The Most Interesting Facts About Razor Clams

Razor clams are edible filter feeders that live on sandy beaches in the intertidal and subtidal zones. They thrive well in the protected bays and estuaries. Unlike other bivalve mollusks, razor clams have long and narrow shells. Their distinctive oblong form and razor-sharp shells are the defining features. In this blog, we will explore the most interesting facts about razor clams, including the health benefits of eating razor clams and tips for preparing them.

Razor clam shell

Interesting Facts about Razor Clams

  1. Speed Demons: Razor clams are known for their incredible speed. They can burrow into the sand with astonishing speed, reaching depths of up to one meter in just a few seconds. They can also swim by creating water jets that propel them on the ocean. Their agility helps them evade predators and capture prey.

  2. Size: The size of razor clams often depends on the species and water temperature. For instance, the razor clams in the colder Alaskan waters grow much larger than those in the Pacific Northwest. In Alaska, these clams can grow up to a whopping twelve inches. However, these clams reach about 3-6 inches in the Pacific Northwest.

  3. Breathing: Unlike other clams that rely on siphons to breathe, razor clams have a distinctive way of filtering oxygen. They create a U-shaped burrow in the sand, exposing a small section of their siphon to the water’s surface. This allows them to extract oxygen while hidden from predators.

  4. Longevity: Razor clams can live up to 15 years in the wild, making them one of the longest-living shellfish species. This impressive lifespan allows them to mature and reproduce, ensuring the sustainability of their population. However, not all razor clams reach this lifespan. For instance, those in Pacific Northwest have a maximum lifespan of 5-6 years because they live in warmer waters and grow faster than razor clams in the cold Alaskan waters.

  5. Migration: Razor clams undertake significant migrations during specific times of the year, moving in response to environmental cues such as temperature changes and moon phases. This behavior ensures optimal conditions for reproduction and survival.

Types of Razor Clams

1. Pacific Razor Clam

The Pacific razor clam, also known as Siliqua patula, is one of the most popular species of razor clams. These clams are found along the Pacific coast of North America, from California to Alaska. Pacific razor clams are recognized by their oblong shells and distinctive reddish-brown color. They can grow up to 7 inches long and are highly sought after for their sweet and delicate flavor.

2. Atlantic Jackknife Clam

The Atlantic jackknife clam, scientifically known as Ensis leei, is another prominent species of razor clams. This species was formerly known as Ensis directus. These clams inhabit the sandy shores along the eastern coastlines of North America and Europe. Atlantic jackknife clams are characterized by their straight and elongated shells. They have a beautiful pale color with subtle patterns and can reach lengths of up to 9 inches. These clams are cherished for their sweet and tender meat. They are delicious when prepared in various dishes, such as clam chowder, pasta, or simply steamed with butter and lemon.

3. Razor Shell

The razor shell (Ensis magnus) is a species of razor clam found on the shores of Europe. These clams have long, slender shells that can reach lengths of up to 10 inches. European razor clams are sought for their succulent meat, often enjoyed in dishes like paella, seafood stews, and grilled preparations.

4. Chinese Razor Clam or Agemaki Clam

The Chinese razor clam or agemaki clam(Sinonovacula constricta) is a razor clam species commonly found in Japan, China, and other Asian countries. These clams have shells that are longer and narrower compared to other razor clam species. Japanese razor clams are highly valued for their sweet and flavorful meat, which is often used in sushi, sashimi, and other seafood delicacies.

5. Alaska Razor Clam

The Alaska razor clam (Siliqua alaskensis) is a species of razor clam endemic to the coastline of Alaska. These clams have shells that are larger and wider than other razor clam species, reaching lengths of up to 10 inches. Alaska razor clams are known for their meaty texture and rich flavor, making them a prized ingredient in dishes like clam chowder, grilled preparations, and even as a standalone seafood delight.

Razor Clams vs. Geoducks (Gooey Ducks)

Razor clams and geoducks are both types of bivalve mollusks. However, they have distinct characteristics that set them apart.

Razor Clams

Razor clams have long, fragile, and slender shells with distinct necks or siphons.

They are smaller in size compared to geoducks.

Razor clams are found in sandy coastal areas.

They have a delicate and sweet flavor.

Razor clams are relatively easier to handle and cook due to their smaller size.

Geoducks (Gooey Ducks)

Several geoducks in water
“Geoducks” by eekim

Unlike razor clams, geoducks have an elongated and double-barreled siphon with a large and thick shell.

Geoducks are the largest burrowing clams in the world. Some geoducks reach over 3 pounds in weight, with siphons measuring up to three feet long.

They are found in muddy or sandy substrate in deeper waters.

Geoducks are sweet, crunchy, and slightly briny.

