Updated: Nov 17, 2022
Calling all seafood fanatics, it’s time to dive into (pun intended) the difference between your favorite crustaceans. Shrimp and prawns, seafood pasta wouldn’t be the same without them, but what exactly is the difference between the two? Though the terms are often interchangeable, it turns out that there are actually quite a few key differences.
What is the Difference between Shrimp and Prawns?
Due to the interchangeability of the terms, most people don’t even realize that there is a difference between shrimp and prawns. However, when we look at the science, there are in fact a few key distinctions.
Both shrimp and prawns are members of the decapod order, meaning “10-footed”. While both do indeed have 10 feet, they are members of different suborders. Prawns have longer legs with three pairs of claw-like feet, while shrimp only have one pair. There are also key differences in the anatomy of shrimp and prawns. Each crustacean's body is broken up into three parts, the head, thorax, and abdomen. With shrimp there is only one overlap, between the thorax and abdomen. All three segments of prawns however, overlap, meaning they cannot bend their bodies as much as shrimp. This is a key difference to pay attention to when shopping for seafood. Shrimp will have a distinct bend to their bodies while prawns will not!
Another key difference to pay attention to is size. While this is not a hard and fast rule, typically prawns will be larger than shrimp. When shopping for both, pay attention to the count per pound. This is how the size of shrimps and prawns is distinguished. Large shrimp/prawns will have about 40 cooked per pound, medium will have about 50 cooked per pound, and small will have about 60 cooked per pound.
The last key difference is the type of water they reside in. Typically speaking shrimp live in saltwater while prawns live in freshwater. Just like with size, this isn’t always true as both kinds can be found in any type of water, but for most types this is the case.
*Fun Fact*: Pistol Shrimp are the loudest animals in the ocean! When snapping their claws they create a sound louder than a gunshot!
How are Shrimp and Prawns Similar?
Now let’s get down to our favorite determining factor, flavor. Some say prawns have a slightly sweeter flavor, but other than that, the flavor profile between shrimp and prawns is practically identical. This means that they are interchangeable in recipes. The difference in flavor is actually more likely to come from the conditions the shrimp/prawn lived in and their diet instead of the distinction between species!
The nutrient profiles of shrimps and prawns are also incredibly similar. Both are great sources of protein, with three ounces containing 18 grams of protein and only 85 calories. They also contain a good amount of healthy omega-3 fatty acids, B12, iron, and phosphorus.
They also both contain a good amount of selenium, an antioxidant that is believed to fight cancer! This powerful antioxidant stimulates enzymes to combat cancer causing free radicals and helps inhibit tumor growth. Now that’s one powerful little crustacean!
*Fun Fact*: There are over 2,000 species of shrimp in the world!
While there are key distinctions between shrimp and prawns, for cooking purposes, they are interchangeable. Whether you prefer shrimp or prawns, knowing how to cook them properly is essential. Learn how to cook them with some of your favorite dishes, like gambas al ajillo, shrimp boil, seafood pasta, seafood tacos, and pineapple fried rice with prawns!
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