Clams vs. Oysters

Clams and oysters are the most popular mollusks, and among the most popular seafood. They have a high nutritional content and they can be prepared in a variety of ways. When it comes to picking a favorite, it's nearly impossible to choose between the two options. Taste for yourself.

This is a close look at a bunch of mixed seafood showcasing clams and oysters.

Clams and oysters are both tasty shellfish. At first glance, they may seem fairly similar. However, there are some key differences between calms and oysters, and even among the different types of each.

When it comes to choosing between clams vs oysters, it’s a difficult choice. Which one is better?

Table of Contents

Related: What to Serve with Steamed Clams | Clams vs. Mussels | Types of Clams | How to Clean Clams | Types of Oysters | How to Store Clams | Clam Alternatives

What are Clams?

This is a close look at a cooked clams vongole.

Both clams and oysters are types of bivalve mollusk. This means that they have a two-part shell and two muscles.

Clams are bivalve mollusk that lives in salt and fresh water, depending on the species. They bury themselves in the sand. The shells are equal in size and shape and are held together with two abductor muscles.

This is a table depicting the nutritional values you get from eating clams.

Clams have a strong burrowing foot to help them burrow into the sand. Most clam species are oval, but the razor clam is elongated. Clams are usually served as part of a dish, like clam chowder.

The most common species of clam is Mercenaria mercenaria, known as Quahog clam and as Atlantic Hard Shell Clam. The giant clam is popular in Pacific Island nations, and it is the largest bivalve mollusk.

What are Oysters?

This is a bunch of open oysters on ice with a slice of lemon.

Oysters are a marine animal that lives in brackish or salt water. They can’t live in freshwater for more than a few months. They attach themselves to a hard surface, like a rock or a pier. Oysters group together, and a group of oysters is known as an oyster bed or oyster reef.

The oyster has an irregularly shaped shell, making it easily distinguished from its mollusk cousin the clam. An oyster’s shells are connected by a hinge.

Edible oysters come from the family Ostreidae. Edible species include Crassostrea gigas, known as Pacific Oyster, Crassostrea virginica, known as Eastern Oyster, and Ostrea lurida, known as Olympia Oyster.

This is a table depicting the nutritional values you get from eating oysters.

Sustainability

Sustainability is becoming an important topic in today’s society. More people are becoming vegan or vegetarian out of concern for the environmental toll taken by livestock farming and meat production. However, as the world population continues to grow, so will the demand for meat.

A study performed by Frontiers in Ecology Environment found that beef production had the largest footprint. However, mollusks and small fish had the lowest environmental impact. For those concerned about the environment, eating more of these types of seafood is an excellent choice.

Eating Clams vs Oysters

This is a close look at a pate of seafood that has clams and oysters.

Clams and oysters have become stuck in some unfortunate stereotypes. It’s thought that a clam is only suitable as an ingredient in a dish and that an oyster can only be eaten raw, known as oysters on the half shell.

The truth is that both can be enjoyed in many ways. Steamed, raw, or in a recipe. Clams have a briny taste and are chewy. Oysters are buttery and soft.

How to Shuck an Oyster or Clam

This is a close look at a chef shucking an oyster.

If you’ve never shucked oysters, it can be a bit of a challenge. First, you’ll need an oyster knife. It’s best to have the right tool for the job instead of using a standard kitchen knife.

Turn the oyster shell so the flat oyster side up so that the juice remains in the shell. Find the hinge, and slide the knife in. You’ll need to rock it back and forth as you push the knife a few centimeters in. Then a broadside to side motion should open the shell.

Next, run the knife along the interior of the flat side to cut the muscle holding the shell together. Move the blade underneath the oyster to remove it from the cupped side of the shell.

Clams follow a similar process. You’ll need a clam knife, which has a rounded end. Put the tip of the knife into the area where the shell opens, and twist it back and forth gently. Once you pry the clam open, use the knife to cut the abductor muscles. Run the knife under the clam to remove it from the bottom shell. For clams in a half shell, place the clams in the top shell.

Clams are the easiest of the two to open, although both are well worth the process.

Hard vs Softshell Clams

A bowl of steamed soft shell clams with a side of butter.

Hard clam is the most common type used for seafood. These clams close their shell completely. Softshell clams have a larger siphon. The siphon can’t retract completely so the softshell clam never completely closes its shell.

They have a similar flavor and can be used interchangeably in recipes. However, the siphon on the soft shell clam can be tough, so many people prefer to remove it.

Clam and Oyster Dishes

There are a wide variety of ways to eat clam. Raw clam and oyster is always a great choice, but they aren’t the only way to eat these mollusks.

Clams casino involves boiling clams. Then bacon, breadcrumbs, and butter are added. The clam shells are placed in a broiler and are then ready to serve.

Clam chowder is a New England favorite as well. The chowder typically contains potatoes, pork, and onions.

Oysters Rockefeller is a classic dish. Spinach, onion, and butter are typically added to oyster on the half shell. They are then baked and served.

Pairing Other Seafood with Oysters and Clams

This is a close look at a bunch of scallops.

You don’t have to choose between oysters and clams. Why not enjoy both? In fact, a seafood smorgasbord is an excellent way to enjoy what the sea has to offer.

Shrimp are very versatile. They can be added to pasta, fried, or cooked in a scampi. You can also pair them with your favorite shellfish.

Cockles have a less briny flavor than clams. This bivalve is actually a clam cousin. They are much smaller, so you’ll need 3-5 cockles to replace one clam in a recipe.

The scallop is another type of bivalve. Sea scallop is larger and has a chewy texture. Bay scallop is smaller and tender, with a mildly sweet flavor. A scallop shell has a classic fan shape.

Clams vs Oysters FAQs

Is It Safe to Eat Raw Clam or Raw Oysters?

These mollusks can be harvested from coastal waters or shellfish growers. No matter the environment, they can pick up bacterium because they filter water through their shells.

it’s important to purchase shellfish from a reputable fish monger. Purchase them live, particularly if you intend to eat raw shellfish.

Do all mollusks produce pearls?

Pearls are commonly found in pearl oysters and mussel. Any mollusk is capable of producing a pearl, but they aren’t common in species harvested for seafood. So it’s possible to find a pearl in edible clams or oysters, but not likely.

Why do you not chew oysters?

There’s actually no reason not to chew oysters, other than urban legend. Chefs say that you should be chewing the oyster. It brings out its full flavor. 

Why aren’t mussels served raw on a half shell, as are oysters and clams?

Mussels must be cleaned with particular care to avoid food poisoning when eaten raw. The shells are more fragile than that of other shellfish, and they aren’t considered as attractive. 

Can oysters and clams move on their own?

Oysters and clams both have a foot. This foot allows them to move along the sand. A clam’s foot is designed for burrowing into the sand, while an oyster’s is designed to latch onto a hard surface. 

What are tastier, farmed oysters or wild oysters?

Both farmed and wild oysters live in the same area. They get the same food, which gives them the same flavor. Farmed oysters grow a bit faster, and wild oysters have a bit more meat. Farmed oysters are raised in cages in the ocean, so they are in the same environment as their wild counterparts. When it comes to taste, they are equally delicious. 

Do Oysters or Clams Have Greater Nutritional Value?

Both types of mollusks are low in calories, high in protein and B12. Oyster provides zinc, phosphorous, and potassium. Clam contains iron, selenium, Vitamin C, and iron. There is no clear winner because they both excel in nutritional value. 

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