American Oceans

All the Different Types of Clams

There are many types of delicious seafood in the world. By far, one of the most delicious is clams!

different types of clams at the seafood market

Whether a simple dish of steamed clams or something more complex, these shellfish are incredibly versatile.

But before you can enjoy all the clams, it’s essential to know how to identify them and cook them best.

Getting to know the types of clams is the first step in becoming a connoisseur. Keep reading to learn about clams before diving into specific species, their characteristics, and how you can cook them! By the end of the article, you will be a clam culinary expert.

Overview of Clams

Clams are bivalve mollusks with two shells held together by a hinge. They have a soft body and siphon, which they use to filter-feed from the water.

woman holding clams

Clams live in freshwater or saltwater habitats, with the majority living in the ocean.

You can divide clams into two types: soft-shell and hard-shell. Soft-shell clams are usually larger and have a thin, brittle outer shell. Hard-shell clams, on the other hand, are smaller and have thicker shells that are harder to open.

Clams are essential in the natural environment as they are a vital part of the food chain. They help to provide a source of food for other animals. Clams are a biological filter of the sea, helping to keep our waters clean and healthy. Clams are also a great source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids.

Quahog

Single quahog clam at low tide on the beach in Cape Cod

Quahogs are hard-shell clams in the Atlantic Ocean. Quahogs have a thick shells and usually range in size from two to five inches. They have solid white meat that is firm and has a mild, sweet flavor.

Littleneck Clams

Littleneck Clams

Littleneck clams look like Quahogs but are significantly smaller. You can find them in the Atlantic or Pacific oceans. Littleneck clams are usually about one to two inches in size and have a slightly sweet flavor.

Cherrystone Clams

Cherrystone Clams

Cherrystone clams are round and about two to three inches in size. Their shells are off-white, and some of the smallest clams on this list. It can take up to 10 of them to make one pound of clams.

They can be found mainly in the Atlantic Ocean. They range from the shores of Prince Edward Island in Canada to the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico. Cherrystone clams have a sweet, delicate flavor and firm texture.

Steamers

Bucket of steamed clams

Steamers or steamer clams are also known as long-neck clams and are a variety of soft-shell clams. They are oval and have distinctive long dark necks. 

These clams are delicate and tender, with a sweet and salty flavor. You can find them in the Atlantic Ocean and the east coast of Canada. 

Manila

Manila clams are easy to tell from other clams due to their uniquely colored hard shells. The shells are often shades of blue, brown, and purple with unique geometric shapes.

Manila clams

These clams are some of the most common in the world, and many farmers cultivate them. You can find them throughout the Pacific Northwest.

Soft Shell Clam

Soft shell clams are also known as sand gaper or Essex clams. They are saltwater clams commonly found in tidal flats, estuaries, and muddy areas.

Soft Shell Clam

This clam species is considered invasive in many areas, so eating them is an excellent way of controlling their population.

Surf Clam

Surf clams, also known as hen clams or bar clams, are giant clams found in the Atlantic Ocean. You can easily recognize them by their large rounded shells and light purple or pink inner lining.

Surf Clam

Surf clams can weigh up to 3 pounds and measure up to 8 inches in length. You can find them hiding in the sand on many beaches.

Atlantic Jackknife

You can find the Atlantic jackknife in estuaries and shallow areas of the Atlantic Ocean. It is easily identified by its long, thin, pointed shell.

Atlantic Jackknife clam

The shells are often yellowish-brown and have distinctive black marks on them. The Atlantic jackknife clam is a bivalve that grows up to 6 inches in length.

Cockle

Cockles are small hard-shell clams found in saltwater and brackish water. They are usually no bigger than two inches long and come in various colors, including brown and yellow.

cockle shells for sale in the market

Cockles are some of the most common clams in the world and can be found in most seafood restaurants.

Pacific Razor

Pacific razor clams are found in the Pacific Ocean from Alaska to California. They have long, thin shells and can grow up to 9 inches in length.

Razor Clams on the beach

They are sometimes confused with the Atlantic jackknife clam, but Pacific razors have a sharper edge, and you can identify them by their unique purple and yellow hues.

Geoduck

Geoducks are some of the largest clams in the world, and you can find them on the Pacific Coast. They have long, thin shells that are usually yellowish-brown in color.

Geoduck clam

The geoduck is an iconic clam species extending from Alaska to California.

Chowder Clams

Chowder clams are a colloquial term used to describe various clams used to make chowder. Common chowder clams include cherrystone, quahog, and littleneck clams. 

These clams are all found on the eastern coast of the United States and are anywhere from 2-4 inches in size. 

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