9 Different Types of Shellfish

Assorted shellfish on a dish.

While shellfish sounds as if it is referring to a particular species of fish, it refers to a broad classification called spineless invertebrates. Most are found in saltwater, but some species do exist in fresh water as well. These creatures also have an exoskeleton which means that unlike us, their skeleton is outside their bodies. Interestingly, shellfish are characterized by their delicious taste and soft texture, which explains why they have been fished and consumed throughout the world for centuries.

Shellfish are broadly classified into two main types, namely crustaceans and mollusks, which break down into specific fish types. Let’s have a look at these types in detail:



Grilled lobster

Lobsters are the most popular type of shellfish. This shellfish sheds its shell and in a month’s time, the inner shell hardens.  Interestingly, an ordinary lobster would shed up to 25 shells at the age of 5, after which the shedding rate slows down dramatically. It would then shed as few as one shell every one or two years.

Lobsters can live for a very long time and as they mature, they can get massive in size. Normally, the breeding time for lobsters is mainly summer but sometimes they are also available in winter. Their claws are usually removed after they are caught since they can injure or even try to eat other caught lobsters.   Lobsters that are not in pristine condition can have more meat so they shouldn’t be rejected.

Commercially, lobster is regarded as high-end food and the tastiest item on any seafood platter. You won’t be surprised to see it at the top of the seafood menu as the most expensive item. Most of the meat is located in the legs, claws, and tails and are thus more preferred but it is also consumed as a whole. It may be served warm or chilled and boasts a delicious, melt-in-your-mouth taste especially when it is eaten with butter.

Source: Down the Cove

Crayfish or Crawfish


Crayfish, also known as crawfish are freshwater fish that closely resemble smaller versions of lobster. A typical crayfish ranges from 3 to 6 inches in length and is dark brown, green or sandy in color. It has stalked eyes, a pair of big pincers on its front legs, a sharp snout and a fused head, while the body is made of 19 segments. It feeds on snails, plants, tadpoles, smaller fish and earthworms.

While it is consumed all over the world, crayfish is considered as a popular food source in Australia, France, Unites States and Scandinavia. A Louisiana crawfish boil isn’t complete without it. Residents boil hundreds of these alive in a massive pot that is filled with onions, potatoes, sausage, maize, garlic and seasoning including lemon, bay leaves, cayenne pepper, garlic, salt, etc. Crawfish pie, crawfish bread, crawfish dressing and crawfish etouffee are other admired dishes in the region.

However, only a small portion of crayfish body is edible. At crawfish boils, for instance, only a small portion of the whole body can be consumed safely. Claws have to be pulled out and removed before the meat can be pulled out. Plus, only the tail part is served in most crayfish dishes like etouffee, soups, and bisques. Some people even suck the head because that is where the flavor and seasoning are strongest.


Shrimp dish

Shrimps, also called prawns, belong to the same classification of shellfish like lobsters, crabs, and crayfish in that they have a hard shell and ten legs. Like lobsters, they shed their shells to grow. But in contrast to

crabs and lobsters which crawl on the sea floor, shrimps can swim around in open water. They move forward by paddling their legs over their abdomens and use their fanlike tails to move backward.

This shellfish is popular all across the US. The shrimp is a versatile shellfish species since it can be cooked and seasoned in various different ways. The mild, fresh flavor of its meat gets pairs well with a variety of ingredients. As a stand-alone serving, shrimp is presented with cocktail sauce, garlic sauce, and other dressings.

Some of the dishes that feature shrimp include cold melon shrimp soup, seafood jambalaya and various pasta dishes like shrimp scampi. The largest fishing ground for shrimp around the US is the Gulf of Mexico; however, the coastal water from Virginia in the south is also rich in shrimp.


Cooked crab

Crabs belong to the crustacean family, that is, those with shells. They have ten legs; the front two have pincers that resemble scissors. They also grow by shedding their shells but they are vulnerable to threats until the soft shell has completely hardened. Compared to freshwater crabs, saltwater crabs are fished in much larger quantities.

As a flexible ingredient, crab is used in crab cakes, sushi, and multiple other seafood dishes. However, it is equally delectable when consumed alone. For instance, a crab cake is prepared by extracting crab meat and adding mayonnaise, egg white and cracker meal to it.

The most consumed types of crabs include the King crab, which has meaty claws and legs. Crab is often topped with butter and creamy sauces, making it incredibly tasty. Various cooking techniques are used for this crustacean. They may be boiled, grilled, roasted or steamed. Dressed crab is a popular British dish that is prepared by filling a hard shell with crab meat. Additionally, bisque is consumed globally which is a dish that originated from France and is made of mostly crab shells.



