Shrimp vs prawns: What’s the difference?

shrimp vs prawns

Shrimp vs prawns: Maybe you’ve thought these were two names for the same little crustaceans served up in seafood dishes. But shrimp and prawns are in fact genetically different.

While both shrimp and prawns are crustaceans that are decapods (meaning “10-footed”), shrimp come from the suborder pleocyemata (along with lobsters, crayfish and crabs). Prawns are from the dendrobranchiata suborder.

Shrimp vs Prawns: Biological And Behavioral Differences

If that all sounds too complicated, here’s the easiest way to remember the difference: Prawns are usually bigger than shrimp. And prawns live in brackish or freshwater vs shrimp that live mostly in saltwater.

Below is a raw prawn. Prawns have claws on three of their legs, with the second pair being the largest. All of their shell segments overlap each other from the front to the back.

Raw banana prawn on white background

The image below is of a raw shrimp. Shrimp have claws on two pairs of their legs, with the top pair being the biggest. Their second abdomen shell segment overlaps with the first and third segments. This causes shrimp to have more of a bend or curve to their bodies than prawns do.

red coral shrimp on white background
Shrimp have lamellar or plate-like gills while prawns have branching gills. Prawns release their eggs into water for hatching while shrimp carry their eggs on their bodies until they hatch.

In terms of color, both prawn and shrimp can be brownish, bluish, pinkish or gray; their colors are generally dull. Both shrimp and prawns take on an orange color when cooked.

In Common Usage, We Don’t Differentiate

If you live in the U.K., Australia, Ireland, New Zealand and some Asian countries, “prawn” is the more commonly used term and it’s used interchangeably for both shrimp and prawns. In the U.S., “shrimp” is the more common term. We tend to use these terms to refer to a number of different creatures within the crustacean family.

Check out this YouTube video from Travel Thirsty that shows giant prawns at a market in Japan and see if you can tell how the shell segments overlap each other evenly. You’ll also notice that the video’s title calls these crustaceans shrimp and prawns, showing how people often use the two words interchangeably. (It also shows in detail how to peel, de-vein and prep the prawns for cooking. Frying and eating follow.)

Shrimp vs Prawns: Is There A Flavor Difference?

The difference in taste between shrimp vs prawns is very subtle and probably more influenced by where the crustacean was raised and what it ate than what name it bears. Some say shrimp are saltier due to living more often in the ocean and that prawns are slightly sweeter. Nutritionally, shrimp and prawns are very similar.

But if you’re making a recipe calling for one of the crustaceans, feel free to use the other without altering your dish much. And if you’re looking for a recipe, try this simple and easy ceviche recipe from Sharp Health News. Or, consider AllRecipes’ parmesan-garlic shrimp for a 30-minute meal. The Cookie Rookie has a great bacon-wrapped shrimp appetizer that’s great as a game-day small bite, or you could go more comfort food-style with a garlic butter shrimp and rice dish from Shared. And if you use prawns in these dishes instead, we won’t tell.

And just remember the next time you’re in an argument over crustaceans, throw out some order and suborder, anatomy and habitat facts to win the debate.

Which do you prefer? Shrimp or prawns? Did you know the difference?

Animals, Curiosity, Food, Wild Animals

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About the Author
Anna Weaver
Anna Weaver is a writer and multimedia journalist from Hawaii. Her two young kids keep her on her toes and hooked on online shopping. Anna’s also a fan of movies, reading, photography, and sharing far too many IG stories about cute dogs and capybaras. Visit Scripps News to see more of Anna's work.

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