Shrimp vs Prawn

Shrimp and prawns are two types of seafood that you might find both familiar and confusing. Despite their similar appearances and common confusion in culinary contexts, they are distinct creatures with differences that may influence your choice when cooking or eating them.

Your perception of these creatures likely leads you to associate them with small, delicious shellfish that can be the highlight of a meal, yet knowing their differences can enhance your understanding and appreciation of them.

A shrimp and a prawn face off in the sandy ocean floor, their claws raised in a defensive stance

You can differentiate shrimp and prawn based on their anatomical features. Typically, shrimp have a body that bends sharply, giving them a more pronounced curvature, while prawns’ bodies tend to be straighter.

The gill structure is also a distinguishing factor; shrimp have plate-like gills, whereas prawns have branching gills. Furthermore, you’ll notice that on a shrimp, the second segment of their exoskeleton overlaps the first and third segments, unlike in prawns where the segments overlap neatly from front to back.

In terms of habitat, shrimp are mostly found in saltwater environments and prawns inhabit freshwater. Despite these biological and ecological distinctions, you will often find shrimp and prawns used interchangeably in recipes due to their similar taste profiles and texture.

When you’re selecting them at the market or preparing a dish, these details may offer guidance on what to expect from each type of shellfish and how to maximize their potential in your culinary creations.

Shrimp and Prawn Basics

In exploring the world of aquatic delicacies, you’ll discover that shrimp and prawns are distinct in classification, habitat, and physical characteristics, each with unique features that set them apart.


Both shrimp and prawns are decapod crustaceans, meaning they belong to a group of ten-legged creatures. However, their classification diverges at the sub-order level.

Shrimp fall under the sub-order Pleocyemata, while prawns belong to Dendrobranchiata. This division is critical as it underscores fundamental differences in their breeding and gill structures.


Although shrimp and prawns share aquatic environments, their preferred habitats differ.

Shrimp typically inhabit waters with a saltier composition, which is why you often find them in oceans. Prawns, on the other hand, are usually found in fresh and brackish water, lending to their prevalence in rivers and lakes. These environments influence their respective behaviors and life cycles.

Physical Characteristics

Distinguishing between shrimp and prawns is easier when you know what physical traits to look for:

  • Legs & Claws: Prawns have three pairs of claw-like legs, a standout feature differentiating them from shrimp, which have two pairs. The presence of pincers on the front legs varies between the two.
  • Gills: Shrimp possess lamellar, or plate-like gills, whereas prawn gills are branching.
  • Exoskeletons & Segments: The bodies of these creatures are encased in hard exoskeletons. In prawns, the segments of the exoskeleton overlap from front to back like tiles. The side plate of a shrimp, however, overlays two segments – the one in front and the one behind it.

There is a diverse variety of shrimp species across the globe, tailoring to different ecological niches and consumer preferences.

Anatomical Differences

A shrimp and prawn side by side, showcasing their anatomical differences in size, shape, and appendages

You’ll find that prawns and shrimp differ mainly in the structure of their bodies and appendages.

Size and Shape

  • Size: Prawns are often larger than shrimp.
  • Shape: Prawns have a straighter body, while shrimp have a more pronounced bend to their shape.

Legs and Segments

  • Legs: Prawns possess three pairs of claw-bearing legs, whereas shrimp have two.
  • Segments: In prawns, the segments of the exoskeleton overlap each segment beneath it, similar to tiles. Shrimp, however, have a second segment that overlaps the first and third segments.

Nutritional Profile

A shrimp and prawn side by side, with labels showing their nutritional profiles

When choosing between shrimp and prawns, your decision might be influenced by their nutritional content. While both are excellent sources of protein and low in fat, they differ slightly in certain nutrients such as iron, and each offers a distinctive flavor profile depending on whether they’re eaten raw or cooked.

Iron Content

Shrimp and prawns contain iron, which is vital for your body. Iron is an essential component of hemoglobin, a protein in your red blood cells that carries oxygen throughout your body.