Fresh Oysters

Oysters are saltwater shellfish that belong to the bivalve mollusks family. Oysters that are native to the UK grow to marketable size much slowly than the Pacific or Portuguese species. In the US, dozens of varieties of oysters are available. They are mostly harvested from cultivated grounds rather than from natural beds. According to a myth, consumption of oysters was once assumed to be safe in months that have the letter ‘r’ in their French and English names. This can hold true as oysters are much more likely to spoil during the summer between May and August.

Oysters have a soft, edible body under their outer, rough shells. They have a sticky texture, and the taste varies with the location. As the name suggests, saltwater oysters are saltier than those caught from lakes or rivers. Generally, they are consumed as a stand-alone dish with ingredients like vegetables, pesto, fresh fruit and others used as complements. Also, they are served cold within their original shell, and salt, butter, and lemon are often added to flavor them.

Oysters are a tremendous source of nutrition. They are rich in calcium, iron, vitamin A and vitamin B12. They are also rich in protein as well but do not provide a lot of energy.

Source: Oola



Clams are bivalve mollusks, i.e. they have two shells with two separate sections. With its powerful, burrowing foot, it normally lies buried up to 0.6 meters beneath the surface. Most of them are located in shallow waters and unlike other bivalves, they are rarely found on the seafloor. Their size depends on the location. Those that are as big as 1.2 meters long are typically located in the Indian and Pacific oceans.

As seafood, clams turn up in a wide range of strongly-flavored, mouth-watering dishes such as clam dip, clam chowder, and clam fritters. They can be eaten raw or baked, fried, boiled or steamed as well. Hot rocks and seaweed are also used to cook the New England clam bake. Although its texture is pretty similar to that of oysters, the flavor is comparatively sweeter and stronger.

Like oysters, clams are also steamed and served in their original shells.  Hard clam, soft-shell clam, and the ocean quahog are clam species found along the eastern coast of the US and Canada. Another species, the surf clam is found at the Atlantic coast of the US. Besides this, different types of clams are consumed all over the globe, particularly in the coastal regions of India, Japan and Trinidad and Tobago.


Octopus food

The octopus is regarded as one of the most terrifying sea creatures because of myths and stories, yet they are also a favorite for seafood-lovers. On the Pacific coast of the US, a purplish-black octopus is fished, cleaned and sold frozen. Octopus is an extremely nutritious source of vitamin B12. When cooked, it is rich in potassium, phosphorus, vitamin B3 and vitamin B12. However, high volumes of cadmium in the head can have adverse health effects. Interestingly though, in some parts of the world, the octopus is sometimes consumed alive.

Octopus forms a significant part of the seafood industry and is consumed in a variety of different ways. Its tentacles are often consumed without being cooked. These have a juicy texture and a moderate flavor.

It is used in dishes like salads, soups, sandwiches, linguine and many others depending on the location. In the US, the octopus is most widely consumed in Hawaii, but it is consumed in multiple countries including Japan, Korea, Maldives, Mauritius, Spain, Portugal, Singapore, Tunisia, and Greece.

Source: University of California, Berkeley


Squid food

Squid belongs to the cephalopod mollusk category. It is a relative of the octopus but has a comparatively more streamlined body. It is covered in a sort of brownish-black ink that it uses as protective camouflage in the ocean. This ink is often used in cooking the squid.

Squid typically has a firm, chewy texture and a creamy flavor. It is considered a high-quality addition to a variety of meals. Calamari is one of the most famous fried dishes associated with squid. It is often ordered as a starter or appetizer and is followed by a seafood feast. Often served with cocktail sauce and lemon, squid has a comparatively sweeter taste. It also forms part of salads and pasta and is served with cheese, vegetables, and herbs when served as a stand-alone dish.

Fried squid is a staple in seafood restaurants. In Australia, New Zealand and South Africa, squid is traded in fish and chip shops, while it is consumed with tartar sauce in Armenia, Lebanon, and Syria. Besides this, it is consumed raw in Korea and in China and Southeast Asian cuisine. It may be very spicy in dishes such as noodles, rice, and stir-fries. Japanese dishes such as sashimi, sushi, and tempura also make use of squid.


Snails food

Snails belong to the gastropod mollusk family and are extremely popular in the seafood industry, particularly the land variety. They are consumed in dishes such as escargot in which snails are cooked and flavored. It is consumed around the world such as in the US, France, Turkey, China, Spain, Nigeria, Algeria, and others.

They are used in sauces and pasta in Greece and Italy. Snails are rich in protein, water, and iron but low in fat. A single serving of escargot offers one-sixth of our daily requirement of iron, around one-tenth of potassium, two-thirds of magnesium and one-third of phosphorus.

Source: The balance small business


In a nutshell, shellfish is a broad term that includes a wide range of fish types with crustaceans and mollusk categories. They are an extremely valuable part of seafood globally and are rich in nutrition.


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