What is the Difference Between Shrimp and Prawns
There are some people who think that shrimp and prawns are one and the same. There are also folks in the fishing industry who use these terms in a rather loose way. While these two crustaceans do look alike, there are key differences between them. Learning to distinguish one from the other can help you decide which one to include in your seafood recipe.
One of the key differentiating points between a shrimp and a prawn is the region from which they are harvested, sold, and served.
North Americans differentiate these two in terms of their size. They call the smaller and more common species as ‘shrimp’. If it is big, they call it ‘prawn’.
They also tend to differentiate it in terms of the seafood’s habitat. Both prawns and shrimp can live in both freshwater and saltwater. However, the majority of the species of shrimp thrive in saltwater environments where they swim. On the other hand, the majority of the species of prawns grow in freshwater. They tend to crawl on the muddy floor of fresh water. So, if you were to ask North Americans what are prawns, they will almost always tell you that they are freshwater crustaceans.
People in the UK and the Commonwealth like Australia and New Zealand do not differentiate between the two. You will not hear them call one a shrimp, while the other is a prawn. In general, they call both types as ‘prawn’.
If we are to follow Linnaeus’ taxonomic classification of organisms, the difference is very clear. Both crustaceans belong to the same family, known as Crangonidae. They have 5 pairs of legs. Under this family are several sub-orders. Two of them are the Dendrobranchiata and the Pleocyemata. Prawns belong to the former sub-order, while shrimp belong to the latter sub-order.
Because these crustaceans belong to different sub-orders of the same family, they can have distinct differences in their anatomies, too. Check two of the legs if it has claws. If it does, then it is a shrimp. If there are claws on three legs, then the crustacean is a prawn.
Check also the second segment of the shell. If it overlaps both the first shell and the third shell, then it is a shrimp. The shell on prawns also overlap but they do so in a more sequential manner. The first shell overlaps the second shell. The second shell overlaps the third shell and so on.
The overlapping of the shells can also give the crustacean a distinct bend. Since shrimp have a very different manner of shell overlaps, the bend on its body is more pronounced than prawn. In other words, prawns will look straighter. Shrimp will have a curled appearance.
Their gills are quite different, too. Shrimp have plate-like gills, called lamellae. On the other hand, prawns have branching gills. They also differ in the location of their pincers. Shrimp have it on the front legs. Prawns have their pincers on the second row of legs.
The way they carry fertilized eggs is also different. Prawns do not carry the eggs wherever they grow. They leave them in the water. Shrimp always carry their fertilized egg. They put this on their underside for safety reasons.
One of the ways people differentiate the two is their size. If it is bigger than your usual shrimp, then it is a prawn. If you get no more than 40 pieces of these crustaceans per pound, then there is a likelihood that they are prawns. If you have about 60 pieces per pound, then it is shrimp. Relying on size alone is not very accurate, however. One has to understand that there are also ‘large’ species of shrimp, in the same way that there are ‘small’ species of prawns.
Differences in Taste
Prawns have a mild sweetness to their taste. However, the sweetness is so negligible that only people with a very acute sense of taste will notice the difference. There is also the effect of the other ingredients in the dish that can make differentiating between these two types of seafood very difficult. It is almost impossible to know whether you have a shrimp or a prawn on your plate. This is especially true if you are served a prawn or shrimp dish already deshelled. You will not be able to identify the presence of the claws and the location of the pincers. The overlapping of the shells will also be non-existent.
The differences between shrimp and prawns do not matter very much when it comes to culinary applications. They taste almost the same. That’s what’s important.