Types of Lobster

Lobster has transformed from a dish once associated with prisoners and the poor to a luxurious culinary delight enjoyed around the world. This change can be attributed to the advancements in preservation and transportation methods, allowing everyone, from New England coast residents to affluent Manhattan diners, to savor this unique treat. With 75 species of lobster inhabiting the world’s oceans, the culinary experience varies across their many appearances, sizes, and flavors.

When it comes to feasting on lobster, it helps to know your options. Among these species, 30 possess large claws and usually inhabit colder waters, while the remaining 40, known as “spiny” or “rock” lobsters, lack these prominent claws on their forelimbs. As you explore the world of lobsters, you will discover subtle differences even between closely related varieties. Dive in and tantalize your tastebuds with 16 types of lobster from all over the globe.

Key Takeaways

  • Lobster’s transition from a meal for the poor to a luxury dish can be credited to advancements in preservation and transportation.
  • There are 75 species of lobster, with 30 featuring large claws and inhabiting cold waters, and the remaining 40 recognized as “spiny” or “rock” lobsters.
  • Each lobster variety has its unique characteristics, including subtle differences in size, appearance, and flavor.

Hard Shell Maine Lobster

When you enjoy a lobster dish at a restaurant or pick one from a supermarket tank, it’s likely a hard shell Maine lobster. This lobster is the same species as the soft shell Maine lobster and the Canadian lobster, but it’s distinctive due to certain conditions (via The Ocean Mart).

Hard shell Maine lobsters thrive in the North Atlantic, specifically near New England and Maine, which inspired their name. Compared to their Canadian counterparts, they are smaller in size, due to the slightly warmer waters. Nonetheless, their meat is sweeter, offering great taste.

A hard shell lobster’s name comes from the time since its last molting. You can typically find them between fall and spring. They boast about 20% more meat in their shells compared to soft shell lobsters, making them a fantastic option for dining.

In addition, hard shell lobsters are more durable, which allows for longer transportation and an extended life. So, if you find fresh lobsters at a restaurant far from the coast, they are likely to be the hard shell variety.

Their resilience also makes them perfect for grilling, giving you a delicious option for seafood barbecues (via Lobster Anywhere). Enjoy the delectable taste of the hard shell Maine lobster the next time you plan a seafood feast.

Soft Shell Maine Lobster

Soft shell Maine lobsters are the same species as the hard shell variety, but they have recently molted, and their exoskeleton is still hardening. These lobsters are typically caught during the summer months and are more delicate, making transportation away from coastal regions difficult. As a result, soft shell lobsters are abundant in places like coastal Maine and often more affordable.

When comparing soft shell to hard shell lobsters, you’ll find that soft shells contain less meat since their new shells have additional room for growth. However, this extra space is filled with water, making the lobster meat incredibly tender as it marinates while cooking. For optimal results, it’s recommended to boil your soft shell lobster in salt water, as this method won’t damage the delicate meat. Lobster Anywhere offers helpful guidance on the appropriate amount of salt and boiling time necessary for the perfect lobster.

If you’re looking to elevate your lobster dish, consider transforming it into a traditional New England lobster roll. Just coat chunks of the tender lobster meat in mayonnaise and add them to a butter-toasted hot dog bun. This scrumptious dish showcases the unique flavor and tenderness of soft shell Maine lobsters and will undoubtedly delight your taste buds.

Canadian Lobster

Canadian lobster, like its cousin Maine lobster, belongs to the Homarus americanus species. Yet, the colder waters off the Canadian coast result in distinctive features for these lobsters. They tend to be larger, with a meat that’s denser and less sweet compared to their southern counterparts. This slight difference doesn’t affect the taste significantly and has its advantages.

As Canadian lobster isn’t as well-known as Maine lobster, it tends to be more affordable per pound, so you could land yourself a delicious bargain. The denser meat and thicker shells make them a great choice for experimenting with different, harsher cooking methods.

If you’re considering baking or barbecuing a lobster, the Canadian variety is more forgiving and offers fewer financial consequences should something go wrong. Overall, Canadian lobster provides an excellent opportunity for you to try lobster dishes at a more reasonable cost, while also exploring various culinary techniques for preparing this delightful crustacean.

