Have you ever bought sea scallops and noticed that some of them have a peachy-pink tint? It’s not a flaw, nor does it indicate anything about freshness, doneness, or edibility. In fact, once you taste pink scallops, you’ll probably make a point of seeking them out because they taste better than white ones.
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Here’s why: The large adductor muscle, the edible part of a scallop that opens and closes its shell, takes its color from the reproductive gland that lies next to it. In male scallops, the gland is grayish white, so the muscle remains white.
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But when female scallops spawn, their glands fill with orange roe and turn bright coral, giving the adjacent muscle a rosy hue. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Atlantic sea scallops typically spawn during the late summer and fall, though those in Mid-Atlantic waters might spawn as early as the spring.
(Note: Bay scallops simultaneously contain both male and female sex organs, and their ovaries also turn bright orange during egg production. Some of that carotenoid pigment may make its way into the edible muscle and turn it pinkish-orange, but it's less commonly reported with bay than with sea scallops.)
The roe also gives spawning female scallops their unique flavor benefit: When we pan-seared and tasted them alongside a batch of equally fresh male scallops, their textures were indistinguishable but those in the female batch—which retained their pink tint even after cooking—had a noticeably sweeter, richer flavor.
If you’re lucky enough to get a batch of female scallops, simply pan-searing or grilling them is a great way to appreciate their flavor, or you can dress them up a bit with a citrusy vinaigrette or gingery, garlicky butter sauce. But the purest way might be in ceviche, where there’s no sear to obscure their color or flavor.