Snow crab vs king crab are two of the most prized shellfish varieties around the world. Their sweet and briny taste make them a delicious ingredient in various seafood dishes. However, there is often confusion surrounding the key differences between snow crab and king crab. This comprehensive guide aims to elucidate the disparities between these two decapod crustaceans across various aspects – from physical attributes to culinary applications. So let’s dive in and unravel the mysteries.
Understanding Snow Crab vs King Crab
Introduction to Species
Snow crab (Chionoecetes opilio) and king crab (Paralithodes camtschaticus) belong to the suborder Pleocyemata of the decapod infraorder Anomura. They are both crab species which live in cold waters and have become commercially important seafood.
Snow crab is found in the northwest Atlantic Ocean and north Pacific Ocean. It has various common names like Queen crab, Spider crab, Tanner crab, and Triangle crab. Snow crabs have a light orange shell and can grow up to 6 pounds in weight. Their claws are relatively smaller compared to other crab species.
On the other hand, king crab refers to a group of 5 crab species in the genus Paralithodes. They are found in northern Pacific and Arctic waters near Russia, Alaska, and Japan. The most common commercially harvested species is the red king crab which can weigh up to 28 pounds. King crabs have a reddish-brown shell, spiky texture, and larger claws.
Historical and Cultural Significance
Both snow crab vs king crab hold cultural significance for indigenous communities and coastal regions across the northern hemisphere.
Snow crabs have been a traditional food source for native communities like the Inuit in the Arctic regions of North America. Snow crab fishing also became an important economic activity for towns along the Atlantic provinces of Canada.
King crab is integral to the cuisine and livelihoods of various ethnic groups in Far East Russia including the Ainu people of Japan. The advent of king crab fisheries helped several remote settlements in Alaska prosper during the gold rush era.
Beyond sustenance, crabs also feature prominently in folk tales, art, and ceremonies among northern coastal communities. The indigenous groups view the seasonal cycles of crabs as intertwined with their own existence.
The shell is one of the most prominent physical differences between snow crab and king crab.
Snow crab shells have a smooth texture and light orange red color. They are oval shaped.
King crab shells have a spiky texture due to longer projections. They also have a deeper reddish brown color. King crab shells are more triangular shaped.
Leg Span and Structure
Both crabs have five pairs of legs for walking and movement. However, king crabs tend to have a wider leg span.
The front legs of king crab end in bigger claws compared to snow crab. King crab claws can grow up to 6 inches long.
Snow crabs have smaller equal sized claws on their front legs. Their rear legs are paddle-shaped for swimming.
In terms of leg structure, snow crabs legs can break off easily in self-defense. King crabs have thicker,Calcified leg joints making it harder to detach their limbs.
Flavor Profile and Texture
Aroma and Palate
Snow crab meat is appreciated for its delicate, sweet flavor. It has notes of saltwater, sea breeze, and mild brininess.
King crab has a bolder, fuller taste which is oceanic and mineral-like, almost buttery. It is sweeter than snow crab.
Mouthfeel and Firmness
Snow crab meat has a smooth, flaky texture which is moist and tender when cooked properly.
King crab has firm meat that holds together well making it great for frying or grilling. It is juicy with a satisfying chew.
Health Benefits and Nutritional Comparison
|20g (Per 100g)
|24g (Per 100g)
|1g (Per 100g)
|2g (Per 100g)
|130mg (Per 100g)
|390mg (Per 100g)
|2mcg (Per 100g)
|31mcg (Per 100g)
|65mg (Per 100g)
|135mg (Per 100g)
Both crabs are high in protein and low in fat. King crab contains more omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin B12. However, it also has higher cholesterol levels compared to snow crab.
People with shellfish allergies need to exercise caution with both varieties. Snow crab and king crab are crustaceans so can trigger adverse reactions.
Global Trade Dynamics
Snow crab dominates the global trade in crab meat. Canada is the lead exporter accounting for 90% of internationally shipped snow crab.
The US and Japan are the biggest importers buying up Canadian snow crab for processing and distribution. China, South Korea, and the EU also import snow crab in sizable quantities.
