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article image''Affordable oysters'' - Mussels Make A Healthy Meal

By Heidemarie Puetz     Jan 4, 2002 in Lifestyle
HAMBURG (dpa) - The common mussel is of one of the sea animals that early humans would have tasted first and for residents of tidal areas - especially in autumn and winter - they still make a tasty meal.

German fishermen take their cutters out daily to search for the dark shellfish in the mudflats off the coasts of East and North Friesland. Yet further inland, northerners and Rhinelanders appear to be the only Germans to appreciate the mussel in large quantities.

The flesh of the sea-dweller is an excellent source of iron, salts, protein, unsaturated fats and vitamins A and B.

Sonja Redmann of the Fish Information Centre in Hamburg says that a large proportion of the mussels eaten in Hamburg come from breeding grounds off the North Sea coast. They mainly supply markets in France, Belgium and Germany's Rhineland region. "The people there have always been traditional mussel-eaters," says Manuela Gubernator, manager of Lower Saxony Mussel-Fishers in Wangerland near Wilhelmshaven.

Mussels are soft-bodied invertebrates enclosed in hinged shells. The mussel has some impressive muscles which can snap its two shell halves together as soon as danger appears. These muscles makes it possible for the shellfish to keep its "jaw" closed for weeks on end without tiring.

In the wild, the common or blue mussel lives in the waters between ten metres depth and the surface in the tidal flats of the Atlantic and North Sea. These highly adaptable creatures cling to cliffs, sandbanks and other surfaces by way of adhesive strands called byssus.

To ensure stocks are preserved and reduce risks through storms and pack ice, mussels are reared in controlled environments.

"We are no longer fishers but cultivators," says Peter Ewaldsen of the Association of Schleswig-Holstein Mussel Producers in Horsbuell. While the Dutch method is generally used in German waters - which involved sowing seed mussel (larvae) in so-called mussel gardens on the seabed - the French rear their famed Bouchot mussels on stakes sunk into the seabed.

Only one per cent of Schleswig-Holstein's national parks are used for mussel cultivation, says Ewaldsen. "We can only fish for seed mussel in areas covered by water at low tide." This is to prevent man becoming a competitor to certain animals which eat mussels, such as birds.

Depending on weather conditions, the larvae, collected twice a year at specific times as stock, grow in mussel gardens to a length of five to eight centimetres in less than two years. Once they have reached this length, they are pulled up from their sandy beds and are moved to "wet storage" in seawater until they are sold.

"No foodstuff is as strictly controlled as mussels," says ichthyologist Herby Neubacher from Hamburg, because up to four litres of water flow through the jaws of the mussel, from which it filters its nutrients - and plenty of toxins. Constant checks and fixed limits prevent environmental poisons and toxic algae being consumed by the mussels.

Nevertheless, buying mussels is a matter of trust. The trader should know the shellfish's waters of origin. At home, they should be brushed carefully under cold, running water to removed sand and calcium deposits. Any filaments remaining should be pulled out.

Only closed mussels are cooked - the ones that are already open are bad and should be thrown away. The same is true for the ones that don't open during cooking.

Belgians like their "moules" with potato chips. The French steam them with vegetables and white wine, refined with creme fraiche. The people of the Rhineland serve pumpernickel with theirs, and when their baked with almond butter, the common mussel will put any oyster in the shade.
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