Scallops are a splurge, and a delicious one at that. But why are scallops so expensive, and is there really a good reason for it ?
Or is it a weird gimmick, like with diamonds ?
Well, it turns out that for food, a high price tag really has a very good reason.
In the case of scallops, you’ve got two good reasons to pay more for a treat. So here they are, explained in detail so you know what’s happening.
1. Scallops are hard to farm
Scallops are a type of shellfish that are actually hard to farm.
The main reasons are:
- the lack of actual space on the seafloor – scallops attack to rocks on the seabed
- the long life cycle, they take a long time to mature and produce offspring
- the specific diet, scallops live near estuaries and live off the organic waste
You see, scallops are difficult to farm and because of that they have a higher price tag. Oh there are farmed scallops, of course, but they didn’t drive the market price down as much as people would expect.
There are a couple of alternatives to farmed scallops.
Dredging the ocean floor
The classic way of catching scallops is using a metal net to dredge the ocean floor, and pick up large amounts of scallops in one go.
The main problem with this is that the soil is disturbed, and many young scallops that aren’t fit to be harvested are caught as well.
It’s a very invasive way of harvesting scallops, and it’s really expensive as well.
This is a very common way of catching scallops, but there is no quality control.
And another problem is that the scallops that are indeed collected end up being very gritty, and need some serious cleanup.
Hand-picked by divers
The alternative to dredging, hand-picking is much friendlier towards the seafloor.
Not only that but divers can pick the biggest scallops and leave the young to grow and produce more scallops.
An added bonus is the fact that the divers can spot more scallops and fishermen can from a boat, so they can pick up the older, bigger ones hiding between rocks.
And these scallops aren’t gritty at all, since the seafloor isn’t disturbed at all.
What does end up happening is that the price goes up, since this is skilled work, and kind of dangerous. Oxygen tanks aren’t cheap at all, and the divers work long hours.
2. High demand keeps prices up
The second reason why scallops are so expensive is that the demand is actually high.
There’s a couple of reasons behind this, which we’ll explore in a minute.
A high demand for something that can’t grow very fast or can’t be produced in large quantities is going to end up driving the price very high.
So let’s take a look at why people look for scallops so much.
Seafood in general is expensive
Scallops are a type of seafood – shellfish, to be exact.
All seafood is expensive, and this you’ll notice every time you look at fish markets or the fish stand in supermarkets.
Sometimes the high price tag for scallops is higher simply because they’re on the ‘seafood’ page of the menu. That kind of food takes more skill to prepare, and is harder to catch and bring fresh to the table.
Scallops find their way in fine cuisine
Due to scallops being seafood, a funny vicious circle happens.
Seafood is expensive, so it becomes a staple of fine dining. Scallops in particular are some really expensive pieces of seafood, so they will be considered (very) fine dining.
Fine dining will drive the price up in the markets when you look for scallops… because they’re seafood, which is fine dining.
And if you’re wondering why fine seafood is fine dining, it mostly has to do with the very different flavor.
As you know, seafood is not for everyone and some folks simply can’t stand the taste. Some are actually allergic.
Throughout history, delicacies have come at a higher price. They taste different, only the ‘elite’ can have them, and they might actually be very good.
So there’s that, if you'[re buying scallops you’re treating yourself to something very nice.
The truth is scallops are indeed a very flavorful and delicious meat, and they require some skill to prepare. Much like beef, scallops are seared on the outside and must remain undercooked on the inside.
If you’ve got the roe still on the flavor is ever better !
3. Freshness is always an issue
As with any seafood, freshness is a problem.
Seafood simply deteriorates much faster than land animals or produce, so it needs to be delivered to supermarkets and restaurants very quickly.
Scallops in particular are very expensive if bought live, because they need to be kept alive and brought very quickly.
This can mean they need to be flown in, or drove in with cooling packs all along the trip.
All of this adds up to the final cost.
Of course this also means that the closer you live to the coast, the less expensive seafood and scallops will get.
You may actually get freshly caught scallops, the ones the fishermen brought to the shore that very morning.
In that case, freshness isn’t an issue and you may just get a reasonably priced, live scallop.
However, scallops are usually shelled and have the roe removed right after they’re harvested so you need to be very lucky.
In short, scallops are expensive because they’re really not that easy to farm, so most of the time they are a wild capture.
If you’ve got any other food curiosities be sure to check the related articles below, we’re always adding more food facts to make your life that much easier.