Why Is Abalone So Expensive?

Abalone's premium cost stems from its labor-intensive harvesting, slow growth rate, and rising demand, especially in Asian cultural celebrations. Its meticulous preparation, like drying, and its luxury status further elevate its price in the culinary world.

Why Is Abalone So Expensive?
Fresh Abalone, CC BY-SA 3.0 ,by 아침꿀물 via Wikimedia Commons

The significant price tag of abalone stems from its scarcity and the challenges in harvesting it. Being a sea snail, each abalone requires individual hand-collection from the ocean. Its status as a luxury item, akin to Wagyu beef or caviar, further elevates its cost.

What is Abalone?

Abalone is a gastropod mollusk from the Haliotidae family, placing it in the same category as whelks and sea slugs. In simpler terms, it's a sea snail.

Unique among mollusks, it's a univalve, possessing a protective shell on one side while the opposite side adheres to rocky surfaces.

The shell, reminiscent of a sea's ear due to its distinctive ear-like shape, has not only intrigued many with its appearance but also with its flavor.

Top Abalone Varieties

Wild abalone is in high demand but hard to get. While their taste and shells differ by region, those from Mexico, Chile, Australia, Japan, New Zealand, and South Africa are top-tier in the culinary realm.

Of these, Mexican abalones command the highest price and are celebrated for their unmatched quality and soft bite.

Australian ones are sweet and chewy, New Zealand varieties offer a rich flavor at a good price point, while South African types often rival Mexican in taste but not size.

In pricing, Mexican varieties lead, trailed by Chile, Australian and New Zealand ones.

Price of Abalone

Wild-harvested abalone can fetch prices as high as US$500 per kilogram.

However, considering the shell's weight, only around 25% of that is edible flesh. So, a full kilogram of abalone meat could set you back a thousand dollars.

The Tasmanian brand Candy Abalone's dried version is particularly popular in China, commanding a price of $890 per kilogram.

Flavor Profile

Abalone, a culinary treasure, has a texture some describe as similar to chewing gum, with hints of scallop in its flavor.

Raw abalone, with its sweet and briny taste, complements sashimi dishes. Younger ones are subtler in flavor.

In Korea, it's often added to a rice porridge called Jeonbokjuk, yielding a maritime flavor balanced by spices.

In SEA countries, the dried version is slow-cooked in a savory meat broth, producing a soft texture with a blend of sea essence and umami from Chinese ham — a coveted delicacy during Chinese New Year.

Here are Several Factors Driving the Premium Costs of Abalone

a bowl of soup with broccoli and chopsticks
Photo by La La / Unsplash

Limited Supply and High Demand

Overfishing & Sustainability: This has led to potential fishing quotas.

Perth recently set stricter rules, limiting harvesting to an hour on four Saturdays from December to February with a 15-piece cap per person, and certain areas are now fishing-free zones.

Scarcity Peaks During Chinese New Year: The abalone price escalates during Chinese New Year due to soaring demand, in contrast to its more moderate pricing throughout the rest of the year.

Abalone thrives in chilly coastal waters, with hotspots in Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and the western coast of North America.

Its natural scarcity, coupled with the impact of global warming on sea temperatures, threatens its availability.

Farming Practices: To counter the depletion of wild stocks, abalone farming has become more prevalent.

However, farming abalones requires time – it can take several years for an abalone to reach market size. The controlled and often labor-intensive cultivation processes add to the costs.

Hand-Harvesting of Abalone and Processing

Unlike typical seafood like fish and prawns that can be netted in bulk, abalones demand individual hand-harvesting.

Their rugged shells anchor them to the ocean floor, necessitating skilled divers to retrieve each one.

This meticulous collection process, combined with the rigorous cleaning, boiling, and drying phases, especially for dried variants, amplifies their price.

The Risks of Abalone Diving

Diving for abalone comes with inherent risks. Divers face challenges from turbulent seas and sharp shells, not to mention potential threats from sharks and other sea predators.

This piece explores the challenging conditions Tasmanian divers endure, all to cater to the specialized Chinese dried abalone market. Tragically, in some regions, divers have even lost their lives in the pursuit of this marine delicacy.

Unique Flavor and Texture

People adore abalone for its distinctive flavor and texture. It has a subtle, sweet, and briny flavor with undertones reminiscent of the ocean.

The texture is a delightful juxtaposition of tender and chewy. When cooked correctly, it can be similar to a cross between scallops and foie gras.

Cultural Significance

In many East Asian cultures, abalone transcends its role as mere food. It symbolizes wealth, prestige, and prosperity.

Often reserved for special occasions, it embeds itself as a luxury with cultural significance. In Japan known as Awabi, it's likened to the "sea's truffle," fetching premium prices.

In China, consuming abalone, known as 鲍鱼 (Bàoyú), is a gesture of welcoming luck and affluence for the year ahead. Thus, it's a prized inclusion in Chinese New Year celebrations and other festive events, from family feasts to weddings.

Health Benefits

Abalone is rich in protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and essential vitamins and minerals. In traditional Chinese medicine, it's believed to benefit the kidneys, eyes, and liver.

Abalone's Culinary Pathways: Fresh, Canned, or Dried

Abalone graces culinary plates in three primary forms: fresh, canned, or dried.

The canned variety often takes the limelight, known for its lush texture and profound flavor, while also having the advantage of extended shelf life.

Dried abalone, especially the sought-after Tasmanian variety, is known for its subtle sweetness, distinct shape, and prized "candy heart" center.

However, its dense texture requires extended cooking. The combination of this lengthy preparation and the detailed drying process can elevate its cost.

It's noteworthy that these forms are devoid of shells. Once harvested, the shells become prized byproducts with diverse uses.

Abalone Masterpieces by Renowned Chefs

Esteemed Japanese chef Shinja Fukumoto, celebrated with three Michelin stars, is a maestro when it comes to abalone.

At his Kobe-based restaurant, Ca Sento, diners can savor abalone as sashimi, tartare, or carpaccio. For those seeking a unique experience, he offers them raw but tenderized skillfully with a mallet to enhance its softness.

Another culinary virtuoso, Spain's Ángel León of Aponiente, also a recipient of two Michelin stars, captivates palates with a delectable menu featuring abalone cooked in butter and mushrooms.

In Hong Kong, chefs often favor braised abalone. They simmer it slowly in a rich broth made of chicken, Jinhua ham, and aromatic herbs until it achieves a tender and savory finish.

Interesting Facts:

  • A Symbol of Good Luck: In some cultures, the abalone shell is believed to bring good luck and is used in rituals and as decorative items.
  • Mother of Pearl: The inner layer of the abalone shell, known as 'mother of pearl,' is iridescent and has been used in jewelry, buttons, and decorative items for centuries.
  • Natural Predators: Sea otters are among the natural predators of abalones. In places where the otter population has decreased, abalones can sometimes become overabundant, leading to other ecological issues.
  • Abalone Colors and Their Origins: South Africa is known for its distinct abalones. Australia boasts the Green Lip, Brown Lip, and Black Lip varieties. Meanwhile, Mexico offers Blue Lip and Yellow Lip abalones, Chile's red abalone and Japan takes pride in its Kippin abalone.


In essence, the high price of abalone stems from its scarce availability, intricate preparation, distinct taste, cultural value, and the extended growth period of this oceanic gem.

Whether relished as a gourmet meal or revered for its cultural resonance, abalone remains a maritime jewel. While aquaculture now produces abalones, the taste of wild abalone is unmatched, offering a more intense and refined flavor.

Given its standing as one of the world's priciest seafoods, it's undoubtedly worth a try.