Clean Shaved Is Best
Tasmanian mussel farmers hope that by giving their mussels a clean shave they will encourage more people to eat them.
Around the world over 1 million tonnes of mussels are consumed every year. In parts of Europe annual consumption per person is over 1300 grams. However here in Australia we consume as little as 300 grams per person per annum.
It is thought that one of the barriers to increased consumption is that mussels are messy and time consuming to prepare.
"Not any more," says Phillip Lamb from Spring Bay Seafoods.
"Mussels taste best when they are steamed in their shells and they look fantastic on a plate. The problem was that chefs had to spend time scrubbing the shells and pulling out the 'beards' to make them ready for the pot."
Phillip Lamb - Managing Director, Spring Bay Seafoods
To overcome this Tasmania is now producing clean shaved mussels where 90% of this work is already done!
The secret is an innovative processing system that takes the freshly harvested mussels through a brush cleaner, and then a series of rollers that mechanically 'shave' off the beard or byssal threads.
The mussels are then re-immersed in chilled fresh seawater and allowed to rest after their trim, before being packed in ice ready for transport.
The result of the de-bearding process is a cleaner, more presentable mussel that is virtually 'ready-to-use.' All that is required is a quick rinse, tip in the pot and steam.
Australia's first mussel de-bearding facility at Triabunna in Tasmania is a joint venture between Spring Bay Seafoods and Tasea – a marketing co-operative of Tasmanian shellfish producers.
"We cannot guarantee that 100% of all beards will be removed," says George Pitt from Tasea.
"We are very happy with 90% though and we're sure that chefs will be too. It really will make their jobs that much easier and quicker.
It is important to remember that these are living animals and some will be a little more modest than others and not want to lose their beards so readily! Our system is set up to get the maximum success rate with the minimum stress on the mussels. Any extra stress may compromise the shelf life and that's not what we want.
With our system we can provide fresh mussels with a shelf life of between 8-10 days from harvest provided they are properly stored."
George Pitt from Tasea
An independent study by the Australian Food Safety Centre of Excellence conducted in April 2005 has shown that there appears to be no difference in the shelf life of de-bearded and bearded mussels.
Why Mussels Have Beards
In Tasmania mussels are grown on suspended ropes, rather than on the seabed. Rope cultured mussels are always cleaner and grow better and more consistently than bottom cultured mussels. In Tasmania these ropes are usually in fairly deep water with a cool current running through it. To hang on to these ropes the mussels secrete a byssal thread. In some cases that byssus or beard can be quite large and unattractive and has to be removed by hand.
In the USA, Canada and Europe producers have been mechanically de-bearding their mussels for years.