After reading both sides of the debate (cp. beneath), I can't make up my mind!

I live in Toronto, Canada. I buy my mussels from Diana's Seafood or Loblaws.

Evidence for soaking in salt water for 20 mins

  1. Try This Simple Tip for Plump Steamed Mussels and Clams | Kitchn

    Just before cooking, soak mussels or clams in a bowl filled with cold water, salt and about 1/4 cup of flour for about an hour. Why do this? The benefits are twofold: 1. Removing debris [...] 2. Plumping up mussels & clams [...]

  2. How to Clean Mussels | Saveur

    3. Using your hands, agitate mussels gently to remove any debris clinging to the shells. Let mussels soak for 15 minutes. During submersion, mussels filter water in and out of their shells as they breathe. Soaking encourages them to expel any sand or debris remaining inside.

  3. YouTube — Bart Van Olphen at 0:09, Just Eat Life at 0:23 soak them.

    Evidence against

  4. Don't fear the mussels - Chicago Tribune by James P. DeWan, Special to the Tribune. DeWan is an instructor at the Cooking and Hospitality Institute of Chicago. Mar 15 2006.

    2. Just before cooking, rinse the mussels under cold running water. If they're gritty, scrub them with a brush (photo 1). Discard any with broken or cracked shells. Mussels that feel unusually heavy are probably filled with mud and should be tossed. Tap any whose shells are open with a knife. If the shell closes, the mussel is alive and therefore good. Discard any that won't close.

    Now, many cookbooks and chefs alike advocate soaking mussels in tap water for an hour or so before cooking. The idea is that they'll take in the clean water and eject any sand or grit that's hiding inside their shells. Some sources suggest adding flour, cornstarch or cornmeal to the water to encourage the purging. Others suggest these additions will fatten the mussels or whiten their flesh in the process.

    However, knowing that mussels are ocean creatures, and me being generally suspicious anyway, I decided to consult three experts: two marine biologists and one "seafood technology specialist." All three agreed that tap water is the mussel's enemy. At best, the mussel will simply shut its shell, precluding any purging; at worst, it will drown.

    While one expert said that mussels soaked in fresh sea water (hard to come by here in the Midwest) will purge themselves of some grit, the other two agreed that farm-raised mussels (and commercially available mussels are nearly all farm-raised) are relatively clean to begin with and don't need purging.

    My conclusion: Don't soak. Just rinse, and hope for the best.

  5. Seafood Safety: What Consumers Need to Know

    Store live shellfish, such as oysters and mussels in the shell, in a shallow dish covered with damp towels or moistened paper towels. Never put live shellfish in water or in an airtight container. Scrub shells with a stiff brush just prior to shucking or cooking.

  6. Mussels: How To Clean Mussels

    To clean the shells put them under running water and rub against each other for a few minutes. Run under the water until the mussels feel smooth with no visible gritty residue. Never put mussels in standing water (i.e., in a bowl of water): they will open to breathe, releasing the salt water and absorbing the tap water. That's exactly what we want to avoid.

  7. YouTube — Chefs Becky Salengut, Franck Dangereux, Thomas Joseph don`t.

  • Where do you live, and where did you get the mussels?
    – moscafj
    Commented Jul 8, 2019 at 0:37
  • In my experience, commercially sold mussels in North America do not need to be purged. Clean the exterior, debeard if necessary, cook.
    – moscafj
    Commented Jul 8, 2019 at 10:29
  • 1
    My personal experience with both mussels and clams has been that soaking them in salt water (calculated to be the same salinity as sea water) causes them to purge some grit as well as helps soak dirt off their shells. However, you've pretty much already researched all the valid sources, so I don't see that my personal experience stands up against those.
    – FuzzyChef
    Commented Jul 8, 2019 at 22:13
  • item 5 is for storing shelfish, not for cleaning them.
    – Luciano
    Commented Aug 1, 2019 at 11:30

1 Answer 1


Where I come from (Portugal) it is quite common to see in most restaurants and establishments shellfish being soaked several hours to even days long before consumption, especially sand dwelling shellfish, which is not the particular case of mussels.

The reason for this is that it keeps them alive and fresh for longer, while also purging any remaining sand or debris naturally found inside them, which is very common in burrowing shellfish, quite unpleasant to find when eating and can virtually ruin the dish.

These are however always soaked in either salted tap water at worse, or at preferably clean natural sea water from where they came from at best. Never just unsalted tap water, because this would obviously kill them quickly, and remove any natural salt that acts as flavor enhancer. Chlorine based disinfectants commonly present in tap water will also slowly affect quality of any living creatures (including aquarium fish) and may eventually be fatal them in the long run.

From your provided examples, most against soaking either state that tap water will kill them quickly, or considerably affect quality (which are both true); or is not needed for farmed shellfish.

I can't speak much for farmed shellfish, they are not as common here and quality may vary with providers and techniques, but even farmed one can some times be quite sandy.

So I'd say that soaking with either salted water or ideally sea water is at at worst redundant or not needed, but can be quite beneficial in some situations.

For farmed shellfish, if you find them clean and edible it is probably not needed, for "free range" ones you probably have more to gain by soaking than not.

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