Guide to shrimp and prawn with details on choosing, buying and storing fresh prawns.

Guide to Shrimp and Prawn
Introduction to shrimps and prawns
First things first. What is a prawn and what is a shrimp? Are they the same or is there actually a difference between the two. Is a prawn a large shrimp or does the naming of this delicious crustacean just depend on where you live?

Other pages in our shrimp and prawn section

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In the US, the general term is "shrimp". However, in the UK, the term "prawn" is used more often.

A prawn is sometimes called a prawn and a shrimp is called a prawn and a shrimp. Confused? You should be.

The terms "prawn" and "shrimp" are used interchangeably and it does depend on where you live, as to which term will be used. The terms "prawns" and "shrimps" are used in cookbooks, restaurants and markets, but not necessarily correctly.

Some people say that the difference is just in the size. "Shrimps" are used to describe the smaller variety, whilst prawn is used to name the larger members of both species.

Believe it or not, there is actually a difference between prawns and shrimps. The difference lies in their gill structure. Prawns have a branching gill structure, whilst the gill structure of shrimps is lamellar.

There is also a difference in the way that the two brood their eggs. Prawns legs are longer than shrimps and the shrimp's front pair of pincers is larger, whilst the prawns second pair of pincers is bigger.

Prawns are similar to lobster, as they have two pairs of small pincers but due to the fact that they are similar in size to shrimps, they are sometimes confused with them.

About shrimps and prawns

Prawns and shrimps belong to the same family as crabs and lobsters and are similar in a number of ways. They are decapod crustaceans, which means that they have 10 legs and a hard shell covering their body, although the shell that covers prawns and shrimps is much thinner and not as hard as the shell of most other crustaceans.

As with crabs and lobsters, shrimps and prawns must shed their shells in order to grow bigger.

One of the main differences between prawns and shrimps and their relatives, the crabs and lobsters, is that prawns and shrimps primarily swim about, as opposed to crabs and lobsters that crawl.

Prawns and shrimps also start their 4 year existence as males and then change into females for their final year of life.

Where are prawns and shrimps found?

There over 300 different species of prawns and shrimps, which are found in most waters all over the world.

A huge amount of shrimp and prawns are found in the waters of the Pacific Ocean, Atlantic Ocean, the Gulf of Mexico, Indian Ocean, Arctic Ocean and Oceania, although they are also located in other parts of the world.

As with lobsters and crabs, there are cold water and warm water prawns and shrimps. As the name suggests, cold water prawns are located in cold water oceans such as the Atlantic and Arctic, whilst warm water prawns and shrimps are located in warm water oceans such as the Pacific and Indian oceans.

Most popular types of shrimp and prawn

Shrimps and prawns are the most popular type of seafood that are consumed in restaurants and homes all around the world.

They are used in a wide number of dishes ranging from curries to rice dishes to salads and are even delicious just eaten on their own.

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Popular varieties include the giant tiger prawn, deep water prawn or Northern shrimp, spot shrimp, pink shrimp, white shrimp, brown shrimp, king prawn and bay prawn.

Prawns and shrimps can be green, pink, brown, blue, white or yellow in colour before cooking, and turn pink with white meat after cooking.

Many people prefer cold water shrimps and prawns, as they don't grow as quickly, making their meat more succulent and tasty. Most chefs prefer to cook the cold water type of prawn or shrimp, as they are usually better quality, meaning that dishes are not ruined from using deteriorating seafood.

Dublin Bay prawns

Although this type of shellfish is called a prawn, it is actually a member of the lobster family. The Dublin Bay prawn is also known as "langoustine" in French, "langostino" in Spanish, Norway lobster and in the UK, the shelled meat of the tail is known as "scampi".

The Dublin Bay prawn is found in the waters of the Atlantic and the Mediterranean Sea.

They contain little meat and can be quite expensive, yet the meat is exceedingly sweet and delicious eaten plain.

Dublin Bay prawns are cooked in the same way as lobster (see our guide on how to cook lobster), but as they are smaller in size they need less cooking time (usually about 10 minutes in boiling salty water).

