We're reader-supported. If you buy through our links, we may earn a commission at no cost to you.

Why Your Scallops Smell Like Ammonia

Don’t let stinky scallops ruin dinner! Learn why scallops smell like ammonia, if they’re safe to eat when they do, and how to avoid it.

Listen up, home cooks, because I’m about to drop some scallop wisdom on you.

Scallops should never, ever, stink of ammonia. I mean, come on, that’s just common sense. If you’re paying top dollar for some scallops, the last thing you want is you want them smelling like a public bathroom at the beach… am I right?

And that, my friends, is a major bummer. But don’t worry, I’m here to help you identify and avoid those nasty, ammonia-smelling scallops. So, let’s dive in and figure out why your scallops are stinking up the joint—and whether or not you should eat them.

Scallops get smelly when they go bad:

Alright, here’s the deal. Scallops are mollusks, and when they start to break down, they release some pretty nasty chemicals. One of those chemicals is ammonia, and that’s what gives scallops that signature bathroom scent. If you want to avoid the stink, you’ve got to make sure your scallops are fresh as a daisy.

Spotting scallops gone bad is easy, just give them a sniff. If they smell like a high school gym locker, it’s time to bounce. But, if you’re not sure, keep an eye out for slimy scallops and an off color. If you see any of these red flags, it’s time to say “adios” to those scallops.

Why you should never, ever eat smelly scallops:

If you take away one thing from reading this article, let it be this: DON’T EAT SMELLY SCALLOPS.

If you eat scallops that smell like ammonia, you’re taking a big risk. That stink is a sign that the scallops have gone bad, and bad seafood can give you food poisoning faster than you can say scallop scampi. So, if you’ve got scallops that smell like death, throw them away. They have no place in your stomach.

How to buy the freshest scallops at the market:

When it comes to buying the freshest scallops, you’ve got to use all your senses. First and foremost, give them a good sniff. If they’re odorless or they have a slightly sweet scent, you’re in business. If they smell like ammonia or have any other funky odors, keep walking.

Now, here’s one pro tip for you. Sometimes, the plastic packaging can mask the scent of bad scallops, so if you have the option, go for the displayed scallops instead of the packaged ones. That way, you can give them a proper sniff and make sure they’re fresh as they come.1Murray, M. T., Pizzorno, J. E., & Pizzorno, L. (2005). The Encyclopedia of Healing Foods. Atria Books.

And once the fishmonger wraps up your scallops and hands them over to you, give them one last sniff through the paper. If they’re still smelling sweet, you’re good to go. But, if you get even the slightest hint of ammonia, it’s time to give them back and start the process all over again.

How to keep scallops fresh at home so they don’t go bad on you:

So, you’ve got your fresh scallops, and you want to keep them that way? Keep the scallops cold and dry, and cook them as soon as you can. Store them in a ziploc bag, on an ice bed and in the lower part of the fridge where it’s coldest.

Don’t open the fridge too often so that the temperature stays below 40°F (4.4°C). And if you need to store them for a while, wrap them in a freezer bag, squeeze out the air, and pop them in the freezer.

Raw scallops, according to Get Maine Lobster, keep for 2 days in the fridge and 3 months in the freezer. Cooked scallops keep for 3 to 4 days in the fridge as long as they haven’t sat out for more than 1-2 hours at room temperature.

The bottom line:

Listen, in the end, it’s all about freshness. You want scallops that are sweet and succulent—not stinky, gross, and unsafe to eat. So, use your nose, keep them cold, and enjoy that delicious seafood taste. And always remember rule number one of food safety: when in doubt, throw it out.

Know your author

Written by

Dim is a food writer, cookbook author, and the editor of Home Cook World. His first book, Cooking Methods & Techniques, was published in 2022. He is a certified food handler with Level 1 and Level 2 Certificates in Food Hygiene and Safety for Catering, and a trained cook with a Level 3 Professional Chef Diploma.