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What is Abalone?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 05, 2024
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The abalone is a gastropod found in most of the oceans in the world and prized as a culinary treat among the Japanese and residents of the West Coast of the United States, among others. Due to concerns about over harvesting, many nations have limits on how many may be taken, and some entrepreneurs have opened abalone farms so that they can be harvested and sold legally. Like other edible gastropods, the part that is eaten is the large muscular foot, which forms the majority of the body.

An abalone is a univalve, meaning that it has one shell, rather than two symmetrical shells, like with clams and oysters. The shell is a slightly flatted whorl, resembling an ear, with a slightly elevated apex at the center of the spiral. Along one edge of the shell, there are small holes to support respiration, and the creature lurks inside the shell, clinging to rocks with its foot while it searches for algae and other food sources. If the abalone can be prised from a rock, the entire underside of the foot is exposed. The inside of a shell resembles mother of pearl, and is frequently used ornamentally in jewelry and inlay, while the outside of the shell is reddish brown in color. Most host seaweeds and smaller mollusks on their shells for camouflage.

Abalone reproduce by releasing eggs or sperm into open water. Usually, large groups gather in a single location to do this, increasing the change of fertilization. The fertilized eggs form larva called veligers, which drift in the ocean for approximately two weeks until they develop into baby abalone and seek out rocks to make their homes on. If allowed to grow to maturity, they can get quite large, and will develop interesting occlusions in their shells as a result of encounters with rocks and other organisms.

In many regions, there is a size limit on abalone to prevent the harvest of juvenile specimens. The size limit varies depending on local regulations, and many areas also have an overall capture limit which a fisherman cannot exceed in a season. Farmed abalone are not subject to these regulations. In any case, once one has been pried from a rock, it itself must be removed from the shell and trimmed, leaving the edible foot behind.

Because the foot is a muscle, it needs to be tenderized before being eaten. Most cooks tenderize the foot whole by pounding it with mallets before slicing it thin and pounding it again. A classic method of preparation involves breading and frying, but some adventurous cooks add it to pasta sauces or make sushi with the rich white flesh. Breaded and fried abalone is delicious hot or cold served with a wedge of lemon, and is a popular food in California in particular.

Frequently Asked Questions

What exactly is abalone?

Abalone is a type of marine mollusk found in various oceans around the world. It's known for its distinctive ear-shaped shell, which houses a soft-bodied animal. The shell is often iridescent and lined with mother-of-pearl, making it highly sought after for decorative purposes and jewelry. Abalones are also prized for their edible flesh, considered a delicacy in many cultures.

How does abalone differ from other shellfish?

Abalone stands out from other shellfish due to its unique shell structure and the presence of a single shell, as opposed to bivalves like clams and mussels that have two shells. Its muscular foot, used for clinging to rocky surfaces, is larger in proportion to its body compared to other mollusks. Additionally, abalone is known for its ability to produce nacre, or mother-of-pearl, which gives the interior of its shell a lustrous sheen.

Where can abalone be found, and what is its habitat?

Abalones are typically found in cold coastal waters of the Northern Hemisphere, including the coasts of New Zealand, South Africa, Australia, Western North America, and Japan. They prefer rocky shorelines where they can cling to surfaces and feed on algae. Their habitat ranges from intertidal zones to depths of about 20 meters, although some species can be found deeper.

What is the conservation status of abalone?

Many abalone species are under threat due to overfishing, poaching, and environmental changes. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), several species are listed as critically endangered. Conservation efforts include regulations on harvesting, size limits, and the establishment of marine protected areas to help populations recover.

How is abalone used in cuisine, and why is it so prized?

Abalone is highly regarded in culinary circles for its tender texture and subtle, buttery flavor. It's often prepared in simple dishes that highlight its natural taste, such as steamed or sautéed with light seasonings. Due to its scarcity and labor-intensive harvesting process, abalone is considered a luxury item, especially in Asian cuisine, where it's served on special occasions.

Can abalone be farmed, and how does this impact wild populations?

Yes, abalone can be farmed, and aquaculture is increasingly seen as a sustainable alternative to wild harvesting. Farming abalone involves breeding and raising them in controlled environments, which can alleviate pressure on wild populations. This practice not only helps meet market demand but also contributes to conservation by reducing the need for wild capture, as noted by the Food and Agriculture Organization.

AllThingsNature is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a AllThingsNature researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By anon317904 — On Feb 04, 2013

Years ago when I was in a car accident in California, I had many cuts on my face. Someone told me to get a natural abalone shell (unpolished), put something inside the shell and it would make a cream that would minimize the scarring and decolor them. Well, I did it, the shell made the cream and it worked wonders. Problem is, I can't remember what it was I put in the shell to have it make a cream. Does anybody know what it could have been?

By bear78 — On Dec 20, 2012

Abalone jewelry is so beautiful. I have a bracelet made of abalone stones and I love the colors in them. They look so gorgeous in light.

I also like the fact that it's not expensive. It looks like an expensive stone for those who don't know what it is but it's very affordable.

By ddljohn — On Dec 19, 2012

@fBoyle-- I had abalone once and that was in Japan. It tasted really good, but then again, it was cooked with a lot of butter. And we all know butter makes everything taste good.

I haven't had the opportunity to try abalone again. I should look out for it when I travel to the coast.

By fBoyle — On Dec 18, 2012

What does abalone taste like? Does it taste like mussels?

By seag47 — On Dec 11, 2012

I think it would be fun to go abalone rock picking! I've heard that there are a lot of rules you have to follow, but imagine being able to take home such a nice chunk of seafood and cook it that night!

By GigaGold — On Mar 06, 2011

"Abalone" has a shady etymology, being transmitted to English via Spanish from an old Native American language of coastal California.

By Renegade — On Mar 03, 2011


The problem of seastorms and weather will be a constant issue in this kind of a world. The Pacific will probably provide the most secure area for sea cultivation of important crops like the abalone. Also, the diet changes would probably affect the world in unforeseen ways.

By dbuckley212 — On Mar 01, 2011

Seafood is among the healthiest and most delicious food the world has to offer. We have a vast store of flora and fauna wealth beneath the ocean, and it is likely that as humans continue to grow in population we will grow in our farming and cultivation of the oceans.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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