How To Identify Fake Scallops

Beware of Substitutes for This Delicate Shellfish

Raw scallops
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Scallops, when cooked properly, are deliciously sweet and tender, needing very little fat or added flavor. Quite a delicacy! So it sure is disappointing when the scallops you are eating don't live up to these standards. Could that mean that the scallops are in fact not really scallops at all? Before coming to that conclusion, you should learn a bit about scallops themselves.

Types of Scallops

The scallop is a bivalve mollusk of the family Pectinidae and is related to clams, mussels, and oysters.

There are many varieties of scallop, but the most common are the tiny bay scallop and the larger sea scallop. The bay scallop that we eat is actually the adductor muscle (which hinges the two shells), as the remaining part of the bay scallop is inedible. It is about half of an inch wide, is a pale pink or light beige color, and has a soft texture. Sea scallops, on the other hand, can be up to two inches in diameter. They are a little chewier than bay scallops but still tender. Both bay and sea scallops are somewhat irregular in shape.

Fake Scallops

Some unscrupulous fish and supermarkets have been known to swap out pieces of less expensive large sea scallops for the smaller, more delectable bay scallops. Worse yet, some have substituted shark for scallops—charging you for pricey scallops, themselves having paid for cheaper shark meat. Beware if the scallops are all exactly uniform size and shape.

This is an indication the producer may have cut out the scallops from larger, less tender deep sea scallops or shark using a circular cutter.  

Telling Real Scallops From Fake

If you are questioning whether you have the real deal on your plate or not, there are a few tips to help you decipher if the scallops are authentic or fake.

Since scallops are an animal, each individual scallop is not shaped exactly the same—they are slightly different in size, and won't be perfect cylinders. Fake scallops, however, will look identical to each other as they were made using something like a round cookie cutter. The texture of the scallop should also be a good indicator as there are distinct grains in real scallops, where it looks like the piece would just fall apart if "sliced" with a fork. 

If you are so inclined, however, there are some honestly-labeled imitation scallop products, similar to the imitation crab and lobster sold by reputable seafood firms and grocery stores.