The Amazing Health Benefits of Eating Razor Clams

1. Rich in Nutrients

Razor clams are a nutritional powerhouse. They provide vitamins C, B1, and B12. For instance, razor clams are high in iron, zinc, magnesium, selenium, copper, and potassium. They are an excellent source of protein. Therefore, they can supply the various essential amino acids needed for cellular repair and growth.

2. Supports Brain Health

Razor clams are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for brain health and development. Therefore, eating razor clams can help boost cognitive function. So far, evidence shows that omega-3 fatty acids can improve memory, enhance learning abilities, and reduce the risk of cognitive decline.

3. Boosts Immune System

Razor clams can give a much-needed immune boost, as they are a good source of zinc and vitamin C, a powerful antioxidant that strengthens the immune system. Therefore, eating razor clams can protect against common infections and diseases and may help keep you healthy all year round.

4. Enhances Heart Health

Razor clams can contribute to a healthy cardiovascular system. They are low in saturated fats and cholesterol, making them a heart-healthy protein source. In addition, razor clams are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering blood pressure and reducing inflammation.

5. Supports Bone Health

Razor clams can also help build strong and healthy bones They are a good source of calcium, a mineral crucial for bone health and density. Consuming razor clams regularly can help prevent osteoporosis and ensure that your skeletal system stays strong and healthy.

Preparing Razor Clams Before Cooking

Preparing razor clams before cooking them is important. It helps remove sand, shells, and other inedible parts. It also makes it easier to access razor clam meat.

1. Cleaning Razor Clams

Start by rinsing the razor clams under cold running water to remove sand or debris from their shells.

Use a stiff brush or scrubbing pad to gently clean the shells, paying attention to any stubborn dirt or barnacles.

If there are any damaged or open clams, discard them as they may be spoiled.

Razor clams may release sand or grit when stressed. Therefore, you should gently clean them.

2. Removing Razor Clam Shell

To remove the shell from the razor clams, use a sharp knife or kitchen scissors.

Locate the peak of the neck, which is usually the widest part of the clam.

Carefully insert the knife or scissors into the peak of the neck, sliding it towards the back of the clam to sever the muscle that holds the shell together.

Gently pry open the shell, being cautious not to damage the edible meat inside.

Once the shell is removed, discard it and proceed to clean the meat.

3. Removing the Digest Tract

If desired, you can remove the tough, dark digestive tract from the razor clam meat.

To do this, make a shallow cut along the length of the meat to reveal the dark tract.

Use the tip of a knife or your fingers to lift and remove the tract carefully.

4. Cleaning Razor Clam Meat

  1. Rinse the razor clam meat under cold running water to remove any remaining sand or grit.
  2. Gently pat dry the meat with a paper towel to remove excess moisture.

FAQs About Razor Clams

How do you catch razor clams?

You can catch razor clams by digging them out of the sand during low tide. You can use a clam gun, clam shovel, or your hands to retrieve them. However, you should be careful as razor clam shells are sharp and can cut your hand or foot.

Are razor clams safe to eat?

Yes, razor clams are safe to eat as long as they are fresh and properly cooked. It is also important to check for local advisories against shellfish harvesting because collecting and consuming razor clams during specific periods of the year increases safety risks. Usually, local authorities monitor toxin concentrations in these clams and issue advisories or close harvesting, as these toxins can cause adverse health effects, including death in extreme cases.

What happens if you eat too many razor clams?

If you eat too many razor clams, you may experience amnesic shellfish poisoning. This happens because domoic acid, a toxin from microscopic marine algae, builds up in razor clams. If you eat a large number of these clams, the concentration of this toxin increases in the body, leading to amnesic shellfish poisoning. Therefore, the Department of Health states that one should not consume more than 15 razor clams monthly for 12 months in a row. This advisory follows recent revelations that eating too many razor clams may lead to memory problems despite low domoic acid concentrations.

Can you freeze razor clams?

Yes, you can freeze razor clams for later use. You should thoroughly clean razor clams in cold water before freezing. Once clean, properly package and store them in the freezer for up to 3 months without significant loss of quality. Freeze razor clams immediately after harvesting to reduce the risk of bacteria growth, which can render them unsafe for human consumption.

How long should you refrigerate razor clams?

You should refrigerate razor clams with shells intact for a maximum of 4 days, while those with shells removed should stay in the fridge for 3 days. If you refrigerate cooked razor clams, you should leave them in the fridge for only 2 days.

What is the best time to harvest razor clams?

The best time to harvest razor clams is during low tide, ideally when there is a minus tide. During this time, it is easy to locate and collect razor clams as they come closer to the surface.

Are there any precautions to take when eating razor clams?

Although razor clams are safe to eat, it is important to look out for shellfish advisories or closures in your area due to possible contamination or the presence of harmful algal blooms. People with shellfish allergies should also not eat razor clams.