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About mussels

Mussels are the most important product for the Dutch shellfish industry. The fishing town of Yerseke in Zeeland is a major source of all mussels in northwestern Europe. Approximately 90 million kilograms of mussels are processed per year, of which more than 50 million kilograms come from Dutch waters. Yerseke is also home to the Dutch Mussels Auction. Most of the mussels that come from this city are sold fresh. Among the largest markets in terms of sales are Belgium and France.

Mussels and health

Mussels are delicious and also very healthy. They contain large amounts of protein and very little of fat. In addition, they are also rich in minerals, calcium, phosphorus or vitamins. Fat in mussels is polyunsaturated, which means that it does not increase cholesterol. Mussels also have a high content of iodine, selenium, copper and iron, so regular consumption contributes to a balanced and healthy diet.

Strict safety requirements

Mussels live in the wild where they feed from water. Their natural environment, ie pure water with nutrients, is crucial for mussels. Although problems rarely occur in Eastern Scheldt waters, algae or bacteria forming toxins sometimes occur, especially when the water temperature rises. The mussel industry is taking note of this risk, so the Dutch Food and Consumer Product Safety Authority (NVWA) is closely supervising the waters in which mollusks are kept. If the samples collected are too high, NVWA will pre-seal the area until the new samples show that the situation has returned to normal. This method is called the "Early Warning and Response System" and guarantees the transfer of non-toxic products to the hands of companies that process and market them. This means that the mussels are harvested only after they are clear that they do not contain harmful algae, bacteria or viruses. The mussel processing factories first buy, register with the Dutch Mussels Auction, then cleanse them and get rid of the sand. During this process, processors constantly check the quality to ensure complete safety.

Bottom breeding versus rope breeding

Bottom breeding of mussels in the Netherlands is complemented by rope breeding. In this method, the mussel eggs are hung in long, sock-shaped cotton nets with a rope in the middle. During breeding, the grown mussels are torn off several times and re-hung on a rope in smaller numbers to give them more room for growth. Line farming differs significantly from bottom to bottom in several aspects. First, hanging mussels tend to grow faster because they are higher in the water column where more food is available. When used on ropes, mussels are scraped off mechanically in a different way than at the bottom, so that their shell is not damaged, which is weaker due to faster growth. Since these mussels do not come into contact with the bottom, no sand is needed to remove them. All line rearing is carried out in the waters around Yerseke, where the annual production of mussels on the ropes averages 5% of the total mussel production in the Netherlands.

Mussel size: from Extra to Gold Label

Mussels are available in a variety of sizes, from small Extra to Jumbo, Imperial to Super or Gold label. In some cases, one kilogram of mussels contains only 45 pieces, in other cases you can buy more than 75 pieces. It depends on the size of the shells. However, the actual number of pieces per class and season is always determined.
In addition, the majority of packages will show separately the number of pieces per kilogram. The most commonly used two-kilogram impermeable food container is used to pack fresh mussels. Restaurants and wholesalers are supplied with up to 15 kg bags.

Dutch seashells season

The Dutch mussels season usually begins with a new crop in early July. However, the specific start date of the season depends on the delivery and quality of the mussels, which is highly related to the weather in the spring. In June, mussels are still recovering from the spawning season, which runs every year from April to May. The season for mussels in the Dutch Zeeland area then continues until April of the following year.
Thanks to rearing, the mussels tend to recover somewhat faster after reproduction, which means they are suitable for consumption early in June.
There is sometimes a misunderstanding about the availability of mussels today. Previously, it was possible to take mussels only in months, which have the name ‘r’ in Dutch, mainly related to their durability. However, since the introduction of refrigerated transport, mussels are available from July until April. The air-conditioned production chain, from processing to storage, guarantees fresh, balanced flavors. As a result, the mussels are available for up to 9 months a year.
However, in the Netherlands it is still useful to pay attention to whether the seasons in their name include the letter ‘r’. Mussels are generally available mainly in summer (zomer), autumn (herst) and winter (winter). On the contrary, in spring (lente).
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