However, prawns generally have a slightly higher iron content compared to shrimp. For example:

  • Raw shrimp: Around 0.3 mg of iron per 100 grams
  • Raw prawns: Approximately 0.5 mg of iron per 100 grams

When cooked, the iron content in both shrimp and prawns can increase slightly, making them a valuable addition to your diet if you’re looking to boost your iron intake.

Flavor Profiles

The flavor of shrimp and prawns is influenced by their environment and their diet. They have a subtle taste that can range from sweet to briny:

  • Raw shrimp: Mild and slightly sweet flavor
  • Raw prawns: Rich and slightly more pronounced taste

When cooked, both shrimp and prawns develop a more robust flavor, with shrimp often described as being slightly more buttery and prawns having a slightly more delicate taste.

The method of cooking can also affect their flavor profiles, with grilling, boiling, or sautéing offering you different experiences.

Freshness is key for the best flavor, so always choose fresh over frozen when possible.

Culinary Uses

In the realm of cooking, you’ll find that both shrimp and prawns offer diverse options for preparation and can adapt well to various recipes. These shellfish are flexible ingredients that can enhance menus with their distinct flavors and textures.

Preparation Methods

When preparing shrimp or prawns for culinary use, you have multiple cooking methods at your disposal. These shellfish can be:

  • Fried: Achieving a crispy texture, often served with dips or in tacos.
  • Grilled: Imparting a smoky flavor, perfect for skewers or salads.
  • Steamed: Keeping them tender, commonly used in dumplings or paired with light sauces.
  • Sautéed: Quick and flavorful, ideal for stir-fries or pastas.

It’s important to consider whether your shellfish are freshwater or saltwater varieties, as the origin can influence the cooking time and seasoning.

Additionally, whether they are frozen, peeled, or shell-on affects cooking methods and presentation.

Culinary Variations

Your choice between prawns and shrimp can affect the final dish due to slight differences in flavor and texture. Here’s how you can incorporate them into various recipes:

  • Ingredients: Prawns often star in sophisticated dishes, whereas shrimp are more common in everyday cooking.
  • Recipes: Consider prawns for recipes that require larger, meatier bites and shrimp for dishes that need smaller, firmer pieces.
  • Menus: Both can be found in a range of cuisines, from Asian to Mediterranean, often reflecting local styles and traditions.

Shrimp and Prawn Selection

Selecting the right shrimp or prawn for your meal involves looking at the freshness and understanding the sizing and grading systems. These factors are crucial in determining the quality and flavor of your seafood.

Freshness Indicators

When purchasing fresh shrimp or prawns, look for bright, translucent flesh. The presence of any discoloration, such as black spots or yellowing, could indicate that they are past their prime.

Avoid seafood with a strong ammonia-like smell as this is a clear sign of spoilage.

For frozen shrimp and prawns, ensure that the package is free of ice crystals or frost, which can suggest that the product has been stored for too long or has defrosted and been refrozen. The packaging should be sealed and undamaged.

Sizing and Grading

Shrimp and prawns are categorized by size, denoted by the number of individuals per pound:

  • Jumbo shrimp: Typically about 21-25 pieces per pound
  • Tiger prawn: Larger than jumbo shrimp, often sold by their count per kilogram or pound
  • Spot prawn: Usually a medium size with a distinct, sweet flavor

A numerical sizing system is also applied, such as:

  • U10: Under 10 pieces per pound (this would indicate very large shrimp or prawns)
  • 21/25: 21-25 pieces per pound

Remember, the smaller the number, the larger the shrimp or prawn. Keep in mind that size terms like “jumbo” or “large” can vary by region or retailer, so referring to the count per pound is a more reliable method to gauge size.

Global Varieties and Names

When exploring the expansive world of shellfish, you will encounter a wealth of shrimp and prawn varieties, each with distinct characteristics.

Their nomenclature varies regionally, affecting how you may perceive these animals in culinary and scientific contexts.

Regional Terminology

In your culinary endeavors across regions, you’ll notice that the terms “shrimp” and “prawn” are used differently.

In the United States, the term “shrimp” is predominant, while in the United Kingdom, Australia, and Ireland, the word “prawn” is more commonly used.

Scientifically, they are separated into two suborders: Dendrobranchiata for prawns and Pleocyemata for shrimp. Despite this, everyday usage often interchanges these terms.

