How to tell if mussels are fresh

Updated November 21, 2016

Mussels live in the lower beds of the ocean. Often, they are called the "poor man's seafood" because of their abundance and low cost. Many cultures have incorporated mussels into their cuisine. The French prepare mussels with garlic, parsley and white wine. Thais steam mussels with ginger, coconut milk and curry. Whatever cooking style you prefer, make sure to pick fresh mussels from your local fish market or supermarket.

Buy mussels as close as possible to when you'll cook them, and definitely on the same day. Mussels tend to perish quickly. Go to a reliable fishmonger or fish market.

If you collect your own mussels, mussels must come from unpolluted water. Eat mussels when they are in season, during the cold months from October to March.

Purchase only live mussels. Look for tightly closed mussels. Fresh live mussels are always closed. Smell the mussels; fresh mussels will smell like a clean beach.

Bring the mussels home and store them in the refrigerator in a colander to help them breath. Place a towel under the colander to absorb any liquid. Rinse them with cold water.

Pick over mussels that have chipped or cracked shells. If the mussel has a damaged shell, it will not be fresh and should be thrown out. Tap any opened mussels, if the mussel stays open it is dead and should be thrown away.

Shake and swirl the lot of mussels in a bowl aggressively for 30 seconds. A number of them will close. Throw away any mussel that does not close.


The colour of a mussel does not indicate quality or freshness. Orange flesh indicates a female and whiter hues suggest male. Mussels do not need to be cooked for very long; they are fully cooked when the shell opens partially. Overcooked mussels will shrink and be tough. Avoid salting the mussels as they will release salty juices when cooking. Fresh mussels will die if soaked in water. Don't soak the crustaceans to get them clean; remove the beard and rinse under cold water. Give the mussels a good scrub before cooking.


Eating undercooked or old mussels may cause illness. Mussels feed from the waters in which they live, which is why it is important they come from clean waters.

Things You'll Need

  • Colander
  • Towel
  • Bowl
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