Whether you’re browsing the menu at a seafood restaurant or searching for new recipes to prepare at home, you might find yourself wondering what the difference is between prawns and shrimp. Is there any difference at all?
Prawns vs. Shrimp
Don’t worry, you’re not alone! Even chefs sometimes have a hard time identifying prawns vs. shrimp at first glance, and many people use the two words interchangeably. However, there are some subtle differences you can use to tell these tasty crustaceans apart.
Prawns and Shrimp Are Scientifically Distinct Species
Shrimp and prawns are both Decapod crustaceans, which means that they have ten legs. However, they belong to different sub-orders; shrimp are part of sub-order Pleocyemata, while prawns belong to Dendrobranchiata. This means that you can differentiate the two by looking for a few telltale physical characteristics. The most defining of these is gill structure, which is also the hardest to spot. Other, more easily visible traits are better for telling shrimp and prawns apart at a glance.
Side Plates: Shrimp have side plates with segments that overlay in front and behind; this allows their bodies to take on the familiar, curled shape. By contrast, prawns have side plates that overlap like tiles from front to back, which keep their bodies straight.
Claws: You can also use claws to tell shrimp and prawns apart. Shrimp have claws on two pairs of legs, with large front pincers. Prawns have claws on three pairs of legs, with the largest pincers on the second pair.
Prawns and Shrimp and Are Different Sizes
If you don’t have time for an in-depth examination of side plates and claw configurations, there’s another easy way to spot the difference between shrimp and prawns: size. In general, shrimp are smaller than prawns. This identification method can be less foolproof than the physical traits outlined above, as some larger varieties of shrimp can be bigger than prawns.
Prawns and Shrimp Live in Different Types of Water
If you’re able to find out where your crustaceans were raised or caught, you have access to another method of telling shrimp and prawns apart. Shrimp are predominantly found in salt water, while prawns are freshwater dwellers.
Prawns and Shrimp Have Similar Nutrient Profiles
There’s almost no distinction between the two when it comes to cooking and eating. Shrimp and prawns share nearly identical nutrient profiles, and both are excellent sources of lean protein. Both species are rich in healthy omega-3 fatty acids as well as selenium (a beneficial antioxidant), vitamin B12, iron, and phosphorus. So, you’ll reap the same health benefits no matter what you choose at the seafood counter.
Prawns and Shrimp Can Be Used Interchangeably in Recipes
What should you do if a recipe calls for prawns, but your local fishmonger only has shrimp in stock? The answer is: don’t worry about it. It’s nearly impossible to tell shrimp and prawns apart when it comes to taste and texture, so the two can be used interchangeably in almost any recipe. Feel free to make your choice based on size, freshness, and your preferences for the dish at hand.
Prawn and Shrimp Definitions Vary by Country
If you’re still wondering why there’s so much confusion about prawns vs. shrimp, much of it comes down to semantics. The two terms aren’t used consistently, and their meanings vary widely by country.
In the UK and Commonwealth countries, “prawn” is used to describe both true prawns and shrimp. “Shrimp” is far more common in the United States, where “prawn” is reserved specifically for larger freshwater species. No matter what you call them, they’re a sure-fire hit when you’re craving seafood.
Shrimp and Prawn Recipes
Ready to get cooking? Try my Sheet Pan Shrimp Scampi! I also love these Tiger Prawns in Garlic Ginger Soy Sauce from Ahead of Thyme.
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