RegionCommon Term Used
North AmericaShrimp

Popular Varieties

Your taste for seafood can be expanded by trying different varieties of shrimp and prawns.

For instance, the Pink Gulf or Atlantic varieties are known for being milder and sweeter.

As you travel or explore seafood markets, you’ll find that each variety’s flavor and texture are influenced by species and habitat, adding a unique aspect to your culinary experience.

Key Shrimp Varieties:

  • Pink Shrimp: Often found in colder waters, peaking seasonally from late fall until early spring.
  • White Shrimp: These are popular in both the Gulf and Atlantic, known for their sweet flavor.

Cooking and Recipes

When preparing shrimp and prawns in the kitchen, your culinary journey can range from classic methods highlighting the natural flavors to innovative dishes that present these shellfish in a creative light.

The key is to consider the subtle taste and textural differences that can influence your final dish.

Classic Preparations

Grilled: For a smoky flavor, you can grill both shrimp and prawns. Skewering them simplifies flipping and serving. For the best taste, marinate shrimp or prawns for 30 minutes before grilling.

  • Fried: Your prawns or shrimp can be coated in seasoned flour, egg, and breadcrumbs or batter and deep-fried to a golden crispness. This crispy texture is a delightful contrast to their tender interiors.
  • Steamed: Cooking them with steam is a healthier option that preserves their natural flavors. Serve steamed shrimp or prawns with a light garnish or dipping sauce to complement their delicate taste.
  • Raw: In some cultures, particularly Japanese, shrimp and prawns are served raw, as sashimi. Ensure they’re fresh and properly prepared to enjoy their true flavor profile.

Creative Recipes

Prawn Cocktails: Elevate your prawn cocktail by playing with flavors in the sauce—consider adding a dash of brandy or a sprinkle of smoked paprika.

  • Shrimp Tacos: Incorporate shrimp into tacos for a quick, flavorful meal. Pair with freshly made salsa and slaw for added zest and crunch.
  • Prawn Curry: Experiment with spices and create a rich prawn curry. The shellfish absorb the flavors exceptionally well, making for a memorable dish.
  • Stuffed Shrimp: For an intriguing twist, stuff large shrimp with a mixture of garlic, breadcrumbs, and herbs, then bake until golden.

Both Pleocyemata (shrimp) and Dendrobranchiata (prawn) can be used interchangeably in most recipes, but adjust your cooking times accordingly as prawns are often slightly larger.

Purchasing and Sustainability

When you’re buying shrimp or prawns, your choices can have significant impacts on marine ecosystems and populations.

Focusing on sustainability and clear labeling practices can help preserve seafood for future generations.

Sustainable Choices

Wild shrimp: Your best choice is to look for wild shrimp from populations that are healthy and fisheries that are well-managed. However, currently, no wild shrimp fisheries are rated a “Best Choice” due to concerns about overfishing and bycatch.

Farmed shrimp: Seek out farmed shrimp and prawns that have minimal impacts on wild species and the environment.

Look for certifications like the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) or Best Aquaculture Practices (BAP) which indicate better practices in aquaculture.

Consider the variety: With the multitude of varieties, some are overfished while others are more sustainable. Local and less popular varieties might be a more sustainable choice.

Labeling Practices

Shrimp vs. Prawn labeling:

  • Shrimp: Often smaller, with a bend in the body, and may be labeled as such in certain regions.
  • Prawns: Typically larger with straighter bodies, but can be labeled as shrimp in some locales.

Taste and substitute: Although shrimp and prawns have similar taste profiles and can often be used as substitutes for each other, they are distinct species, and proper labeling is critical for informed choices.

Labels to look for:

  • Eco-certifications: Labels indicating sustainable practices like MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) or ASC.
  • Local or organic labels: These may suggest more sustainable practices and lower environmental impact due to reduced transportation.

Cultural and Dietary Considerations

A table set with a variety of cultural dishes featuring shrimp and prawn, surrounded by symbols of different cuisines and dietary practices

When you explore the distinctions between shrimp and prawn across various cultures, it is essential to recognize that dietary restrictions and cultural preferences strongly influence the consumption of these shellfish.

