The Difference Between Shrimp and Prawns

Many people mistakenly think that shrimp and prawns are the same. Today's article will discuss their differences and tell you how these characteristics affect your recipes and their nutritional quality.
The Difference Between Shrimp and Prawns

Last update: 10 February, 2021

Many people think shrimp and prawns are the same. In fact, they’re both simply known as “prawns” in England and Australia. There are many differences despite their similarities, though.

Both animals have a short life cycle and group in schools as adults. Thus, they’re easier prey to commercial shrimping nets. The similarities reside in their biological origin. In fact, biologist Marcelo Scelzo describes them as decapod crustaceans. This is because they have a tough exoskeleton and ten legs.

There are some differences in their body, habitat, reproduction, and taste. So, what is it? A shrimp or a prawn? Well, continue reading to find out.

Shrimp and prawns are biologically different

Both crustaceans belong to the same family but their body structures are different. France and Grace indicate that prawns belong to the suborder Dendrobranchiata — they have branched gills. Three pairs of legs out of the ten have claws. Furthermore, shrimp from the suborder Pleocyemata have lamellar gills and claws only on two pairs of their front legs.

Look at their antennae and shell if you want to find more practical differences. For instance, prawns have strong and long antennae that can triple their body size. Also, look at the shell and see how the segments overlap on the abdomen. As for the second segment of the shell in shrimp, it overlaps with the first and third segments.

Shrimp usually incubate their eggs in their swimming legs, where they remain attached until they hatch and become part of the plankton. Some shrimp species are born males and become females when they get older. In contrast, the prawns reproduce by copulating with males and females and then release the fertilized eggs into the water.

A plate full of shrimp.
Shrimp are smaller and their protein content is higher than that of prawns.

The habitats of shrimp and prawns

Shrimp live at the bottom of seas and oceans worldwide. They require oxygen and thus, prefer shallow waters. You can find them in tropical and temperate waters of rocky areas, right there with seagrasses, lake bottoms, reefs, mud, shore sands, brackish and fresh lagoons. They also inhabit caves, crevices, and other running and stagnant waters.

They move through the sea in troupes and are highly resistant to any changes in temperature. This allows them to inhabit many places throughout the planet.

Most prawns are exclusively marine. The most exploited species by fishing activity are the Penaeidae, which inhabit shallow coastal waters. Others dig a sea bed during the day but emerge at night to eat.

Prawn larvae aren’t too resistant to low temperatures. It seems to be the reason for their poor distribution at increasing latitudes.

Shrimp or prawns: Which one is larger?

To quickly differentiate a shrimp from a prawn, just look at their size: shrimps are much larger than prawns.

They can measure up to 6 to 8 inches long and are gray, while shrimp range between 3/8 and 1 1/8 inches in length on average. However, the largest exceptions can measure a little bit more than 3 inches maximum and are brown.

Nutritional differences between shrimp and prawns

At first glance, it doesn’t matter whether you eat shrimp or prawns. However, there are nutritional differences for humans.

According to the food composition table of the Organización Panamericana de la Salud (OPS), fresh shrimp has approximately 20% of protein (similar to fish, chicken, and other meats). The fat content is low, so we consider it lean.

Shrimp also provides minerals, such as 52 milligrams of calcium and 2.4 milligrams of highly absorbable iron. A stands out with 54 retinol equivalents among the vitamins. Also, it contains large amounts of potassium, sodium, magnesium, and zinc.

Prawns only provide 16% of your daily value of protein and less fat than shrimp. Other nutrients are also well below, such as 27 milligrams of calcium, one milligram of iron, and 16 retinol equivalents of vitamin A. However, potassium is much higher in shrimp — almost 300 milligrams.

Also, both crustaceans provide astaxanthin, one of the most powerful food antioxidants. It’s the reddish pigment in shrimp and prawns when cooked. Lopez Roldan points out that this pigment has many health benefits.

A dish of rice and prawns.
Shrimp is great with other dishes, such as rice, which provides potassium.

Which one is tastier?

There’s a slight difference in the flavor between both species of crustaceans, from the culinary point of view. Prawns are a little bit sweeter than shrimp and it undoubtedly influences the type of dish you use them for. Shrimp has a more intense flavor and are good for casseroles and soups.

Similarly, prawns are great with garlic, butter, and parsley. They’re also perfect in stews or pasta or rice. As if that wasn’t enough, you can also grill them, depending on their size. A seafood paella tastes better with shrimp due to its intense flavor.

In terms of texture, prawns are firmer, their meat harder and drier. You must be careful not to overcook it to avoid an unpleasant dish.

Do these differences matter?

Beyond their size, shell, habitat, or reproduction, the differences between these crustaceans do affect the nutritional value of a dish. Thus, eat shrimp if you need to increase your protein or iron intake. However, eat prawns if you need more potassium and less fat.

Opt for shrimp if you’d like a seafood meal with intense flavors, but choose prawns for more balanced flavors and textures.

Enjoy!

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  • Instituto de Nutrición de Centro América y Panamá (INCAP). Organización Panamericana d ela Salud. Tabla de composición de Alimentos. Segunda edición. Reimpresión Serviprensa, S.A. 2012.
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