Abalone conch shell, pearl, mother-of-pearl, and soft tissue are used as aphrodisiacs, and are in especially high demand in Asia. Abalone’s other names includes Abalonen, auris marina, awabi, basin mussel, ear shells, meerohr (German), ormer (English), pāua (New Zealand), sea ears, shi jue ming

Habitat and Varieties

The abalone, or ormer shells, are mollusks, a variety of sea-dwelling snails that live among the rocks of tidal basins. They have an ear-shaped, winding spiral shell, often as large as the palm of a hand, with a shiny, iridescent mother-of-pearl lining. Abalones can produce pearls (cf. oyster). Many varieties of abalone have great cultural significance as both a food and a raw material (Howorth 1988).

Popular Varieties of Abalone

1. Haliotis iris

Also Known as Paua, rainbow abalone, regenbogenabalone, iridescent ormer, awabi. The paua abalone is a midsized ormer shell (around 14 cm) found only in the tidal basins of New Zealand. Paua pearls are very attractive because of their bright blue-to-green range of color, on a dark background. The paua mother-ofpearl, known as sea opal, is internationally sought as a raw material for the making of jewelry. The Maori Natives of New Zealand often use the sparkling substance in making jewelry and magical objects. They also use carved wooden fishhooks encrusted with paua as lures for deep-sea fishing. Paua resources are gravely endangered due to Japanese overfishing. Paua meat, a highly valued food in the Japanese kitchen, is believed to have medicinal properties and to enhance love.

2. Haliotis rufescens

Also known as Haliotidae Red abalone, red orme. Red abalone (as large as 30 cm) is primarily found in the Gulf of California, the body of water that separates the Baja Peninsula from the Mexican mainland. It produces pearls (Abalonenperlen, abalone blister) and a significant amount of mother-ofpearl for the jewelry industry. Although the meat is not considered a delicacy there, it is very popular in Chinese and Japanese communities in California, where it is considered to be an aphrodisiac.

3. Haliotis gigantean

Gmelin, giant abalone, riesnseeohr: Japan, Korea, up to 20 cm (about 8 in.)

4. Haliotis tuberculata L

Common abalone, ear ormer: Mediterranean, up to 8 cm.

5. Haliotis corrugate

Rose ormer, pink abalone, rose abalone: Pacific coast of North America.


All varieties of mollusk shell—especially those of mother-of-pearl—are found in the traditional Chinese treasury of medicines. The giant abalone (Haliotis gigantea) is called in Chinese Shi Jue Ming, and is considered a liver-calming and windpreventing remedy. In Japan the shells (conch) are pulverized and taken as an aphrodisiac. Green ormer—the name appears as such as early as Aristotle (Haliotis tuberculata)—is also called Venus ears in the folk tradition, and is worn in aphrodisiac amulets. † The common ormer is also called Venus ears, or orecchio di San Pietro (Italian). This is the only Mediterranean species among the “mussels of Aphrodite.”

Abalone meat has always been considered a delicacy—a rich source of protein from the saline sea. Along the California coast, people love the great-tasting abalone and eat it with such gusto that it is almost extinct in those waters. Large abalone shells are often used as incense burners, especially for herbs (such as wormwood or sage).

Cultural Meaning

Even if abalone does not contain any substances that stimulate lust, its appearance arouses every sense. The snail adheres to the inside of her shell by means of a muscle that withdraws her back into the protective shell or allows her to extend out of it when she moves; over a lifetime of rubbing against the surface, this movement polishes the shell’s interior. The smooth interior and the slick secretions are a reminder of the slippery mucous membrane of the female’s intimate body cavity, which is why the Greeks associated the Haliotis and other mussels and snails with the love goddess, Aphrodite.

The iridescent, splendid blue-green shimmer of the mother-of-pearl of Venus ears resembles the reverberation of a rainbow in glittering dewdrops or pearls of moisture. The depth of the sea, the infinity of the sky, and divine rays of lights from the sun reverberate in its enthralling metallic colors. Mother-of-pearl has always been the embodiment of femininity; its very name combines the words mother and pearl, and pearls are a (highly valued) symbol of the fertility of the divine mother.

In the Christian period, the things that were once sacred to Aphrodite were made into attributes of Mary, the Mother of God, who was often depicted wearing a white pearl necklace: “Jesus is the radiant and immaculate pearl that was born of the virgin through the divine spark. For as the pearl is a body born of flesh and muscle and moisture, damp and translucent with light and spirit, so does the God who is word-made-flesh shine as a spiritual light through a moist body” (cf. Matt. 13:46). Through the “pearl” of Mary—her son Jesus—the mythological symbolism of ancient times lives on in a surprisingly sensual way.

Where to get

Shells can be bought in conch shops; meat can be purchased canned or dried in Japanese and Asian markets, and live in high-end specialty markets.


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