What's the Difference Between Shrimp and Prawns?

Let's put this coastal culinary question to rest.

When it comes down to their biology, both shrimp and prawns are decapods, meaning they're crustaceans with ten legs.

Shrimp, the more petite crustacean, live in saltwater. There are a few small but distinguishing details to tell if your crustacean is a shrimp. Shrimp have claws on two of their legs, and the second segment of their shell overlaps the first and third shell segments.—This also gives a distinct bend to their shape, another detail to notice when shopping for seafood.

Prawns live in fresh or brackish (somewhat salty) water, often near the bottom. These crustaceans have claws on three of their legs, which you can spot if you purchase unpeeled seafood. Prawns' shell segments overlap down their abdomen (first overlaps second, second overlaps third), meaning there's less of a distinct bend in their body.

A good rule of thumb to differentiate between the two is size, as prawns are typically larger than shrimp. Just check the shell if you want to know what crustacean you purchased without making a trek out on a shrimp boat. If the second segment overlaps the first and third, it's a shrimp. If the segments overlap down the abdomen, it's a prawn. (Fun Tip: "A Marine Yabby" is an Australian nickname for the Australian ghost shrimp.)

Can You Taste the Difference?

Should you inspect the shell of every crustacean before your next shrimp boil? There's no need. The two flavors have no major distinguishing factor, culinary-wise, aside from prawns' slightly sweeter taste. Prawns also tend to be more expensive than shrimp.

But overall, your purchase is more likely to be affected by the seafood's diet, habitat, and region. It's better to spend time finding the product's source than the taxonomy differences. Wild-caught shrimp is best, as most farmed shrimp comes from areas where regulations are limited.

Buttery Garlic Shrimp
Photo: Iain Bagwell; Styling: Caroline M. Cunningham

Our Favorite Shrimp and Prawn Recipes

Now that we've gotten the biology out of the way, here are a few delicious recipes to serve friends and family while you dazzle them with your newfound seafood knowledge.

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Shrimp with Honey-Garlic Sauce

Shrimp with Honey-Garlic Sauce
Greg DuPree; Food Styling: Rishon Hanners; Prop Styling: Christina Daley

Recipe: Shrimp with Honey-Garlic Sauce

Simple seafood dishes transform an ordinary weeknight dinner into a spectacular meal for entertaining guests. In about 15 minutes, this shrimp and honey-garlic sauce add a sweet and succulent flavoring that pairs well with rice or vegetables. Kick up the spice with citrusy lemon or spicy jalapeño chile.

02 of 05

Shrimp Scampi Linguine

Shrimp Scampi Linguine
Photo: Luca Trovato

Recipe: Shrimp Scampi Linguine

Use one skillet for cooking the shrimp and sauce. This straightforward recipe combines briny shrimp with garlic and butter sauce. Sprinkle with chopped parsley and lemon zest to complete the dish.

03 of 05

Air Fryer Coconut Shrimp

Air Fryer Coconut Shrimp
Caitlin Bensel

Recipe: Air Fryer Coconut Shrimp

Air fryer shrimp gives you restaurant-quality coconut shrimp in under 30 minutes. Soak shrimp in flour, egg, and panko breadcrumbs for a crispy seafood dish, great as an appetizer or for the main course. Try making a Sriracha mayonnaise dipping sauce for a spicy kick.

04 of 05

Lowcountry Shrimp and Grits

Lowcountry Shrimp and Grits
Iain Bagwell

Recipe: Lowcountry Shrimp and Grits

Combine the comforting recipe for creamy grits with fresh, coastal shrimp. The cheesy grits, made from melted Parmesan and cheddar, have just a touch of spice from adding Tabasco sauce. Coating shrimp in flour increases the flavor palate of this dish, adding a crispy texture.

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Maya Prawns with Chipotle Mezcal Sauce

Maya Prawns with Chipotle Mezcal Sauce

Recipe: Maya Prawns with Chipotle Mezcal Sauce

Grilled prawns in a chipotle chile and mezcal sauce is the refreshing summer dish you need to try. Make some extra sauce for side vegetables or pouring over rice.

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