Why does prawn / shrimp sushi come with the little tail still attached to the prawn?
February 8, 2009 5:14 PM   Subscribe

Should-I-eat-it-filter: Why does prawn / shrimp sushi come with the little tail still attached to the prawn? Does anybody actually eat the tail? Should I?
posted by UbuRoivas to Food & Drink (41 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I've always thought it was for aesthetic reasons. I occasionally eat the tail when I don't feel like spitting it out, but I would imagine most people don't. Good source of calcium.
posted by pravit at 5:16 PM on February 8, 2009

If you're talking about the tail part of the outside shell, don't eat that. Just gently pull it off, the small part of the shrimp that's still inside will slide out.
posted by illenion at 5:17 PM on February 8, 2009

It's purely decorative in nature. It'd be like eating a cockroach I'd imagine.
posted by branwen at 5:18 PM on February 8, 2009

You can, of course, bite the tail off like most Americans, but HELL YES I EAT THE TAIL (and the entire ecoskeleton).
posted by dawson at 5:21 PM on February 8, 2009

You can eat the tail. I eat it if the shrimp was fried or deep fried, but not if it was steamed.
posted by hooray at 5:26 PM on February 8, 2009

It's for decoration.
posted by dead cousin ted at 5:27 PM on February 8, 2009

Definitely a higher percentage of people who eat the tail/head/etc here in Asia than back home where near no-one would.

Up to you really.
posted by lundman at 5:27 PM on February 8, 2009

It's nature's handle for dipping the critters into cocktail or soy sauce.
posted by kimdog at 5:29 PM on February 8, 2009 [4 favorites]

Go on, eat it. I dare ya!

(no, I don't eat them myself...)
posted by pompomtom at 5:36 PM on February 8, 2009

Best answer: Having worked in a sushi place and been the shrimp bitch for a while, I can tell you that the shrimp for ebi gets peeled all the way down the tail, so what's left is softer than normal and it is edible. Everyone I worked with in the restaurant ate it. I don't personally like it.
posted by olinerd at 5:38 PM on February 8, 2009 [2 favorites]

They eat the tail in Japan. I also eat the tail if it's fried, especially with tempura. It's kind of like eating chips.
posted by kdar at 5:39 PM on February 8, 2009

Tail? I thought that was the handle.
posted by Ookseer at 5:42 PM on February 8, 2009 [4 favorites]

It's also easier for whomever peels the shrimp to leave the tail on. I used to eat them as a kid because it annoyed my mom. No way could it be like eating a cockroach; roaches don't have tasty shrimp inside. EAT IT!
posted by zinfandel at 5:42 PM on February 8, 2009

Response by poster: Righto, I'm now entering a new incarnation as a prawn tail eatin' guy!

Best answer prize would have to go to the shrimp bitch for the insider knowledge.
posted by UbuRoivas at 5:56 PM on February 8, 2009

My girlfriend eats the tail. I sometimes eat the tail. The tail is edible.

The head is also edible, and if you order "ama ebi" in a sushi restaurant, you'll get the head deep-fried and the tail raw.
posted by infinitywaltz at 6:02 PM on February 8, 2009

Count me in as someone who eats both the head and tail. (although now that I think about it, only on the deep fried/tempura options. Steamed?.. I probably would not eat the head/tail. I believe because when its deepfriend/tempura'd its more tasty/crunchy.. when its steamed, it still has some chewy consistency and harder to eat and sometimes cuts my gums)
posted by jmnugent at 6:20 PM on February 8, 2009

I eat the tail if it's crunchy enough, which is every prep except steamed, pretty much. Mmm.
posted by desuetude at 6:23 PM on February 8, 2009

I eat it on smaller ones, the larger ones seem to be less palatable.
posted by gjc at 6:30 PM on February 8, 2009

When fried it's just like the shell on soft shell crabs and the like. It's odd to me when my friends give me funny looks for eating shrimp shells when Americans think softshell crab is such a huge delicacy. Maybe it's because I respond to their looks with "it's like a fingernail! :D"

When shrimp is raw or steamed it's chewy, but REALLY fresh shrimp and some of the sweeter varieties have flavorful enough shells for me to enjoy it regardless of texture.
posted by Mizu at 6:37 PM on February 8, 2009

In Japan, the rule of thumb seems to be if the fish is small enough, eat the whole damn thing: head to tail. What "small enough" means is up for debate, and not all Japanese like the same food or have the same eating standards. So eating the tail probably isn't bad for you, at the very least.
posted by zardoz at 6:46 PM on February 8, 2009

Righto, I'm now entering a new incarnation as a prawn tail eatin' guy!