For king crab, Russia leads in exports. The US, South Korea, Japan and the EU are the prime king crab importers sourcing from Russia and Alaska.
Harvesting and Fishing Techniques
Snow crab fishing relies heavily on baited traps/pots lowered to the sea floor. This method lures crabs inside and keeps their meat intact. Trawling is discouraged as it damages their shells.
King crab fisheries use pots but have also employed bottom trawls more extensively. However, King crab trawling has declined due to sustainability concerns over bycatch and seafloor damage.
Regulations now encourage using pots for both crab varieties as it facilitates sorting and size selectivity. Pots allow undersized or female crabs to be released back unharmed.
Processing and Distribution
Once harvested, crabs are transported live to processing units. There they are washed, sorted, and cooked by blanching in hot water or live steaming.
After cooking, the meat is extracted, graded, and frozen for export if not packaged fresh. Automated processing helps with larger king crab volumes.
The processed frozen or fresh meat is traded globally by seafood distributors. It reaches various markets including restaurants, hotels, supermarkets, and direct consumers.
Regulatory Framework and Certification Programs
Crab fisheries today operate under stricter regulations on catch quotas, size limits, fishing seasons, and gear restrictions. These regulations seek to replenish depleted stocks.
Sustainability certification programs like Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) are also gaining ground. MSC certified fisheries adhere to sustainable fishing practices that minimize environmental impact.
Regional Culinary Traditions
Snow crab features prominently in Japan’s seafood cuisine as kani-sushi or in noodle dishes and hot pots. It is used in Atlantic Canada’s crab boils.
King crab is integral to Russian and Alaskan cuisines where it stars in starters, main dishes, and even pizza toppings. Indonesian and Thai cuisines also utilize king crab creatively.
Versatility in Cooking
Beyond steaming and boiling, snow crab and king crab lend themselves to diverse cooking techniques:
- Stir fries
- Deep frying as soft shell crab tempura
- Adding to pasta, risotto or omelets
- Using in soups, bisques, and crab cakes
- Smoking for richer flavors
Consumer Preferences and Trends
Snow crab is moderately preferred for its affordable price and subtler flavor. Its flakier texture also makes it apt for sushi.
King crab is prized for its bolder taste, chunkier texture, and larger portions. However, king crab’s steep prices limit its mainstream popularity.
Sustainability concerns are also driving consumer choices. Eco-conscious buyers opt for MSC labeled crab or local, responsibly harvested varieties whenever possible.
Food Safety and Handling Guidelines
- Store live crab immersed in water and refrigerated. Use within 2 days.
- Clean frozen or thawed crab before cooking to reduce bacteria.
- Cook thoroughly to an internal temperature of 165°F (74°C) to eliminate health risks.
- Refrigerate cooked crab for up to 4 days and don’t leave it unrefrigerated over 2 hours.
- Reheating should reach an internal temperature of 165°F (74°C).
- Avoid cross-contaminating surfaces and utensils used for raw and cooked crab.
Consuming undercooked or spoiled crab can result in food poisoning. People with allergies must also take necessary precautions.
Conclusion: Snow Crab Vs King Crab
To summarize, snow crab vs king crab do exhibit distinct differences in anatomy, taste, texture, nutritional value, harvesting techniques, and culinary usages. Snow crab has a smoother shell, milder flavor, and flakier meat. King crab possesses a spikier shell, bolder flavor, and chunkier meat.
However, both play an equally important role in seafood cuisine across the world. Their unique characteristics lend themselves to a myriad cooking applications beyond steaming and boiling. With rising sustainability awareness, consumers can now enjoy both crabs responsibly through certified sources.
The intricacies between the two may still confuse seafood lovers. But this guide aims to equip readers with a comprehensive perspective to elucidate the disparities. Whether snow or king, crabs continue their cultural legacy and culinary significance for generations to come.
More reading: how to cook frozen crab legs
Bobby Kelly is a bartender at Molly Magees, an Irish pub in Mountain View. He’s been working there for two years and has developed a following among the regulars. Bobby is known for his friendly demeanor and great drink specials. He loves interacting with customers and making them feel welcome. When he’s not at work, Bobby enjoys spending time with his friends and family.