The Differences Between Clams & Oysters

Oysters can be grilled and eaten as a delicacy.
Oysters can be grilled and eaten as a delicacy. (Image: Seiya Kawamoto/Digital Vision/Getty Images)

Clams and oysters are both shellfish that make their home in the ocean. They are marine creatures that are popular in gourmet dishes; oysters are also prized for the pearls they produce. They are similar in many ways, but there are some differences in appearance and taste that the consumer should be aware of before purchasing.

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Both clams and oysters are marine mollusks. They are both shellfish consisting of two muscles and two half shells. Clams move around by means of a hinge joint and enjoy burying themselves in sand or mud under the water. They have a smooth shell and are mobile; they are found in freshwater. Oysters, on the other hand, spend most of their lives in one spot, such as a rock or a hard surface in the water; they are found in brackish or marine habitats. They like to lay close to the surface of a river or ocean. When it is low tide, you can see them on the mud with their rough outer shell.

Gourmet Food

Clams and oysters are both eaten steamed and served on the half shell. While clams can be eaten hard shell or soft shell, they are most often eaten as part of a soup or stew. Many people prefer clam meat over oysters, as it is more tender. One of the most popular dishes containing clams is New England clam chowder. Oysters, on the other hand, are often best served in their native shell. While oysters may be eaten raw or cooked, canned, smoked or frozen, eating on oysters on the half shell is a delicacy at many fine restaurants.


While oysters are known for producing costly and beautiful pearls, clams do not produce pearls. Pearls are made when foreign matter is trapped in the shell and the oyster produces nacre, which is a mix of calcium and protein. The nacre coats the foreign material and produces a pearl. Most pearls produced by oysters have commercial value, but not gem value.


Harvesting is the process of catching live oysters and clams. Harvested live oysters are sturdier than clams. Their shells are rougher and the oyster meat inside the shell is not as delicate as clam meat. You must be careful when harvesting live clams, as they can be damaged easily due to their more porous, softer shell.


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