Or you could be hardcore like my brother: remove prawn head/body, slurp out intestinal matter, consume still-exoskeletoned tail. He took something of a macabre delight in terrorising everybody else at the table when I was a lad. Crunch crunch crunch, he would go, staring directly into our souls.
posted by turgid dahlia at 6:50 PM on February 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

Funny thing was, whenever he got a tiny little piece of tobacco on his tongue, he would spit it out like it was Greek fire.
posted by turgid dahlia at 6:51 PM on February 8, 2009

Oh, and while you're doing that, see if your local Japanese restaurant has kani miso.
posted by turgid dahlia at 7:02 PM on February 8, 2009

Uh, shrimp exoskeleton is comprised of chitin. Humans don't have the enzymes to break it down, and won't absorb any calcium from it.

I know people who claim to eat it. I'm Cantonese and will eat basically anything but I don't eat shrimp shells.
posted by porpoise at 7:05 PM on February 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

You certainly can eat the tail. You might eat the tail, as an experiment, to see if you like it.

However, my rule of thumb is that I'm an adult at a restaurant paying money for the experience, not a five year old staring down a plate of lima beans: therefore, I'll eat or not eat any damn portion of it I like.
posted by adipocere at 7:08 PM on February 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

I eat the tail, because I dislike to touch my food.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:15 PM on February 8, 2009

Response by poster: I was actually recently introduced to eating prawn heads & legs by my Filipino housemate. Surprisingly edible, fried up in oil with lots of garlic & then drizzled over with lemon juice.

Now that I hear we can't break the stuff down in our bellies, I might pass on any further prawn head meals, though.

As for the tails, I guess I was more interested in the cultural etiquette than whether or not they're edible. The heads didn't kill me, so I figured the tails are probably safe, but I didn't want to be committing some horrible faux pas in my friendly local sushi restaurants.

As an aside, a friend works with a woman who - completely inexplicably - had gone through her entire life without anybody pointing out to her that you're expected to peel prawns before eating them. They went out for a work lunch & she was happily chowing down on the critters, exoskeleton & all, with a "why are you all staring at me like a circus freak?" look on her face.
posted by UbuRoivas at 7:24 PM on February 8, 2009

Agreed, you can eat the tail...

Except if you have any serious digestive illnesses like Crohn's, IBS, or diverticulitis. A friend suffering from grave IBS informed her gastroenterologist that she'd gotten very ill after eating amaebi (sweet raw shrimp with fried exoskeleton). He shut his folder and asked, "are you crazy?"
posted by terranova at 7:27 PM on February 8, 2009

Uh, shrimp exoskeleton is comprised of chitin

You're chitin me.

But you may want to check the Annals. Seems that research is suggesting human gastric juices contain chitinases.
posted by turgid dahlia at 7:28 PM on February 8, 2009

'course, you're still basically eating jagged-edged shards of a kind of free range plastic, and if you get enough of that clogged up in your personal seven meters of kani miso, then your own body's annal is going to let you know about it.
posted by turgid dahlia at 7:34 PM on February 8, 2009 [1 favorite]

eww, no. Don't order kanimiso, it's a trick. Or, more acurately, it's crab brains. With the consistancy of miso paste. When crab is eaten with the in-laws, all portions of kanimiso that come with the sets ordered are passed to my father-in-law, who delightedly slurps (loudly) all the little crab memories... eww.

And I don't eat the shell, or the tail. Insert sushi in mouth, close mouth partly, pull tail bits off. The little tail bits of meat will slide right out. Place tail bits on plate, then order some amadai.
posted by Ghidorah at 8:20 PM on February 8, 2009

turgid - interesting!

From the article, human chitinase activity is from 0, to 0.2-36nmole/ml/hour. Chitin is about 200g/mol. Since my proxie's borked right now, I'm assuming the mean is the median (given the range, the median's probably much lower) that's 15nmoles/hour...

