onion, parsley and a touch of green chile and add abundant lemon juice and a little oil. Pick up a half-shell, add a bit of sauce, and eat. A crisp, cold sauvignon blanc will be a great complement.
You will find that they have a nice marine taste, without being strong or “fishy” and that the salsa verde provides a nice tang.
And while eating them, you can consider their virtues:
- Nutritional--100 gm. cooked mussels have about 170 calories, 24 gm. of protein and 4.5 grams of fat, including .5 gm of omega-3 fatty acids; pretty good on all counts. And being low on the food chain, they accumulate very low quantities of organochlorine contaminants. Nutritionally they are excellent.
- Environmental—Farmed mussels require no feed, and as filter feeders, leave the sea water cleaner than they find it. Some sea floor sedimentation occurs below farm sites, but at low levels. The industry web site, AMICHILE, notes that mussel farming..
…is largely innocuous and produces minimal impact if adequately maintained, as dictated by industry norms and the rules which regulate it, but we are concerned about some difficulties in maintaining a clean environment, fundamentally the visual impact produced by our cultivation, our use of low-technology flotation systems and the existence of dirty beaches.
Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood watch says:.
Farmed mussels are an excellent choice because they are farmed in an environmentally responsible way. …As with other related species – scallops, oysters and clams – farming methods for mussels are environmentally sound. Mussels do not rely on fishmeal or fish oil as part of their diet. Diseases are rare, so antibiotics and chemicals are not necessary, and the aquaculture operations often benefit the surrounding marine habitat. 
- Economic--Mussel cultivation employs 6,500 workers and had exports in 2003 of $25.7 million.
- Social—The industry has a reputation for social responsibility. I encountered no criticism of its safety record or relations with employees, and it seems to be a force for good in the communities, manly in Chiloé and the adjacent mainland, where it operates.
…has centered on the development of a industry that is sustainable and responsible--to its workers, consumers, the environment, and the social milieu in which it grows--an industry prepared to satisfy the growing world demand for food, especially protein, produced under the highest standards of sanitation and quality.
We consider the association [AMICHILE] an effective tool for the achievement of these common objectives, and for consolidating the interests and concerns of producers and the challenges that they face and will face this vigorous industry.”
Finally, you can consider how you will prepare them next time. Two of my favorites are mussels and sausages with rice (photo), and mussels provincial (recipe card) but every culture seems to have mussel recipes. A few are available at Allrecioies.com and Epicurious.com, and even today’s New York Times has a Southeast Asian Mussel Salad.
 Early Humans Wore Makeup, Ate Mussels. Associated Press, Oct. 17, 2007. On line at http://dsc.discovery.com/news/2007/10/17/makeup-ancient-human-print.html
 Legoupil, Dominique. Recolectores De Moluscos Tempranos En El Sureste De La Isla De Chiloé: Una Primera Mirada (Early Shell Gatherers In The Southeastern Part Of
Chiloé Island: Preliminary Results) Magallania v.33 n.1 ago. 2005. On line at http://www.scielo.cl/scielo.php?script=sci_arttext&pid=S0718-22442005000100004&lng=es&nrm=iso. Punta Arenas
 Asociación Gremial de Mitilicultores de Chile, AMICHILE, on line at http://www.amichile.com/actividades/endesarrollo/index.php
 Yokota, Eugenio. The Mussel Farming in
, July 3-5 2005. On line at www.aquacultureassociation.ca/ac05/abstracts/pdf/Yokota.pdf Chile
 In cholgas and choros zapatos females have dark-colored flesh, with a somewhat stronger taste; try choritos first.
 Mollusks, mussel, blue, cooked, Mytilus edulis L. (data for M. chilenis not available)
on line at http://grande.nal.usda.gov/NDL/cgi-bin/list_nut_edit.pl; Exler J, Wehrauch JL. Provisional table on the content of omega-3 fatty acids and other fat components in selected foods. U.S.D.A., Human Nutrition Information Service, HNS/PT-103, 1988 on line at http://www.thepaleodiet.com/nutritional_tools/omega3.shtml
 Medio ambiente, AIMCHILE http://www.amichile.com/medioambiente/responsabilidad/index.php
 Mussels, Seafoodwatch on line at http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/SeafoodWatch/web/sfw_factsheet.aspx?fid=79
 Historia y vision, AIMCHILE http://www.amichile.com/medioambiente/responsabilidad/index.php