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Mussel (/ˈmʌsəl/) is the common name used for members of several families of bivalve molluscs, from saltwater and freshwater habitats. These groups have in common a shell whose outline is elongated and asymmetrical compared with other edible clams, which are often more or less rounded or oval.
The word "mussel" is frequently used to mean the bivalves of the marine family Mytilidae, most of which live on exposed shores in the intertidal zone, attached by means of their strong byssal threads ("beard") to a firm substrate. A few species (in the genus Bathymodiolus) have colonised hydrothermal vents associated with deep ocean ridges.
In most marine mussels the shell is longer than it is wide, being wedge-shaped or asymmetrical. The external colour of the shell is often dark blue, blackish, or brown, while the interior is silvery and somewhat nacreous.
The common name "mussel" is also used for many freshwater bivalves, including the freshwater pearl mussels. Freshwater mussel species inhabit lakes, ponds, rivers, creeks, canals, and they are classified in a different subclass of bivalves, despite some very superficial similarities in appearance.
Freshwater zebra mussels and their relatives in the family Dreissenidae are not related to previously mentioned groups, even though they resemble many Mytilus species in shape, and live attached to rocks and other hard surfaces in a similar manner, using a byssus. They are classified with the Heterodonta, the taxonomic group which includes most of the bivalves commonly referred to as "clams".
The mussel's external shell is composed of two hinged halves or "valves". The valves are joined together on the outside by a ligament, and are closed when necessary by strong internal muscles (anterior and posterior adductor muscles). Mussel shells carry out a variety of functions, including support for soft tissues, protection from predators and protection against desiccation.
The shell has three layers. In the pearly mussels there is an inner iridescent layer of nacre (mother-of-pearl) composed of calcium carbonate, which is continuously secreted by the mantle; the prismatic layer, a middle layer of chalky white crystals of calcium carbonate in a protein matrix; and the periostracum, an outer pigmented layer resembling a skin. The periostracum is composed of a protein called conchin, and its function is to protect the prismatic layer from abrasion and dissolution by acids (especially important in freshwater forms where the decay of leaf materials produces acids).
Like most bivalves, mussels have a large organ called a foot. In freshwater mussels, the foot is large, muscular, and generally hatchet-shaped. It is used to pull the animal through the substrate (typically sand, gravel, or silt) in which it lies partially buried. It does this by repeatedly advancing the foot through the substrate, expanding the end so it serves as an anchor, and then pulling the rest of the animal with its shell forward. It also serves as a fleshy anchor when the animal is stationary.
In marine mussels, the foot is smaller, tongue-like in shape, with a groove on the ventral surface which is continuous with the byssus pit. In this pit, a viscous secretion is exuded, entering the groove and hardening gradually upon contact with sea water. This forms extremely tough, strong, elastic, byssal threads that secure the mussel to its substrate allowing it to remain sessile in areas of high flow. The byssal thread is also sometimes used by mussels as a defensive measure, to tether predatory molluscs, such as dog whelks, that invade mussel beds, immobilising them and thus starving them to death.
In cooking, the byssus of the mussel is known as the "beard" and is removed during preparation, often after cooking when the mussel has opened.
Humans have used mussels as food for thousands of years. About 17 species are edible, of which the most commonly eaten are Mytilus edulis, M. galloprovincialis, M. trossulus and Perna canaliculus. Freshwater mussels are nowadays generally considered unpalatable and are almost entirely not consumed, although the native peoples of North America ate them extensively and still do today.
In the USA during the Second World War, mussels were commonly served in diners and eateries across the country. This was due to the lack of access to red meat (such as beef and pork) for the general public, in relation to the aspect of the American wartime rationing policy concerning food, with much of the meat available being sent to aid the US military's war efforts abroad. Instead, mussels became a popular substitute for most meats (with the exception of chicken).
In Belgium, the Netherlands, and France, mussels are consumed with French fries (mosselen met friet or moules-frites) or bread. In Belgium, mussels are sometimes served with fresh herbs and flavorful vegetables in a stock of butter and white wine. Fries and Belgian beer sometimes are accompaniments. A similar style of preparation is commonly found in the Rhineland where mussels are customarily served in restaurants with a side of dark bread in "months containing an R", that is between September and April. In the Netherlands, mussels are sometimes served fried in batter or breadcrumbs, particularly at take-out food outlets or informal settings. In France, the Éclade des Moules, or, locally, Terré de Moules, is a mussel bake that can be found along the beaches of the Bay of Biscay.
In Italy, mussels are mixed with other sea food, they are consumed often steam cooked (most popular), sometimes with white wine, herbs, and served with the remaining water and some lemon. In Spain, they are consumed mostly steam cooked, sometimes boiling white wine, onion and herbs, and served with the remaining water and some lemon. They can also be eaten as tigres, a sort of croquette using the mussel meat, shrimps and other pieces of fish in a thick bechamel then breaded and fried in the clean mussel shell. They are used in other sort of dishes such as rices or soups or commonly eaten canned in a pickling brine made of oil, vinegar, peppercorns, bay leaves and paprika.
In Turkey, mussels are either covered with flour and fried on skewers (midye tava), or filled with rice and served cold (midye dolma) and are usually consumed after alcohol (mostly raki or beer).
They are used in Ireland boiled and seasoned with vinegar, with the "bray" or boiling water as a supplementary hot drink.
In Cantonese cuisine, mussels are cooked in a broth of garlic and fermented black bean. In New Zealand, they are served in a chilli or garlic-based vinaigrette, processed into fritters and fried, or used as the base for a chowder.
In Brazil, it is common to see mussels being cooked and served with olive oil, usually accompanied by onion, garlic and other herbs. The plate is very popular among tourists and low classes, probably because of the hot climate that favours mussels reproduction.
In India, mussels are popular in Kerala, Maharashtra, Karnataka-Bhatkal, and Goa. They are either prepared with drumsticks, breadfruit or other vegetables, or filled with rice and coconut paste with spices and served hot. Fried mussels ('Kadukka' കടുക്ക in Malayalam) of north Kerala especially in Thalassery are a spicy, favored delicacy. In coastal Karnataka Beary's prepare special rice ball stuffed with spicy fried mussels and steamed locally known as "pachilede pindi".
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