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What makes the mussels from the Mediterranean, not just those who love it? It is a recently discovered special property that has nothing to do with cooking but with climate change. It is the opportunity served on a silver platter to get to know these animals better and to find out how they behave in this period in which there are no longer half seasons.
The more technical name is mussels, we also find them indicated with names such as muscles, peoci, pedoli and they are bivalve molluscs typical of the Mediterranean but which we also find present on the Black Sea and in a certain part of the Atlantic coast, in particular in the one that goes from Morocco to the British Isles. Over time, it has also conquered other territories where it has entered into competition with local species, earning it fame as an "invader". This happens for example in New Zealand and Australia, in California and also in South Africa and Japan. Mediterranean mussels are so invasive in these parts that they have been included in the list of the hundred most harmful invasive species.
Mediterranean mussels: characteristics
The mussel that lives in our seas is equipped with gills with gills they need to feed themselves, retaining the food they find in the sea, and also to breathe, capturing oxygen. They mostly eat plankton, mixed with what they find suspended in the sea.
The "shell", called valve, is black or purple in color, it can show concentric circles of growth. It is composed of calcium carbonate, inside it is smooth and mother-of-pearl color, the drop shape is asymmetrical and typical of this muscle. The hinge that joins the two shells has three or four teeth and is quite strong. Inside the mussels there is the part called the mantle, with the various internal organs. Its color allows us to identify the sex to which the individual belongs: if it is yellow tending to cream it will be a male while if it tends to red-orange it will be a female.
Mediterranean mussels: properties
It's time to find out what these mussels do in particular in front of climate changes that are characterizing our era. They are proving to be particularly resilient, meaning that they are able to deal with them without suffering as much damage but rather adapting and modifying themselves in order to continue to survive in their environment.
An international study published in Nature Communications tells how Mediterranean mussels are able to resist theacidification of the seas, linked to high carbon dioxide emissions, thanks to genetic variants. To achieve this result, many mussel samples were analyzed in the Oceanological Observatory of Villafranca Marittima, on the French Mediterranean coast, to understand how the different genetic variants behaved in environments with different pH.
The researchers noted that the more acidic the water was, the more the shells grew slowly, at first, and then accelerated and reached the size of the others grown in environments with more neutral pH. This means being resilient, this shows how Mediterranean mussels are equipped with genetic variants that make them capable of resisting theacidification of the seas. It is not common to observe such an adaptation in marine species and this leads us to believe that mussels will survive better than other animals in the coming years because they are genetically advantaged. They will also have to deal with other problems such as the increasing salinity of the water and the bizarre variations in temperature, to be discovered if they are resilient even in the face of this.
Mediterranean mussels in the kitchen
Let's go back to talking about these molluscs in the context in which we know them best, the culinary one, to tell about their properties not always known even to those who taste them by licking their whiskers and fingers. Fished or raised in large quantities, they contain approx 58 kcal per hectogram and they are extremely rich in nutrients such as iron (5.8 mg per 100 g of edible portion). They contain various antioxidant substances, such as selenium and vitamin E, as well as a high percentage of polyunsaturated fatty acids.
Despite being a food of animal origin, they have very few saturated fatty acids. In our gastronomic tradition we find many recipes with which to serve this mollusk on the table, others come to us from Mediterranean cuisines different from ours such as French, Spanish or Greek. With wine, aromas or tomato sauce can be cooked with the shell, both in a pan and in a pot. In particular in the Neapolitan area we can find the note "peppered with mussels" and the “Sautéed mussels“, With garlic and oil in addition, in France we find them in the Provençal style, for example, with a sauce rich in aromas. To serve them on the table, French style, you need an ad hoc pot, very simple but perfect for keeping them warm and to preserve a certain style. We find some examples on Amazon, like this one.
Without shell we can prepare them fried in a pan or in a pan simply with pepper, oil and salt. Tasty recipes see mussels au gratin in the oven or in tasty sauces to dress pasta. In the Spanish Paella there are Mediterranean mussels, in all versions, and today they are often protagonists together with other seafood of interesting salads.