1 shrimp tail's ~ 0.1grams = 0.0005 moles = 0.5mmoles = 5,000umoles = 5,000,000nmoles so that'll take about 38 years to digest*.

I'd like to see how that study controlled for non-specific breakdown of anything.

*I'm pretty drunk, please check my numbers

Yes, deep fried shrimp bits = heat decomposed chitin = disolvable and even yummy. Most tempura doesn't get hot enough to crumple shrimp/prawn tails. Soft shelled crab; I think that the heat is enough to break it down enough so it doesn't cause intestinal distress (and soft-shelled crab is yummy).

Shrimp/prawn heads? Soooo yummy to suck out (ie., boiled whole live shrimp/prawns is a *treat*), but to swallow the solid bits? Not so much.
posted by porpoise at 8:31 PM on February 8, 2009


Is kanimiso really crab brains? Crabs got *tiny* little brains...

The greenish stuff in crabs are either liver or ovaries. I *think* liver, but it wouldn't surprise me if they were ovaries. Anyway, they're yummy. Very very yummy. The 'brains' in a lobster's carapace... (I'm pretty sure, is a liver-like organ - greenish, lots of folds) slurlp slurp slurp yummy.
posted by porpoise at 8:36 PM on February 8, 2009

Kani miso is basically "crab viscera", all the stuff that isn't crab meat. Biggest crab in the world still only has a brain about the size of a pea, but they still have organs, intestines, stomachs, etc.

According to The Wire, which is basically where I get all my information about America, crab guts are quite popular in Baltimore.
posted by turgid dahlia at 8:44 PM on February 8, 2009

Response by poster: Crab brains! They *so* have a date with my stomach at the earliest possible opportunity!

On preview: crab viscera, huh? Well, that'll do. A friend was telling me about eating crab ovaries, so that might be the same thing. As long as they don't taste anything like those horrifically bitter guts that the Japanese like to leave in their grilled sardines.
posted by UbuRoivas at 8:54 PM on February 8, 2009

Whatever the viscera inside the crab's shell is, it's (mostly) worth eating.

Alaskan King crab? Bah. Tasteless meat.

/damnit, I want to go buy a bagful of dungeness now.
//boil to kill, eviscerate, then 'dry'-batter in flour/corn-starch/salt/pepper/chopped-fresh-chili-pepper/dissociated-dried-scallops/chopped-garlic/shredded-ginger then fry in oil on high heat. Fold in eggs scrambled in XO brandy. MmmmmMMmmmmMMMmmmmm. Messy, but that's part of the fun.
posted by porpoise at 8:54 PM on February 8, 2009

Ever had a mangrove worm? Kani miso tastes a bit like that, except crabbier and not as chewy (it's more a kind of paste) or gritty. In fact it doesn't taste much like mangrove worm at all. I just wanted you to know that I've eaten mangrove worm.
posted by turgid dahlia at 8:59 PM on February 8, 2009

Crab 'ovaries' tastes super umami. Some people say bitter, most say 'proteinaceous' sweet.

Having fresh (AND in-season - now, I don't think, is it) crabs makes a significant difference.
posted by porpoise at 9:01 PM on February 8, 2009

Response by poster: mangrove worm? that comment is useless without pic - oh!

to think i've spent so much time in the proximity of mangroves without ever realising that you can cut them open to find disgusting looking but tasty bush tucker! and there i was thinking that the local blackfellas only used to eat fresh sydney rock oysters from the bay.
posted by UbuRoivas at 1:05 AM on February 9, 2009

porpoise: Any chance you're missing the "/ml" in your calculation? I presume that more than one milliliter of gastric acid may contribute its otherwise-bored chitinase to the digestion of the occasional shrimp tail or two...
posted by themel at 6:40 AM on February 9, 2009

The yellow goo inside crabs is delicious. Some people say it's fat, some say it's the hepatopancreas, but the latter wouldn't tell me why some have a lot and some have a little. I actually like to dip the crab meat into the crab "mustard" when it's there. It's awesome. (Yea, it's called crab mustard by people in the know.)
posted by TomMelee at 4:49 AM on February 10, 2009

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