By Jacqueline M. Newman – Flavor and Fortune
The abalone, a member of the Haliotidaee family is held in high regard by us Chinese. As such and due to its limited supply, it commands a high price and is beloved on special occasions and certainly at almost all festival times. There was a time when only royalty really knew this special food item, common folk thought they did, but most of them just knew to speak about them.
Rich or poor, titled or ordinary, who would think when looking at their ugly shells that a delicious fleshy interior hid within. The inside of those ugly shells has a magnificent luminescent interior. Once these mollusks were only available fresh, but about two hundred years ago they became available canned, and since then their availability and use has increased. In addition to canned abalone, there are now many new products that use them and so everyday use of the abalone is becoming more commonplace.
Considered one of eight valuable sea foods, abalone was known to be special in the Ming Dynasty (1368 to 1644 CE) and maybe even long before that. It belongs in a class almost as important as sharks fin and bird’s nest and other ingredients of that caliber.
Considered pu or heating, as are most animal foods, this particular animal lives in a top-sided multi-holed shell. There can be up to nine of these holes and they are always in a straight line from hinge to end. Only the largest of them is used for breathing, some are used for reproductive purposes, and others are for ridding the animal of its waste. If the shell is slightly ajar, you can often see their antennae sticking out. They are attached to the body of the animal, which is better known as its muscle.
From fertilization of the egg to maturity can take up to eight years, so though more are available, there is a somewhat limited supply of this algae-eating creature when it is young, and seaweed-eating animal when it gets older. Not all Abalone are alike. There are more than one hundred different species, each of which lives at different depths and many consume different species of algae and seaweed, as well. The abalone is temperature sensitive, and a change in it does have an impact on its development.
Most of the ones we eat, fresh or canned, are harvested in the wild, so they truly are in limited supply. Because of this, some countries regulate the amount that can be harvested, some only allow those taken off the rocks and by hand. Gathering them is no easy task because if this mollusk senses danger, it attaches itself so tightly that to remove it means cut hands and up to five hundred pounds of energy.
Where are they harvested, you ask? Most are found in Australia which is reported to be the world’s largest supplier, the black lip variety their largest species.