Abalone is a strange and little-known ocean delicacy that commands a high price, but does it have eyes?
Abalone does have eyes but they’re not exceptionally well-sighted. They’re sensitive to light more than anything else, but it’s not thought that abalone can see any particular distance. The eyes of abalone are similar to those of a land snail – they sit atop independently-controlled tentacles.
Read on to learn more about the mysterious abalone and what it looks like.
All Eyes on Abalone
Abalone is a strange and rare delicacy, being unfamiliar to the majority of the world. It’s essentially a sea snail that clings to rocky surfaces, but it’s very odd to look at.
Although they’re easy enough to identify if you know what they are, their composition is very confusing to an inexperienced viewer. They’re mostly a mass of soft flesh, topped by a hard shell.
There’s little in the way of defining features, and their head is shrouded by the protective carapace. However, studies have definitively revealed the make-up of an abalone head.
They have a small mouth which is bordered by two ‘oral tentacles’. These aid the abalone in their consumption of the algae they find on the rocky surfaces they cling to.
Inside their mouth is a radula, a tongue-like, fleshy structure that is lined with minute teeth. It’s used to break up the food that the abalone eats before it attempts digestion.
Also on the head are the two eyes, fixed atop short tentacles. These eyes are very similar in appearance to the eyes of other gastropods, like snails.
Although, the eyes are all but useless, as they have no real vision. They’re sensitive to light, but that’s about it.
Expensive Ocean Eating
You might not have heard of abalone, but don’t let that take away from the fact that they’re highly sought-after in the culinary world. They’re extremely expensive and command one of the highest price-per-pound values out of any ocean-faring food.
As with many other rare foods, the price is driven up by its scarcity. It only appears naturally in certain locations, and it’s incredibly difficult to obtain.
Abalone isn’t like fish – it can’t simply be netted by the hundred, or caught using a pole and line. It must be collected by specially-trained divers, by hand, one by one.
The divers will enter waters where they know abalone can be found, and fill a sack with as many as they can. It’s as simple as that in theory, but in practice, it can be much more difficult.
Almost by design, abalone looks like a black, grey, or brown rock. It’s an evolutionary tool; a camouflage to disguise the abalone from predators.
All over the world, there are regulations in place that restrict the fishing of abalone. In New Zealand, recreational fishermen can only pick ten abalones a day, and they aren’t allowed to use any underwater breathing equipment.
In other places, like Washington State, recreational fishing of abalone is totally illegal. In California, you’re not allowed to harvest abalone using underwater equipment, and you can only take a limited amount.
These strict conditions and low availability means abalone commands a high price on the open market. It can reportedly cost as much as two-hundred and fifty dollars for a single dish featuring abalone in restaurants.
At wholesale, abalone meat can cost around forty dollars per kilo, with their prized shells being valued at fourteen-hundred dollars per ton.
Reportedly, the most expensive variant of abalone is the brown-lipped abalone, found in Asia. It’s critically endangered and was once given as a gift to cherished Korean emperors
Abalone might be expensive, but it’s far from being the most expensive food on the planet. There are other delicacies that break the bank hundreds of times more than abalone.
For example, Almas caviar, which is reputed to be worth tens of thousands of dollars per kilo. There’s also the elusive truffle, a kind of fungus that is dramatically expensive and served with high-end dishes all around the world.
One of the most expensive delicacies – and one of the most controversial – is foie gras. This luxurious dish is the liver of a duck or goose that has been force-fed to extreme levels.
The end result is a butter-soft and sumptuous liver, strong in taste but tiny in appearance.