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Q: Why do dead clams not open when steamed? ( Answered 5 out of 5 stars,   0 Comments )
Subject: Why do dead clams not open when steamed?
Category: Science > Biology
Asked by: achoo-ga
List Price: $4.00
Posted: 02 Jan 2003 18:20 PST
Expires: 01 Feb 2003 18:20 PST
Question ID: 136767
Why do dead clams not open when steamed?  Or to ask another way, why
do live clams open up when steamed (and presumably die)?
Subject: Re: Why do dead clams not open when steamed?
Answered By: tutuzdad-ga on 02 Jan 2003 18:57 PST
Rated:5 out of 5 stars
Dear achoo-ga;

Gesundheit!…And thank you for allowing me an opportunity to answer
your interesting question.

The skeletal muscles of humans tire very easily in comparison to those
of other animals. When a human makes a fist, for example, this posture
cannot be sustained long before fatigue sets in and the muscles of the
hand must be released. Clams, on the other hand (no pun intended)
produce a unique protein, called "paramyosin", that allows them to
sustain contraction for up to a month. When one dies in the contracted
state, it stays that way unless it is pried open, whereas a live clam,
in response to the tremendous heat that is literally boiling it alive,
will open in, well shall we say, an understandable state of panic and

Ironically, in nature, the opposite is true. In time, dead clams
pounded by the cold surf eventually begin to decay. As the paramyosin
breaks down, the dead clam becomes unable to hold itself closed at
either the bivalve opening or at the hinge. This is why you see so
many one-sided clamshells lying in the surf at the beach. By this
time, of course, the clam that once lived within, now vacated, has
long since made its important contribution to the food chain.

As a side note, when selecting live clams you may, from time to time,
actually run across a few that are standing open. This does not always
indicate freshness. If you tap on the shell and the clam closes, it is
ok to buy. If it does not close when you tap on the shell, it isn’t
ignoring you – it’s dead. Don’t buy it.

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Clams cooking

Dead clams

Dead clams closed

Clam biology

Selecting clams
achoo-ga rated this answer:5 out of 5 stars
Quick and just what I wanted to know.  Thanks.

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