It’s easy to get shrimp and prawns mixed up – they are misunderstood crustaceans. To some, shrimp and prawns are synonymous. Others think the difference lies in size, and yet others think that they are just different names for the same thing in different regions. As it turns out, shrimp and prawns are completely different animals. Phylogenetically, shrimp and prawns belong to two different sub-orders, meaning that there are some significant genetic and physical differences between them. Their similarities end at the Order level in that they are decapods, possessing ten legs and exoskeletons. Below we’re going to take a look at their differences.
Shrimp belong to the sub-order Pleocyemata and have layered, plate-like gills. Their front pincers are the largest but have claws on two pairs of legs. While the majority of shrimp come from salt water, they can come from either salt water or fresh water. Additionally, the colder the water, the smaller the shrimp tend to be, hence Scandinavian dishes tend to utilize smaller shrimp. Compared to prawns, shrimp tend to be a little smaller, though this can differ depending on the species.
Prawns, on the other hand, belong to the sub-order Dendrobranchiata and possess branching gills. They have claws on three pairs of legs, with the largest pincers being on the second pair as opposed to the first. Prawns come exclusively from fresh water and are typically larger than shrimp.
Do these differences matter, culinarily speaking? Nope! While yes, when it comes down to the nitty-gritty, there are differences between the two, but that’s irrelevant when it boils down to the most important part: taste. Some will argue that prawns are sweeter than shrimp, but like size, that’s more dependent on species than on the sub-order. The two taste similar enough that they are interchangeable.