What's the Green Stuff in Lobster and Can You Eat It?

It's called tomalley and people have some opinions about it. 

Ever been curious about the green stuff in lobster? For some, that gooey, green paste is something to avoid — for others, it's a delicacy. So which is it? And more importantly what is it? Read this before you have your next lobster roll.

What Is the Green Stuff in Lobster?

While marine biologists may refer to this green goo as hepatopancreas, in culinary settings you'll most likely hear it referred to as tomalley (taa-ma-lee). It's a part of the lobster's digestive system — it works kind of like a liver and a pancreas combined, and is found in the body cavity.

Tomalley is considered the most flavorful part of the lobster. Its flavor is basically the same as that of a lobster, just amped up a bit. Those who do eat it will consume it with the rest of the lobster meat, or even reserve it to stir into soups and sauces.

tomalley being spooned from lobster cavity
Boston Globe/Getty Images

Can You Eat the Green Stuff in Lobster?

This is where things get dicey. Although folks in New England might know tomalley as a delicacy to be enjoyed, its toxicity has been the subject of much debate. In 2008, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) warned consumers to avoid eating tomalley from lobsters caught in New England waters because it was found to have unusually high levels of toxins that can cause paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP).

Unlike toxins found in lobster meat — which is safe to eat — any toxins found in the digestive tract are not water soluble, meaning they won't be eliminated when boiled. These unusually high levels of toxins were said to be caused by an algae bloom known as red tide.

All this being said, it is expected that governmental organizations would urge consumers to err on the side of caution. According to WebMD, lobster tomalley doesn't usually contain high levels of PSP toxins, and the FDA has not issued another warning since. If you are going to partake in tomalley, as many New Englanders do, be sure to do so in moderation.

Ways to Use Tomalley

Auntie Anita's Lobster Stew
Pictured: Auntie Anita's Lobster Stew. Aja

If you've decided to give tomalley a try, there are a number of ways to put it to use. Let's get the obvious out of the way — tomalley can be enjoyed right alongside the meat. But you may also want to reserve it and stir it into soups or stews, such as Auntie Anita's Lobster Stew. This recipe also utilizes the lobster roe, or the tiny eggs found along the tail of a female lobster: "The secret to rich flavor is using the tomalley and the roe. Once cooked it disappears into the stew giving it a wonderful flavor," says reviewer LABSARE4ME.

You can also mix the tomalley with other ingredients such as crushed crackers or bread crumbs like in this Baked Fresh Lobster recipe and this Stuffed Lobster for Two. And of course, many Maine-style lobster rolls are going to call for tomalley.


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