European Lobster

The European lobster, scientifically known as Homarus gammarus, can be found in the seas surrounding Europe, including the Atlantic Ocean, North Sea, Irish Sea, Mediterranean Sea, and Baltic Sea. In contrast to the American lobster, blue is a common color for the European lobster, but they both share the characteristic of turning brick red when cooked.

You’ll find that the European lobster is generally smaller than its American counterpart, Homarus americanus. However, the smaller size is compensated by a more flavorful meat, thanks to its diet of small fish, crustaceans, and shellfish found on the sea floor. Sadly, live European lobsters are tricky to come by in North America, making frozen French Blues highly prized.

As for cooking methods, boiling is most popular, but don’t hesitate to bake, barbecue, or steam your lobster. You can also enjoy it either hot or cold, making it a versatile and delicious seafood choice in your culinary adventures.

Florida Spiny Lobster

The Florida spiny lobster, also known as the Caribbean lobster, is a unique variety of lobster found in warm water habitats, ranging from South Carolina to Brazil. Unlike cold water lobsters like Maine lobsters, the Florida spiny lobster doesn’t have claws. But don’t worry, you’ll still enjoy their rich tail meat!

When it comes to taste, the Florida spiny lobster’s flavor is not as sweet or delicate as its cold water counterparts, but still delicious. It’s often compared to the taste of crawfish and pairs well with various dishes like pasta, soup, omelettes, and gumbo. So, you have plenty of options to enjoy this lobster in a variety of meal options.

For about eight months of the year, you can find fresh Florida spiny lobster available in the state of Florida, and it’s a popular menu item from Key West to Kingston. You may come across these lobsters with an array of colors before cooking, ranging from olive green to brown. They might even have some yellow spots on their abdomen. Once cooked, the meat offers a tasty feast for your taste buds to enjoy!


The Langoustine, also known as the Norwegian lobster or Dublin Bay prawn, is a small species popular in European cuisines. You might have come across it as a primary ingredient in traditional scampi, which often costs more than versions made with fish or shrimp. Langoustine season runs from September to May, with the most common fisheries located in the North Sea near Norway, Scotland, and off the northeast coast of England.

Compared to larger lobster species, langoustines are firmer and sweeter. They don’t always have to be the star of the dish—famed chef Keith Floyd once combined them with monkfish and bass in a delicious fish stew. If you’re in North America, most langoustines you find will be frozen. However, if you get the chance to buy fresh langoustines, look for these signs of quality: dark black eyes, lively movements, and an undamaged antennae, legs, and shell.

California Spiny Lobster

Like its Caribbean relative, the California spiny lobster thrives in warm waters and lacks claws. You might be surprised to know that it’s rarely found on Western plates, but it holds a cherished place in the hearts of the West Coast scuba diving community. They’re among the only Americans who have access to this delicious treat, which has a slightly chewy texture and creamy, nutty flavor.

Interestingly, the California spiny lobster is quite popular in China, and that demand, along with slipper and squat lobsters, has driven up the price. As a result, many Americans opt for more affordable alternatives.

If you’re fortunate enough to come across a California spiny lobster, consider preparing it with a mouthwatering method. First, boil the lobster and drench it in butter. Next, place it on a hot grill for a few minutes and finish it off with an extra dose of butter. This delectable dish will be an indulgent treat that showcases the unique taste of the California spiny lobster.

Mediterranean Lobster

You might be surprised to learn that not all European lobsters have claws. One such clawless variety is the Mediterranean lobster (Palinurus elephas). Though not that common globally, you may spot these lobsters if you frequent seaside markets in Southern Europe.

Interestingly, despite their name, Mediterranean lobsters can be found as far away as the coasts of Great Britain and Ireland. In 2013, they were identified as “vulnerable” by the IUCN, making them a bit harder to source. Recovery efforts have included fishing restrictions and restocking attempts, with one tactic showing a significant increase in both density and biomass.

When it comes to enjoying this delicacy, a traditional rock lobster recipe from Southern Europe involves boiling and halving the lobsters, before covering them in a simple dressing made of oil, lemon juice, and salt.

