At the March 12 Orono Farmer's Market, I picked up half a pound of fresh scallops from the Lobster Shack truck (as well as some Stonington crab meat and one lobster, but that's another story). Some of the scallops had a peachy-pink hue, which I knew was a natural tint, thanks to Marine Extension Team member Dana Morse. Dana and I have been working on a field guide for scallop harvesters that identifies abnormalities in scallops, and outlines the different symptoms and causes of odd-looking scallops. According to Dana, "orange meat is caused by an excess of a natural pigment called zeaxanthin in a female scallop. As the gonad ripens and takes on an orange hue, any overabundance of this pigment is transported into the adductor muscle [the part of the scallop we eat]. Meat quality or taste is not affected, and some markets may prefer this color variation." Unlike some shellfish that have both male and female parts in one animal, Atlantic sea scallops exist as separate males and females. Spawning occurs in July and August along much of the Maine coast, though gonads also will ripen in January and February.
The warm hue of the scallops was a nice complement to the recipe I used to prepare them, Scallops with Blood Orange Gastrique, from Bon Appetit magazine.
I'll be getting to the market early on March 26, hoping for one last meal of fresh local scallops--blushing or no--before the season ends.