Is that a prawn or a shrimp? Does it even matter? Yes, it actually does and we will explain why. Fear not, by the time we are done you will be a connoisseur.
Prawns versus Shrimp
These are actually two distinct species. They are both crustaceans but as similar as you may think. Both shrimp and prawns can vary wildly in size.
Though, perhaps the most important reason you want to know the difference is because prawns live in brackish or fresh water. Shrimp live in the ocean, and as such tend to be saltier to begin with.
Knowing this difference is critical to properly seasoning your dish. Note that prawns have claws on three sets of their legs, helpful but not as critical. Shrimp by the way, only have claws on their front two sets of legs.
More important to note is that shrimp have three distinctive sections to their bodies. Lacking this, a prawn is straighter and does not have the signature overlap seen in shrimp.
Because of the species grown, generally the larger farm raised species are prawns and the smaller one shrimp but you cannot use that as a clear indicator.
Add to that, the fact that these delicacies can be had fresh or frozen, wild caught or farmed, and telling a distinct difference through size or price becomes quite difficult.
You will be glad to know though that other than for seasoning purposes the two are entirely interchangeable in your cooking. Ask your vendor where the seafood originates from and which species it is. This confusion between species even extends to the common names for several!
Regardless of if you are eating shrimp or prawns, now you can impress your friends with your knowledge and maybe even teach them something cool. Ironically, the preferred term for the crustaceans seem to be region more than anything else. In the US we use shrimp more and the Aussies and Brits tend to use prawns!