Guide to crabs including nutritional information. Choosing & buying a crab.

Guide to crabs
Crab is another popular crustacean that is eaten in restaurants and homes all over the world. Contrary to popular belief, and as with cooking lobster, the task is not as difficult as it is sometimes perceived.

Crabs can be bought live if to be cooked at home or cooked and frozen or you can buy raw crabmeat or crabmeat that has been cooked, frozen, pasteurised or tinned.

Whichever you prefer, the delicious sweet and succulent meat is used in a huge variety of dishes such as salads, sandwiches, soups, dips, pates, starters and main meals or just on its own.

About crabs

Crabs are decapods, which mean that they have 10 legs and they have a hard shell or carapace to protect them. They walk sideways and their two eyes are situated on the end of two short stalks.

As with lobsters, crabs have to cast off their shell every so often in order to grow. After discarding the old shell, in a process called moulting, the crab increases its size within a few hours, after the intake of a lot of water. The crabs are then left for a few days with a soft shell, until this new shell hardens.

Many crabs are caught when they have just moulted and have a softer shell. Therefore, when buying crab, you will be able to choose from hard shell or soft shell crab.

Many people prefer the taste of soft shell crabs, as they are said to be more tender, more succulent and more flavoursome.

Blue crabs are very popular eaten whole and fried when they have just moulted and their shell is still soft.

Where are crabs found?

There are around 5,000 different species of crab, which can be found all over the world. 4,500 of these species are said to be "true" crabs, whilst the other 500 are made up of different species of hermit crabs.

The majority of crabs live in the water, however there are a small number of crabs that live on land and breathe air.

The majority of the crab population is to be found in the waters around China, followed by the US and then Japan. A smaller concentration of crabs can be found in the Atlantic waters around the UK, Portugal, France and Spain.

Major crab importers and exporters

Although most of the crabs are to be found in the seas around China, the US is the world's largest exporter of crabs. China follows, and then Canada, the UK and France.

The biggest importers, and therefore countries where eating crab is immensely popular, are Japan, France, Spain, Hong Kong, the US, Canada and Portugal.

The brown crab is a species of crab local to Europe and is mainly consumed in European countries along with the spider crab, which enjoys a huge popularity in Spain and France, mainly due its sweet flavoured meat found in its legs and claws.

In the US and Canada, species such as the large and meaty dungeness crab, small but succulent blue crab, king crab, which yields lots of tender snowy white meat and snow crab are prevalent and popular.

Although there are so many different types of crab that each offer their own distinctive taste and texture, all crabmeat is essentially sweet and in some parts of the world considered a delicacy.

Nutritional value of crab meat

A lot of people stay away from shellfish, as it is thought to contain an extremely high amount of cholesterol.

Crabmeat is however, extremely good for you, although must be eaten in moderate quantities, as with all foods.

Crab is a source of many important vitamins and minerals, some of which aid in the prevention of cancer (selenium), raise the levels of "good" cholesterol (chromium), thus lowering the risk of heart disease or circulatory disease and stabilising glucose levels in the blood, which is extremely important for diabetics.

Crabmeat is an excellent source of protein, is very low in fat and contains few calories.

Crabmeat also contains important quantities of essential fatty acids, iron, zinc, potassium, magnesium, calcium and phosphorous, which are all important for a well-balanced nutritional diet.

Choosing and buying live crabs

If you are planning on cooking the crab at home and eating it straight from the shell, it is best to buy live crabs, for a better taste. Frozen crabs can also be bought, although frozen fish or seafood never quite tastes the same.

Buy your crabs from a well-known and reputable fishmonger or as a second choice from a supermarket.

If you are buying from the latter, make sure to find out how long the crabs have been in the tank. If it is longer than a week, they should really be avoided.

Choose crabs that are lively and move about. They should smell fresh and salty, without any smell of fish and especially not ammonia.

Never buy crabs that are dead, as the meat goes off really quickly and will most definitely be bad when you cook it. Do not buy any crabs if the meat looks off colour or dried out.

If you are planning on preparing a crab dish following a recipe, check to see whether it specifies a male or female crab, as some recipes do. It is quite simple to differentiate between a male and female crab. The female crab has a triangle shaped area on the underneath part of the shell.

How to store crab

If you are buying live crabs, it is best to consume them when they are as fresh as possible, preferably on the same day, although they will keep safe in the fridge for up to two days.

Put the live crabs in a bowl or a container where they can still breathe and cover them with damp paper towels or a damp cloth. Place them in a cold area of your refrigerator until you are ready to use them.

Check on your crabs from time to time whilst they are in the fridge, as if they die, they should really be cooked immediately.

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