In a lot of ways, convenience stores in Japan are more like miniature supermarkets. So while they still sell a lot of the candy and canned beverages their counterparts in other countries specialize in, you can also find plenty of edible, even gourmet-sounding food.
For example, the chain FamilyMart sells pouches of fried scallop meat, specifically the mantle, or part of the animal that attaches it to its shell. There’s a certain level of risk that comes with eating any mass-produced foodstuff, though, as one customer found out when he found what he felt was a foreign object in his pack of marine mollusks. And while generally the only thing you want to find in your food is, well, food, we suppose if we had to find something else mixed in there, we’d want what he discovered hiding in his snack: a pearl.
At most U.S. seafood markets, the mantle, which tends to have a tougher texture than the rest of the scallop, is removed prior to sale. In Japan, though, it’s commonly left on, since while it may not be considered the choice part of the scallop, most consider it to still be worth eating. The mantle’s second-tier status means it’s also the less expensive part of the animal, which is why they’re also sold as snacks, often meant to be paired with beer or other alcoholic beverages.
So when Japanese Twitter user Romy Canecry was feeling a bit peckish, he reached for a bag of fried scallop mantles, called yaki kaihimo in Japanese. But as he popped one into his mouth and chewed, suddenly his tooth hit something hard.
Japan has been a bit on edge about processed foods ever since the scandal involving McDonald’s and tainted chicken made the news last year, and Romy’s first thought was that something unnatural had fallen into the bag. He was half right, as while there was something other than scallops in there, the surprising extra was completely natural in origin.
ロミ (@romy_canecry) January 18, 2015
“I thought, ‘Oh man there’s something weird in here,’” recalls Romy, “but it turned out to be a pearl. Thank you, FamilyMart!”
This isn’t a case of a careless packaging plant worker with expensive fashion taste accidentally dropping a pearl into the bag, either. Although they’re most commonly associated with oysters, scallops are capable of forming the precious stones as well, in which case they’re called scallop pearls. Formed of roughly 90 percent calcium carbonate, scallop pearls’ other components are organic proteins and water, and since they’re non-toxic, no harm will befall you if you swallow one by accident.
Still, they are just as hard as you’d expect, so you’ll want to be careful not to crack a tooth or gag on one. That’s why Family Mart’s yaki kaihimo packaging includes a warning about them.
The text explains that on rare occasions, pearls may develop in shellfish, manifesting as a small white orb, and cautions customers to be careful when enjoying the product. It’s even written in blue to help the warning stand out, although since most people don’t go looking for directions on their snack packs, many yaki kaihimo aficionados are completely unaware of it.
The reason pearls can form in the mantle has to do with the body part’s function of secreting shell-creating components. Ordinarily, all of the secretions get turned into the protective coating, but rare as it may be, sometimes a pearl gets created in the process. As a matter of fact, other Twitter users have shared their dining discoveries of scallop pearls in the past.
MONEE (@monee7552) June 29, 2014
や丸 (@yamansecret) January 11, 2015
Japan is always quick to respond with caution to consumer safety issues, prompting concerned comments online about the danger scallop pearls would pose to your teeth if you were to bite down solidly and unwittingly on one. On the other hand, more than a few expressed a hope that they too could find some gemstones in their next batch of FamilyMart snacks.
“I heard some lucky guy found a pearl in his FamilyMart yaki kaihimo, so I just wet out and bought some.”
“I’m gonna keep scarfing them down until I find a pearl.”
“I’m totally going to find one and make a ring out of it.”
We’re still on the fence ourselves, since we do admit to liking both shellfish and riches, but we’re also pretty attached to our teeth. What we can say, though, is that we’re impressed to learn scallops can create pearls, and also a little disappointed they’d never told us about their special ability.
▼ Then again, we never asked.