Dietary Restrictions

You may encounter religious or health-related dietary restrictions that impact the consumption of shellfish. For instance:

  • Judaism and Islam: Shellfish, including shrimp and prawns, are considered non-kosher and haram, respectively, meaning followers of these faiths refrain from eating them.
  • Allergies: Shellfish represent one of the most common food allergens. You should always check for allergies when preparing or serving seafood to ensure the safety of guests.

Cultural Preferences

Cultural preferences inform how shrimp and prawns feature in diets and menus around the world:

  • Asia: In many Asian cultures, especially Japanese, seafood is prevalent with dishes often including varieties of shrimp and prawns, served both cooked and raw.
  • Western: Restaurants in Western cultures frequently differentiate between shrimp and prawns on menus, with varying preparations like grilled, poached, or as part of seafood platters.
  • Australia: In Australia, the term ‘prawn’ is more commonly used, and you’ll find prawns as a staple at barbecues and festive events rather than ‘shrimp’.

Breeding and Lifecycle

In discussing breeding and lifecycle, you’ll understand how shrimp and prawns reproduce and develop through various growth stages.


For both shrimp and prawns, which are types of decapods, reproduction begins with the mating process.

Shrimp mate when the female sheds her exoskeleton, a process known as molting. After molting, the female releases pheromones to signal her readiness to mate. The male then deposits sperm into the female’s body.

The eggs of shrimp, once released by the female, are externally fertilized as the male’s sperm had been stored within her body.

Prawns, conversely, engage in internal fertilization. The male prawn transfers sperm to the female during mating, allowing the eggs to be fertilized internally before she lays them.

Growth Stages

The growth stages of shrimp and prawns from egg to maturity can be complex. Here is a simplified breakdown:


  • Eggs: Begin as fertilized eggs which are often carried by the female until they hatch.
  • Larval Stages: After hatching, shrimp pass through several larval stages, molting and growing with each stage.
  • Juvenile: Resemble adults but are smaller; they continue to grow by molting.
  • Adult: Reach reproductive maturity and begin the cycle again.

Prawns have a similar lifecycle:

  • Eggs: Females carry the internally fertilized eggs until they hatch.
  • Zoea: The initial stage post-hatching; undergoes several molts before reaching the next stage.
  • Post-Larvae: After molting several times, prawns develop into their post-larval stage before becoming juveniles.
  • Juvenile: Morphologically similar to adults but grow in size with continuous molting.
  • Adult: Fully grown and capable of reproduction to continue their species’ lifecycle.

Frequently Asked Questions

In this section, you’ll find clear answers to common inquiries regarding the distinctions between shrimp and prawns, ranging from their taste and size to their cost and culinary uses.

What are the differences in taste between shrimp and prawns?

Both shrimp and prawns have a sweet, mild flavor, but prawns are often described as slightly sweeter and meatier. The taste can also vary depending on the species and their habitat.

How do the sizes of shrimp and prawns compare?

Typically, prawns are larger than shrimp.

Shrimp can vary widely in size, but prawns generally have a longer body and legs, which contributes to their greater overall size.

Can you differentiate between shrimp, prawn, and lobster by their types?

Yes, shrimp and prawns belong to different suborders; shrimp to Pleocyemata and prawns to Dendrobranchiata.

Lobsters are also crustaceans but are easily distinguishable by their large size, heavier exoskeleton, and distinct large claws.

What are some of the various kinds of prawns and shrimps?

There are numerous species of both prawns and shrimp.

Examples include tiger prawns, king prawns, and banana prawns, as well as pink, brown, and white shrimp, each with distinct characteristics and habitats.

How do shrimp and prawn differ from crawfish in terms of culinary use?

Shrimp and prawn are commonly used in various dishes worldwide and are versatile in cooking, from frying to grilling.

Crawfish, while also versatile, are often associated with Cajun cuisine and are traditionally boiled.

Which tends to be more costly on the market, shrimp or prawns?

Prawns typically command a higher price than shrimp on the market due to their larger size and perceived better taste.

However, prices can vary based on geographical location, availability, and type.

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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community. She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
Cassie Marshall
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