How to Identify Clams

Clams can be classified in one of two ways: as a general term describing bivalve molluscs, or as a specific type of bivalve molluscs that burrow into sand. There are over 2,000 varieties of clams, ranging from small cherrystone clams to giant geoduck clams. While some clams taste delicious raw, it is best to cook all varieties to avoid food-borne illnesses. Identify some of the more common types of clams before you head out on your next clam bake.

Find out where the clams originate. True cherrystone clams come from Cherrystone, Virginia. A cherrystone clam is a type of littleneck clam that is a small size.

Examine the shell. There should be two shells bound at one end with a ligament. The colour ranges between a slate grey and dull brown. Thin bands around the surface of the clams give the shells bumpy exteriors.

Look at the clam's size and shape. Littleneck clams range from less than one inch in size to three inches in diameter. They are circular in shape with a narrow "neck" pointing at one end.

Softshell clams also are known as Ipswich clams. Make sure softshell clams originate from the East Coast in Ipswich, Massachusetts. The clams are two to four inches in diameter.

Look at the clam's shape. Softshell clams are an oblong, egg shape with a slight point at one end. A small, tubelike shape called a chondrophore juts out at one end of the shell.

Examine the clam's colour. Softshell clams have variegated appearances ranging from light ivory to a creamy yellow colour. Light-brown banding circles the shell's surface.

Feel the shell. The shell should be very thin and fragile, and slightly open.

A cockle's shape is similar to a littleneck, but the neck is more pronounced with a pointed end.

Examine the colour and texture. Cockle shells have vertical ridges that branch out from the necks of the clams. They range from white, grey, red, and light brown or yellow in colour.

Check the size. Cockle clams commonly grow from one to three inches in size. The smaller the clam, the more tender the meat is.


Get a seafood license before you dig for clams. Check with a seafood expert to make sure the clams you find are edible. Clams are alive until cooked or frozen. Keep fresh clams refrigerated for the best results.

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About the Author

Alyssa Ideboen has been writing professionally since 2005. She has contributed to several print and online publications, including "Lexington Woman" and "Global Business" magazines. Ideboen holds a Bachelor of Arts in business management and communication from Judson University.