What's the Difference Between Prawns and Shrimp?
Despite being used interchangeably in much of the English-speaking world, prawns and shrimp are not the same thing. It's commonly believed that the term "prawns" is just another way of saying large shrimp — but this couldn't be further from the truth. While prawns are often larger than shrimp, their differences go much further. Learn the difference between prawns and shrimp so you can impress with your crustacean knowledge.
Differences Between Prawns and Shrimp
1. Prawns and shrimp are different animals.
While you may hear the terms prawns and shrimp used interchangeably in culinary or fishing circles, scientifically they are two completely different animals. Both prawns and shrimp belong to the decapod order, which simply means they are broth crustaceans with 10 legs. Where they differ is in what suborder they belong to.
Prawns belong to the dendrobranchiata suborder, while shrimp belong to the pleocyemata suborder (which is also home to crawfish, lobsters, and crabs).
2. Prawns and shrimp have different anatomies.
Because they don't belong to the same suborder, there are a number of anatomical differences between the two. Prawns are unable to bend their bodies in the way that shrimp can because each segment of their shell overlaps the segment below it, kind of like a tile. Shrimp on the other hand have a segment that overlaps the head and the abdomen, allowing them to bend their bodies at an acute angle. This gives them the curved shape that we're familiar with.
Shrimp also have claws on one pair of their legs, while prawns have them on three pairs. You'll also find that prawns have longer legs than shrimp, which can be spotted when they are unpeeled.
3. Prawns and shrimp are different sizes.
It's true that prawns tend to be noticeably larger than shrimp, although this isn't always an indicator of a prawn. Both shrimp and prawns can vary in size depending on the variety.
4. Prawns and shrimp live in different environments.
You'll find both prawns and shrimp in bodies of water all over the globe. However, the vast majority of shrimp live in saltwater, and most prawns live in freshwater.
Can You Substitute One for the Other?
Despite their many differences, prawns and shrimp are nearly identical when it comes to flavor. Prawns are sometimes described as slightly sweeter in taste, but much of this comes down to the environment they are from (i.e. wild-caught vs. farm-raised). All of this means prawns and shrimp can be used interchangeably in recipes — whether grilled, fried, sauteed, or otherwise.