Bay Scallops vs. Sea Scallops: What's the Difference?

From size to price, find out the key differences between these types of scallops.

a photo of sea scallops and bay scallops
Photo: Getty Images

Scallops are a popular mollusk in any seafood case, and for good reason. These tender, white bivalves are easy to prepare and can be used in a variety of recipes, from crowd-pleasing appetizers like Air-Fryer Bacon-Wrapped Scallops to impressive main dishes like Scallop Risotto with Brown Butter & Parmesan. Bay scallops and sea scallops are the two most common varieties you're likely to see when shopping. Here, find out the differences between these types of scallops.

Bay Scallops vs. Sea Scallops

Bay scallops are harvested in cold, shallow waters in estuaries and bays. They are small in size with a diameter of about 1/2 inch. Bay scallops have a sweet flavor and tender meat. If you're looking for a more affordable option, bay scallops are generally less expensive than their larger sea scallop counterparts. Use bay scallops in pasta dishes, salads, paellas and more.

Sea scallops, like the name suggests, come from cold sea waters. Sea scallops are found in deeper waters than bay scallops, and they're harvested year-round. They are larger in diameter, usually 1 1/2 to 2 inches. While still sweet and tender, sea scallops can be chewier than bay scallops and aren't as sweet. Sea scallops are more expensive than bay scallops. Use sea scallops in recipes like Brown Butter Seared Scallops or Panko- & Parmesan-Crusted Baked Scallops.

Nutrition of Bay Scallops vs. Sea Scallops

Here's the nutrition information for bay scallops per 100-gram serving (about 3.5 ounces):

  • 71 calories
  • 12 g protein
  • 0 g total fat
  • 4 g carbohydrates
  • 0 g fiber
  • 159 milligrams sodium
  • 204 mg potassium

Here's the nutrition information for sea scallops per 100-gram serving:

  • 71 calories
  • 12 g protein
  • 0 g total fat
  • 4 g carbohydrates
  • 0 g fiber
  • 159 mg sodium
  • 204 mg potassium

Bay scallops and sea scallops have the same nutrition profile and are a good source of protein and potassium. Potassium is a key nutrient that plays a role in many bodily functions; not eating enough can potentially lead to muscle cramps, upset stomach, lethargy and more.

How to Buy Scallops

Whether you're buying bay scallops or sea scallops, here are a few key things to look for when shopping.

Fresh vs. Frozen Scallops

Unless you live right near the coast, odds are the fresh scallops you're seeing in stores were actually frozen at one point. That's because they need to be frozen for safe transport, and are then left to thaw before they're put out for display at the store. So the "fresh" seafood you're buying might not be at its peak freshness. Instead, it's better to choose frozen scallops, which are immediately frozen after harvesting when scallops are at their best.

Wet-Packed vs. Dry-Packed Scallops

When it comes to wet- vs. dry-packed scallops, the terms refer to the way the scallops are preserved after harvest. Wet-packed scallops are often treated with sodium triphosphate, a preservative that is designed to extend the shelf life. However, the preservative adds to the scallops' water weight. Scallops are often priced per pound, so buying wet-packed scallops means you end up paying more for water. That excess water can also lead to struggles in cooking as it leaches out and prevents even searing and could result in a rubbery texture.

On the other hand, dry-packed scallops don't feature artificial preservatives. Instead, they retain their natural moisture content. Without the excess water, dry-packed scallops also have a silkier texture and are easier to sear. When possible, choose dry-packed scallops.

Diver and Dayboat Scallops

You may see scallops labeled as "diver" or "dayboat," which refers to how the scallops were harvested. Diver scallops are hand-harvested by divers, which is considered a more sustainable option than scallops that are harvested by trawling, a process that scraps the ocean floor. Meanwhile, dayboat scallops refers to scallops that were harvested by a boat that returns to shore within 24 hours. These scallops are immediately sold, so they are at peak freshness. Both diver and dayboat scallops can be on the pricier side due to their more intricate processes.

Scallop Sustainability

When it comes to sustainability, scallops can be a great choice if the right kind are purchased. Scallops farmed using a bottom culture method are ranked the best choice, according to Seafood Watch. If you're looking to buy bay scallops, the organization recommends buying them from Massachusetts or New York. If you're looking to buy sea scallops, Seafood Watch suggests purchasing farmed scallops from Alaska.

The Bottom Line

Bay scallops and sea scallops are the two most common types of scallops. Bay scallops are more affordable than sea scallops, which are larger in size. When buying scallops, look for ones that are dry-packed. Whichever scallop you choose, you're sure to have a sweet, tender protein source.

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