Clam Juice

Adds Distinctive Flavor


Most of us know clam juice as one of the canned goods on the supermarket shelf that we have never purchased. Or there it sits, lonely in the refrigerator for months at a time, opened but little-used, in a clear bottle. Some people do realize Clamato® juice’s unique taste is based on clam stock. But clam juice actually has a number of commercial and kitchen uses. At the supermarket, a number of types of frozen, canned and other packaged goods incorporate clam juice. When cooking at home, clam juice can add a unique flavor to recipes.

Commercial clam meats are most often harvested by dredge. Factory equipment separates the flesh from the shells, collects it together into a mass then most often dicing it for use in chowder. Clam canning follows the practice of all meat canning, the only significant distinction being clam flesh always carries the possibility of seaborne microorganism contamination. Samples are tested at various stages of clam meat production for the presence of dinoflagellates, better known as “red tide,” and other contaminants such as E. coli. It is impossible to produce commercial clam meats for use in processed foods without releasing large volumes of clam juice. When this is captured for later sale, it is purified. Clam juice is not to be confused with clam broth. The former, results from compacted fresh clams. The latter, is the water remaining after clams are steamed. Both, however, are nutritious and particularly high in trace minerals (metals in solute) as essential to good health as vitamins.

Every can of clam chowder sold in the United States contains clam juice, which is used to stretch the product by reducing the amount of more-expensive meat needed to convey flavor. Clam dip, whatever the brand, is a dairy product seasoned with clam juice, sodium and spices. Some claim that clam juice is nothing but an industrial byproduct of processing clams that marketing has convinced some people to purchase in the retail market. However the idea of clam juice as an ingredient in traditional clam dishes such as quahog pie, clam fritters or chowder is best considered as a reduction, that is, the distillation of a main meal item through heat and/or pressure to its most flavorful aspects.

But it is not clam juice, but dried clam broth that is famous for its supporting role in the Bloody Caesar, cousin to the Bloody Mary. A Bloody Caesar is a Bloody Mary made with Clamato®. By the same token, the traditional camping beverage the Redeye, beer mixed half-and-half with tomato juice, is improved by clams. A Redeye made with Clamato® juice is called a Mendicant.

Clam juice is available at most American supermarkets. Well-known brands include Snow’s, the dominant national manufacturer; Bar Harbor, regional; Cape May, regional and similar. Look’s of Maine is a historic local brand. The clam juice market is 90-95% domestic product. The U.S. levies a 6.4% tariff against imported clam juice. Private-label, less-expensive cans and bottles of clam juice are carried by some supermarket chains. Typically they are positioned as a niche, gourmet food item with common descriptive boosters such as “Earth’s Own,” or “Gourmet.” Outside occasional experiments with added flavorings which have not lasted in the market, clam juice is a commodity in the consumer market segment.

Clam juice sold to consumers comes in cans or, more often, glass bottles. They are available in 8-oz and 12-oz sizes. Canned clam juice from the significant US producers comes in standard soup can sizes, which have been shrinking in recent years in an attempt to hold or cut costs in a recessionary market. Manufacturers are not always specific about whether an opened bottle of clam juice need be refrigerated. It is best to refrigerate clam juice after opening, for safety. In your kitchen, clam juice is a useful savory for many seafood dishes, even those based on fish. Clam juice, one could say, is the paprika of the ocean, not always needed but always helpful when used.

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