The Difference Between Prawns & Jumbo Shrimp

Written by wendy hector
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The Difference Between Prawns & Jumbo Shrimp
In the culinary world, there is no clear definition between prawns and shrimp. (Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images)

While it may seem like a simple question, the answer to whether there is difference between prawns and jumbo shrimp is based on many factors. In the food world, the words are interchangeable. Depending on what country you're in, prawns may be called shrimp, and shrimp may be called prawns. Though the names may get confused, there are scientific differences between the two creatures.

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Prawns and shrimp are members of the order Decapoda, which means "ten-legged," along with other crustaceans such as crabs, crayfish and lobsters. The main technical difference between prawns and shrimp is in their gills -- shrimp have lamellar, or platelike gills, while prawns have dendritic, or branched gills. To make things a bit more confusing, some creatures called prawns such as the Dublin Bay prawn are actually langoustines, which are more closely related to the lobster.

Cooking Terms

On menus, in cookbooks and in culinary conversation, the words "prawn" and "shrimp" are generally interchangeable. While many chefs use "prawn" to describe all larger versions of the shellfish and "shrimp" to describe smaller ones, this is not standard practice for everyone. Then add the word "jumbo" into the mix, and the issue becomes even more confusing -- there are jumbo prawns and jumbo shrimp, but no clear differentiation between the two, and no guarantee that one will be larger in size than the other.

In the United States

Americans sometimes use "prawn" to describe large species of shrimp, while using the term "shrimp" on its own to describe smaller species, such as bay shrimp. The overwhelming tendency, however, is to use the word "shrimp" with a size descriptor in front of it to describe all prawns and shrimp. Shrimp sizes range from extra small; about 65 to a pound, to extra colossal; about five to a pound, with jumbo falling somewhere in between. The names and ratings do change, though, so a "jumbo" shrimp one year may merely be a "large" shrimp the next.

In Other Countries

When travelling overseas you may notice a difference in the way "prawn" and "shrimp" are used. In the United Kingdom, the overwhelming preference is to use the word "prawn" to describe all types of shrimp and prawn, no matter what the size, although "shrimp" is not an unheard of term and is sometimes used to describe small shrimp. In Australia, surprisingly, no one says "put another shrimp on the barbie," because they don't use the term "shrimp" at all -- all prawns and shrimp are known as prawns, according to

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