New Zealand Rock Lobster

The New Zealand rock lobster, also known as Jasus edwardsii or Kōura in Maori, typically weighs between one and ten pounds. Most of its weight is in the tail, as it doesn’t have claws like other warm water lobster species. These lobsters inhabit the waters surrounding New Zealand and even Australia.

If you’re curious about where to find them, pay close attention to rocky areas of the coast. They’re known to dwell on the east coasts of both the North and South Islands, as well as the southwest coast of the South Island.

When it comes to cooking New Zealand rock lobsters, the traditional method is boiling them in salt water. However, you could also try parboiling and grilling them with butter for a mouthwatering, delectable treat. Enjoy your delicious meal!

Eastern Rock Lobster

The Eastern rock lobster, or Sagmariasus verreauxi, boasts a unique green shade and a taste that has been praised by top chefs worldwide as the best lobster available. This delicious crustacean has a sweet flavor accompanied by a strong umami character.

The term “rock lobster” refers to warm water species without claws. Unlike Maine and European lobsters that have large front-legs claws for cutting and crushing, the Eastern rock lobster features small front legs designed to move its eggs when necessary.

When you prepare an Eastern rock lobster, be sure to weigh it first. For optimal results, boil it for one minute per hundred grams, plus an additional two minutes.

South African Lobster

The South African lobster is an exceptional species due to its unique characteristics. Unlike other lobsters, this one is spiny and clawless, resembling a warm water lobster. However, it is actually a cold water species.

In the U.S., you’re likely to find South African lobster mainly as frozen tails. Without claws, you won’t miss out on much except for tomalley, if you’re a fan. To protect the species from overfishing, government regulations limit the amount of these lobsters caught each year. They’re trap-caught in the wild and then immediately frozen at sea, ensuring freshness.

When you get your hands on a delicious South African lobster tail, consider using the frozen meat to create some mouthwatering lobster rolls. These unique cold-water lobsters are a perfect addition to your culinary adventures. Always remember to enjoy them responsibly!

Tristan Lobster

Caught in the deep waters near Tristan da Cunha, the world’s most remote island, you’ll find the rare and exquisite Tristan or St. Paul rock lobster (Jasus tristani). This sought-after species is among the most expensive and coveted lobsters in the world, thanks to its unparalleled sweet, succulent flavor, and plump texture.

These lobsters owe their unique flavor to their predominantly vegetarian diet. Typically smaller in size, the average tail weight ranges from three to five ounces, though some may grow as large as ten ounces.

Sourcing Tristan lobsters is an ethical choice, as the local community understands their importance to the economy. The waters surrounding Tristan da Cunha are considered one of the most well-managed and sustainable lobster fisheries in the world.

To fully appreciate their outstanding taste, showcase Tristan lobster tails as the centerpiece of a seafood combination plate. Their incredible flavor and sustainable origins make them a truly special culinary experience.

Chinese Spiny Lobster

The Chinese spiny lobster, or Panulirus stimpsoni, is a petite species of warm water lobster found prominently in local markets. Typically net caught, you can identify them by their green color, small white spots, and numerous spines. You’ll likely catch them in the seas around Guangxi, Guangdong, Taiwan Island, and Fujian.

These creatures can reach total body lengths between six inches and one foot, but 20-inch specimens have been found. Lobsters hold great significance in Chinese culture, with hundreds of millions of dollars worth imported each year. If you happen to come across a Chinese spiny lobster and want to try a delicious recipe, consider stir-frying it with scallions and a Cantonese sauce for a fantastic meal.

Ornate Rock Lobster

The Ornate Rock Lobster (Panulirus ornatus) is a stunningly vibrant creature native to Southeast Asia and Northern Australia, with a shell adorned with blue, cream, and even orange, pink, and purple hues. Not only does its colorful appearance stand out, but its size as well: they can grow to more than 20 inches in a short time! Due to their large size and praise for an “outstanding taste,” you’ll find these lobsters frequently fished and consumed.

To meet high demands, they are heavily farmed in Vietnam, which, as it turns out, is the only country to successfully mass-farm lobsters. This farming practice, established in the mid-90s, focuses on capturing young lobsters and fattening them up for higher yields. So where do they end up? The majority of these farmed lobsters are sent to China, where their alluring colors and flavors command a premium price. As you explore the world of seafood and unique species, the Ornate Rock Lobster certainly is a noteworthy contender!

