The Truth About Geoducks

The geoduck is every bit as out-of-the-ordinary as its unique name suggests. Pronounced "gooey duck," this bizarre (and rather phallic-looking) shellfish has become a food media darling with appearances on shows such as Top Chef, Chopped, and Bizarre Foods with Andrew Zimmern. If you have never heard of or seen a geoduck before, that's quite understandable. The hefty saltwater clam is native to very specific regions — the Pacific Northwest, where U.S. geoduck consumption is most prevalent, and the western Canadian coast (via Eater).

The geoduck is also considered a delicacy, with prices for the seafood going up to as much as $150 per pound, according to Oceana, an international non-profit organization for ocean advocacy. In fact, Smithsonian Magazine described it as so profitable and valuable that "gangsters have traded it for narcotics," so you're highly unlikely to find it at your average run-of-the-mill grocery store or seafood market, especially outside of the West Coast.

The anatomy of a geoduck, the world's largest burrowing clam, is fairly simple. It has a neck that hangs out of the shell and a meaty part, called a mantle or breast, inside the shell, as reported by Eater. Oceana stated that while the shell rarely grows larger than eight inches, the soft body can be over three feet long, and that the mollusk has a significantly long lifespan, even reaching over 165 years old.

The geoduck is a regional treasure

Northwesterners take a lot of pride in the geoduck. Award-winning Seattle chef and restaurateur Ethan Stowell told Serious Eats that the taste of fresh, raw geoduck is "what every piece of seafood should be." He also stated to the publication that "something so specific to the Northwest as geoduck demands a level of respect. Anywhere you eat good geoduck, it comes from here, helping to illustrate that the Northwest is an awesome place to cook, live, and eat."

Even the name "geoduck" is deeply rooted in the culture of the region, where Native American Salish tribes gave the clam its moniker, a derivation of gweduc, which means "dig deep" in the Lushootseed language, according to Gastro Obscura. Love for the geoduck has moved beyond the food scene in the state of Washington, where Evergreen State College in Olympia claims the delectable shellfish as its official mascot, which Sports Pickle ranked as the number one worst college mascot.

What does geoduck taste like?

Gastro Obscura described geoduck meat as "sweet and briny" without being fishy, with a "clean, snappy bite that's much crisper than other clams," leading many to consider it to be the ideal seafood. According to Eater, in the Pacific Northwest, you can find the clam served raw, or prepared as a ceviche, sushi, chowder, crudo or even savory pie. The massive shellfish is highly prized in Japan, Korea, and China, where it is considered an aphrodisiac. In Japan, it's common to see geoduck used for sashimi and sushi. You can find chefs in Korea serving the clam raw with hot chili sauce or in soups and stir-fried dishes. And you can enjoy it as a hot pot ingredient in China.

Consumers in these Asian countries find the taste of geoduck so delicious that most of the clams harvested stateside are sold overseas. More than 90 percent is "flown straight to China and Hong Kong," as seen in BBC News. The immense enthusiasm for the geoduck in the Pacific Northwest and beyond proves that while the mollusk may not be the prettiest of them all, it certainly has flavor worth raving about.