Products of the Sea

Peruvian calico scallop: A Pacific Ocean Treasure of exquisite Flavour

Vieira del pacífico cocinada

In the vast stage of the Pacific Ocean, where nature unfolds its majesty, lies a marine treasure worthy of admiration and indulgence: the Peruvian calico scallop. In this article, we will thoroughly explore this sea delicacy, from its description to its nutritional benefits, and compare its characteristics with other marine delights such as queen scallops and king scallops.

Characteristics of the Peruvian calico scallop

The Peruvian calico scallop, scientifically known as “Argopecten purpuratus,” is a marine bivalve mollusc, belonging to the order, that resides in sandy bottoms of the Pacific Ocean up to 40 meters deep. Specifically, it is found on the coasts of Peru and Chile, in the sublittoral zone.

Common names for it include “Ostión del norte” in Chile and “concha de abanico” in Peru. The Spanish name, “vieira”, derives from the Portuguese and Galician word of the same name, Vieira, which was used as a toponym and surname and refers to the pilgrim’s shell, although this is another species of the Pectinidae family.

This mollusc is a bivalve with a large and solid shell that can reach its commercial size (6.5 centimetres in diameter) in 12-18 months. The shell is the most striking feature of the Peruvian calico scallop. It is a rounded shell with a fan shape with both valves convex but slightly asymmetrical. It has a number of radial stripes, between 20-26 per valve, and also has unequal auricles or wings, with the anterior one slightly larger. The shell reveals the years of growth and the richness of its environment.

Its colour varies, with the exterior displaying shades of purple and pale tones, but also described are pink and darker brown hues. The interior of the shell is smooth and shiny, with concentric bands of colour.

Inside, the impression of the adductor muscle is evident and of considerable size, located centrally. The meat of the scallop presents itself as a marine jewel, with a firm texture and a sweet and delicate flavour. This culinary treasure has captivated chefs and gastronomy enthusiasts worldwide, becoming an essential ingredient in numerous gourmet kitchens.

Carne de vieira del pacífico congelada

Main Production Areas of the Peruvian calico scallop

This variety of scallop is found in banks off the coasts of the Pacific Ocean and is exploited on a large scale throughout the year. It is also cultivated, preferably in northern Chile.

The production of pectens in Latin America shows significant fluctuations caused by drastic changes in the environment. In warm conditions or climatic events like El Niño, the Peruvian calico scallop reproduces more easily, increasing its abundance. These phenomena have generated strong fishing pressure on natural banks, leading to considering aquaculture as a sustainable alternative that would allow for the recovery, maintenance, or even an increase in scallop production in the area.

Properties and Benefits of the Peruvian calico scallop

In addition to its sublime flavour, the Peruvian calico scallop provides a high nutritional value. They are a great source of proteins, providing 19 g per 100 g of product, and also of omega-3 fatty acids. On the other hand, its nutritional profile also stands out for being low in saturated fats (less than 1%) and calories, making Peruvian calico scallops a healthy option for those seeking a balanced and tasty diet.

Moreover, the Spanish Nutrition Foundation indicates that scallops contain niacin and vitamin B12, which contribute to regulating normal energy metabolism, and are also a significant source of minerals such as selenium, phosphorus, calcium, iron, and potassium, essential nutrients for the immune system and cellular health.

Peruvian calico scallop, Atlantic Scallop, Queen Scallops, and King Scallops

The pectinidae family has many different species, among them is the Atlantic Scallop of King Scallop (Pecten Maximus), which is one of the largest bivalves and is popularly known as the “Shell of Santiago.” But the Peruvian calico scallop is clearly distinguished from the Atlantic one, not only by its habitat but precisely by its size. However, it is much more common to confuse it with smaller species, such as the Queen Scallop (Aequipecten opercularis or Chlamys opercularis) or the variegated scallop (Chlamys varia).

Although queen scallops and variegated scallops share similarities with the Peruvian calico scallop as bivalve mollusks of similar sizes, each has unique characteristics that distinguish them:

Queen Scallops:

Mainly from the Atlantic, queen scallops are a native species in Galicia and Asturias, with very little production. When distinguishing them from other species, it is observed that queen scallops have a slightly smaller shell than king scallops, and it is dark, with violet tones. A characteristic that helps distinguish queen scallops clearly is that they have an atrophied “ear,” so one of them is much larger than the other; it may even appear to have only one, while the king scallop and the Peruvian calico scallop have two, of similar sizes.

zamburiñas abiertas
Queen scallops. Photography by bigdodzy in Unsplash

Variegated Scallops:

They are also found on the Galician coast but in greater abundance than queen scallops. Their shell is larger and rounder than that of queen scallops, resembling more that of the Peruvian calico scallop, although it is slightly smaller and with more orange tones.

The Peruvian calico scallop is slightly larger than the Galician queen scallop, and thanks to its nutritional properties, it is a product of great commercial value, primarily marketed frozen in Spain.

In conclusion, the Peruvian calico scallop is a true marine treasure, offering not only an exceptional flavour but also significant nutritional benefits. Its culinary versatility and ability to enrich various gastronomic traditions make it a precious ingredient worldwide.

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