Western Rock Lobster

The Western rock lobster (Panulirus cygnus) is one of Australia’s four main lobster species, predominantly found off the coast of Western Australia. These lobsters, also known as crayfish, can weigh up to 11 pounds and have a lifespan of around 20 years. They contribute to approximately one-fifth of Australia’s seafood value from fisheries, making them a highly important single-species lobster variety.

With a creamy and sweet taste, the Western rock lobster’s meat is truly delectable. If you’re looking for an interesting way to enjoy this delicious crustacean, consider trying the Western Rock Lobster Council’s recipe for “Western Rock Lobster Pappardelle.” To make this dish, you’ll need four lobster tails. Simply cut them in half, remove the digestive tract and meat from the shell, and cut the meat into small pieces. Next, fry the pieces with olive oil, garlic, and parsley before mixing them with pasta. Just remember not to overcook the delicate meat, as the protective shell is no longer present. Happy cooking and enjoy your Western rock lobster dish!

Scalloped Spiny Lobster

The scalloped spiny lobster, Panulirus homarus, is a fascinating nocturnal species found in the waters around India, Asia, and the east of Africa. During the day, you can find them hiding in reefs and sub-aquatic caves, only emerging at night to feed.

This lobster might not be as fancy as its cousin, the ornate spiny lobster, but it’s still an excellent candidate for aquaculture. With a high global demand, increasing the production of farmed scalloped spiny lobsters can help provide a sustainable solution to satisfy consumers worldwide.

While they are more commonly found in the waters around India, China is the biggest consumer of these crustaceans, often using them as a celebration dish. If you’re ever at an Asian restaurant, you might even spot lobster sashimi on the menu – it’s a good chance that these raw delicacies are sourced from P. homarus, as they’re considered safe to eat uncooked. So next time you’re celebrating or treating yourself, why not indulge in the delicious taste of the scalloped spiny lobster?

Frequently Asked Questions

What are some common lobster species?

There are several species of lobsters found across the world, and some common ones include:

  • American lobster (Homarus americanus) – Mostly found in the waters of the Atlantic coast of North America.
  • European lobster (Homarus gammarus) – Commonly found in the waters around Europe and the Mediterranean.
  • Spiny lobster (Palinuridae family) – Species within this family can be found in tropical and subtropical regions.
  • Slipper lobster (Scyllaridae family) – Slipper lobsters inhabit warm waters and are known for their unique flattened appearance.

Which lobster species are the largest?

The American lobster (Homarus americanus) holds the title for the largest lobster species, with some individuals weighing over 40 pounds and reaching lengths of up to 25 inches.

Which lobster types are the most delicious?

Taste preferences can vary, but the American and European lobsters are widely considered the most delicious due to their tender and sweet meat. Spiny lobsters are less sweet but have a succulent texture that many people also enjoy.

How does the taste differ among lobster types?

  • American and European lobsters are prized for their sweet, tender meat, which is often considered the best among lobster types.
  • Spiny lobsters have a more pronounced, robust flavor and a slightly firmer texture.
  • Slipper lobsters are often said to have a taste and texture similar to shrimp or crab rather than classic lobster.

What factors affect lobster prices?

Several factors can influence lobster prices, such as:

  • Seasonality: Lobster prices tend to be higher during off-peak seasons when supply is lower.
  • Catch location: The farther away a lobster is caught from its market destination, the higher the transportation costs, which can lead to higher prices.
  • Size and species: Larger and more desirable species usually command higher prices.
  • Market Demand: High demand for lobsters can drive prices upward.

What seafood options are similar to lobsters?

If you’re looking for something similar to lobster, you might consider the following options:

  • Crab: Many types of crab have a similar texture and taste to lobster, particularly Dungeness, snow, and king crab varieties.
  • Shrimp: Both shrimp and lobster have a sweet, mild flavor and tender texture, making them a suitable alternative.
  • Crawfish: Also known as crayfish, these small crustaceans can be prepared in similar ways to lobster and have a comparable taste and texture.
  • Langostino: Despite the name, langostinos are more closely related to hermit crabs than lobsters, but their taste and texture can be similar to lobster meat.
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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.
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