Though lobster is a delicacy that scores of people enjoy, the average person is probably not terribly knowledgeable about this large marine crustacean. Most of us simply order it at a fine restaurant or pick one up at the supermarket or seafood store, hoping that we get a good specimen full of plenty of sweet, white meat. Sometimes we’re lucky; other times we’re not.
A little knowledge about the types of lobsters available might help determine what you’ll get when you place an order for lobster, either at a restaurant, in a store, or through an online lobster pound that ships directly to your home or business.
Two Kinds of Lobster
Quite simply, there are two different types of lobsters available to diners – the clawed lobster and the spiny lobster. It’s easy to tell the difference by appearance but there are also some differences as far as what’s inside. Which you choose can be dependent on personal taste or may be determined by price, as there is often a difference in cost.
• Clawed Lobster – Clawed lobsters are generally divided into two categories: American Lobsters and European Lobsters. Those lobster-lovers who live in North America are most familiar with the American Lobster, which is harvested off the coast of Maine and other New England states as well as near Canada’s Atlantic Provinces such as New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Prince Edward Island, and Newfoundland. European Lobsters, as one might expect, are found in the waters of the eastern Atlantic Ocean from northwestern Norway all the way to Morocco and the Azores. They can also be found in the Mediterranean Sea west of Crete and sometimes in the Black Sea.
Both American and European clawed lobsters are of the cold water variety and thrive in chilly, shallow waters. American lobsters tend to be brown in color before they are cooked while the European variety is often blue. Both turn bright red after they are cooked.
In general, clawed lobsters have more meat than spiny lobsters and are the type that restaurant goers on the east coast of North America will most often find on menus. Much of their meat is found in their very large first set of legs/claws - those closest to the head. (They have 5 pairs of legs in all; the others are smaller.) Their tails don’t have as much meat as their spiny counterparts but tails from a Maine lobster are still considered to be the best and sweetest of all lobster meat.
• Spiny Lobsters – This kind of lobster is typically a warm water crustacean. Also known as rock lobsters and often indicated as such on a menu, this variety is found off the coast of California and often near Florida and in the waters of the Caribbean Sea. As a matter of fact, they are the biggest food export of the Islands of the Bahamas. They can also be found in the Mediterranean Sea and near Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and some other southeast Pacific islands, as well as along the coast of South Africa.
Physically, the Spiny Lobster looks different than the clawed lobster. The spiny variety has extremely long antennae, which helps it detect movement nearby, and –as the name indicates – it is covered with pointy spines to help protect it from predators. Unlike the American or European Lobster, these types of lobsters do not have large front claws but instead have five identical pair of legs. Because of that, most of the meat is found in the tail.
What Should I Order?
When ordering lobster in a restaurant, you won’t typically get a choice between one or the other. On the eastern seaboard, you’ll probably find Maine (a.k.a. American) lobster on the menu. This is usually the most expensive of the types of lobsters available but is also said to be the most tasty and succulent. Even though there isn’t as much meat on the American lobster tail, it is still quite costly.
If you’re in the islands, in Florida, or on the west coast of American or Canada, you might be more likely to find rock lobster on the menu. Outside of those locales, most spiny/rock lobster meat is sold as frozen lobster tail. This meat tends to be firmer and stringier than clawed lobster meat and not quite as sweet, but it is – nonetheless – good to eat and usually less expensive.
If you are ordering lobster online, you’ll find that there are more vendors peddling Maine lobster than rock lobster though you will discover that both types are available. Just like in a restaurant, spiny lobster is usually less expensive than the American lobster.