About seven species of large abalone live off the coasts of California and Mexico, and are consumed locally as abalone steaks. Some of these are distributed to the seafood-loving Japanese market.
Red abalone (Haliotis (Nordotis) rufescens Swainson, 1822) has a reddish surface and a greenish-blue interior. It is as large as Japan’s largest species, the Giant abalone (Haliotis madaka (Habe 1977)), but has a much thicker and heavier shell. For a while, attempts were made to cultivate this species in Japan, but without success.
Pink abalone (Haliotis (Nordotis) corrugata) has a shell about the size of Disk abalone (Haliotis gigantea Gmelin 1791), but much thicker, more circular in shape, and characterized by strong corrugations. The surface of the shell is green and the radial ribs are separated by growth lines. The flesh is tough and is more valuable as a beautiful ornament than as a foodstuff. It is found in shallow waters along with the Green abalone (Haliotis (Nordotis) fulgens).
Green abalone range from point conception, California, to Bahia de Magdalena, Mexico. The oval-shaped shell protects the abalone from predators. The shell is usually brown and marked with many low, flat-topped ribs which run parallel to the 5 to 7 open respiratory pores that are elevated above the shell’s surface. The inside of the shell is an iridescent blue and green.
Black abalone (Haliotis cracherodii Leach, 1814) grows to about 12 cm in length and has a black shell. The blackish-blue shell has five to nine holes (respiratory pores) used to breathe, remove waste, and reproduce. They once numbered in the millions along the California coast, but are now endangered. Threaded abalone (Haliotis assimilis Dall, 1878.) from California is close to Japanese abalone in flavor and firmness.
Roe’s abalone (Haliotis roei Gray 1826) was the most common abalone on the market from early on. The shell is more rounded than that of Tokobushi (Haliotis supertexta Lischke 1870), and the spiral expansion is not as rapid as in Tokobushi. The shell is also characterized by the presence of numerous deep spiral grooves on the surface. Greenlip abalone (Schismotis pulcherrima, Gmelin, 1791) is rarely used as boiled shellfish or steamed in sake.
Atlantic Ocean Abalone
Although large abalone is not distributed in the Atlantic Ocean as they are in Japan and California, the Mediterranean Sea is home to the Ear shell (Haliotis tuberculata Linnaeus 1758), which is a slightly larger version of Tokobushi. It is rarely imported from France and other countries.
Large species of abalone are distributed in waters where large brown algae grow. Therefore, only small species live in the tropical areas of Asia, where coral reefs are well developed. Even so, small species are used as substitutes for Tokobushi in canned foods and bento dishes, such as Glistening abalone (Haliotis glabra Gmelin 1791) from the Philippines, Sheep’s ear abalone (Haliotis ovina Gmelin 1791) from Taiwan, and Ass’s ear abalone (Haliotis asinina Linnaeus 1758) from Hong Kong.
Chilean abalone (Concholepas concholepas (Bruguie, 1789) ) is listed as Loco-gai in the Japanese product label and as Awabi-modoki in the illustrated book. The name of this species suggests an intention to associate it with abalone, but it belongs to the family Muricidae, which is not related to abalone.
It is native to the coasts of Chile and Peru. The shell is about 8 cm long and plate-shaped. It has a lid of keratin that is not found on real abalones. In rare cases, you can see that it is dyed in a light purple color, etc., because it is a unique characteristic of the family Muricidae, which becomes purple when the secreted mucus comes into contact with air.
When it was first imported to Japan, it was labeled as “awabi” in supermarkets and restaurants, and there was some fuss about the mislabeling, but even when sliced, there is no epipodial tentacle characteristic of awabi, and the difference can be seen.
The trading price of Chilean abalone is about one-fifth that of abalone. It is a popular ingredient in conveyor-belt sushi, Chinese cuisine, etc. under the name Chile-awabi, but actually that name cannot be used.
We hope this information will be helpful.
Revision date: February 22, 2023
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