Major importers and exporters

Most kinds of prawn or shrimp that you find in your local fishmonger or supermarket will come from a Latin American or Asian country if you are buying warm water prawns, or from Denmark, Canada, the US, Iceland and Greenland if you prefer the cold water species.

Major exporters are China, Thailand, India, Bangladesh, Australia, Brazil, Ecuador, Honduras and the US.

Seafood is becoming more and more popular in a number of countries all over the world and there is a huge demand for the popular prawn or shrimp in particular.

The main importers are the US, Japan and a number of European countries, such as Spain and France, where prawns are eaten regularly and seafood in general makes up a large part of their diet.

Nutritional value of shrimps and prawns

Prawns and shrimps are an extremely good source of protein, yet are very low in fat and calories, making them a very healthy choice of food.

Although shrimps and prawns have a high cholesterol content, they are low in saturated fat, which is the fat that raises cholesterol levels in the body and is bad for you. For this reason, there is no need to avoid eating shrimps or prawns, as the cholesterol in the food is not the same as the cholesterol in one's blood.

Meat and dairy products are also sources of protein but they tend to be very high in calories and saturated fat. A 4 oz (115 g) portion of shrimps contains almost half the recommended daily protein needed but only contains 112 calories and less than 1g of fat.

Shrimps and prawns do contain a lot of omega-3 fatty acids, but these fatty acids are good for you and help prevent against heart disease, circulatory diseases and many other types of illnesses.

Prawns and shrimps also contains high levels of vitamin B12, zinc, iodine, phosphorous, potassium, selenium and iron and have smaller quantities of calcium, magnesium and sodium.

Many of these vitamins are essential for healthy skin, bones and teeth.

Choosing and buying fresh prawns and shrimps

For the best flavour, always try to purchase fresh prawns or shrimps, although in the majority of cases this won't be possible, as most prawns and shrimps sold in the markets have been frozen and then thawed for sale. They are usually displayed on ice, which is the best way to store thawed prawns or shrimp, until they are needed for cooking.

Frozen raw prawns and shrimps are also a very good option, as the freezing does not alter the flavour or taste very much and some of the flavour may be lost upon thawing. Fresh shrimp and prawns are highly perishable, so buying frozen raw shrimp and prawns is probably the best choice.

However, do try and avoid prawns or shrimps that have been shelled, cooked and frozen, as they are often tasteless and watery and therefore a complete waste of money. Sometimes they actually have a really unpleasant taste and will ruin a nice meal.

Prawns and shrimps are also available cooked and fresh or cooked and frozen, both of which are other good options.

It is also better to buy prawns and shrimps with their shells and cook them in their shells if possible too, as much of the flavour, moisture and juices will be retained.

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When buying fresh prawns or shrimps look for the following signs before making your choice:
  • The shells should be firm and glossy and not broken or slippery.
  • There should be no discolouration of the heads or the shells, as this is an indication that the meat is starting to go bad.
  • They should smell fresh and salty. Avoid if there is any hint of a smell of ammonia.
  • The eyes should be prominent and shiny and not shrunken inwards or missing.
If you are buying raw prawns or shrimps, do not be put off if they are translucent or a different colour then the typical pink prawn. Prawns and shrimp only turn this colour once they have been cooked.

How to store fresh prawns and shrimps

All seafood, not only prawns or shrimps, should be stored in the refrigerator as soon as possible after purchase.

It is best to cook the prawns on the day of purchase; however, they may be stored in the refrigerator for a maximum of three days, although 1 - 2 days would be better.

Prawns and shrimps should be kept in the coldest part of the fridge, which is at the bottom, yet the ideal would be to store them in a bowl of ice in the fridge, as even the fridge temperature is not quite cold enough for the optimal storage conditions for this type of seafood.

The prawns can be kept in their original packaging or can be transferred to an airtight container. They should also be kept in their shell until they are needed for cooking.

If you buy frozen prawns or shrimp, store them in the freezer until you need to defrost them.
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