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What is the difference between a shrimp and a prawn?

In some culinary circles, the word "prawn" is used to describe a large shrimp. In other circles, "shrimp" is used exclusively to describe both shrimp and prawns. And to further complicate matters, in other circles, "prawn" is used exclusively to describe both shrimp and prawns.

So is there a difference between the two?

Yes, there is a difference. Technically, shrimp and prawns are separate species, with mildly different gill structures and tastes.

The saltwater crustacean known as a shrimp is found in warm water (like the Gulf of Mexico) or cold water (like the Atlantic). Much of the shrimp we eat is pond-raised. In general, the colder the water, the smaller the shrimp.

Marketed according to size, shrimp are named based on the rough number of them that make up a pound. "Miniature" shrimp are so small that it take roughly 100 to make a pound, while just 10 "colossal" shrimp make a pound.

A prawn is a different kind of crustacean that resembles a miniature lobster and has sweet, succulent meat. The French langoustine, Spanish langostino and Caribbean lobsterette are all prawns, as is the Italian scampi (which shouldn't be confused with the dish known in the United States as "shrimp scampi"). Freshwater prawns like the Hawaiian blue prawn look like a shrimp-and-lobster love child, with thinner bodies and longer legs than shrimp.

Since in most recipes one can be substituted for the other, at Cookthink, we prefer to say "shrimp" when referring to shrimp and prawns. Using our synoynm feature, you can search for shrimp or prawns and we'll know what you're talking about. 

Recipe: For recipes using shrimp and praws, take a look at the "related recipes" box on the left

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