A load of abalone

Every year when me and my sister were little we would go up the road to my grandparent’s for Christmas day.

Aside from my grandad’s amazing stuffing (I still regret not ever finding out the recipe), chocolate eclairs and fancily-cut tomatoes, one of the other ‘delicacies’ served throughout the day was ox tongue.

Being a somewhat fussy eater, my sister would always dubiously poke the slice of jellied meat with her knife and ask whether tongue was really made of tongue.

And year after year, my mother would tell her not to be so ridiculous and to hurry up and eat it. There’s a reason why my sister decided to become a vegetarian when she was 10.

Anyway, today I was reminded of those Christmas day teas with a visit to see Ben’s fish farmer friend Andrew, who works for KIAB, or Kangaroo Island Abalone, for non-acronym fans.

Abalone, for those who have never heard of it, is a kind of shellfish, and is apparently thought very highly of by Asian consumers.

A good-sized abalone is as big as a fist, comes in a rather funky turqoise shell, and looks like a giant, green-tinged, undulating tongue (albeit the tongue of someone with a rather nasty illness).


As part of a larger company called AusAB, Andrew manages Kangaroo Island’s abalone production.

Across three sheds Andrew hatches and rears 130 tonnes of the fishy little fellas every year, 90% of which are exported to Asia.

Rearing abalone is a 4-year process, and since launching 15 years ago Andrew has been experimenting with feed, flows of sea water and growing environments to find the optimum way to produce the fish so loved by Chinese shoppers.

It’s a fairly big time and labour-intensive process, which is probably why he can fetch $38/kg for the stuff.

The majority of the fish is cooked in brine and shipped over to Asia in cans, but Andrew’s trying to expand his markets by getting consumers to realise abalone taste loads better fresh, frozen or marinaded.

It’s proving to be a slow process, with lots of retailers and suppliers refusing point blank to even try abalone cooked a different way. To try and win them over, AUSAB has invested heavily in new packaging to entice shoppers.

That’s proved to be a challenge too though, as Western-style marketing apparently doesn’t play well in Asia – consumers don’t trust packaging unless it has the raw product on the front and clear country of origin labelling.

Abalone packets

Having made the tongue comparison early on, the last thing I really really wanted to do was put a piece of Asian-style marinaded abalone it in my mouth – especially the stuff that came out of a packet cold and covered in jelly.

Admittedly it tasted better than it looked, but I’m not sure I’ll be cracking open the packet Andrew gave me as a souvenir just yet. In fact, I might hold on to it until I get home – I haven’t got Sissy Joanne a present yet….

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2 Responses to “A load of abalone”

  1. Simon

    1.You did well to avoid an Abalonely This Xmas title there.
    2.Those Chinese people are weird.
    3.Happy Xmas!

  2. Caroline Stocks

    If I’d have thought of that title, I would’ve used it – well done!

    Merry Christmas to you too :)