Has anyone ever eaten a hermit crab?
January 9, 2005 1:43 AM   Subscribe

So I live in a tourist town in Florida. Every third shop in the main strip area sells hermit crabs. Well, one of these shops doesn't just sell hermit crabs, it sells HUGE hermit crabs. What I'm wondering is: has anyone ever eaten one? [+]

Google gives no hermit crab recipes. Before this week I'd never seen a hermit crab that would have even been big enough to have any meat, but these look like they would.

Would it be dangerous to eat a hermit crab? How would one cook it? How long would one cook it?

And please, "cruelty to animals blahblah" is not an answer to this question. I'm genuinely curious as to the taste of a hermit crab, but wanted to see if anyone else had tried it.
posted by u.n. owen to Food & Drink (20 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I know this isn't expressly an answer to your question but: Are you absolutely positive they aren't being sold as pets? I lived in Key West for two years and many of the neighborhood kids had land hermit crabs as pets, fed them peanut butter, etc. They are becoming increasingly common as novelty pets, I can even go down to the pet store where I live now (Canada) and pick up a couple if I didn't know they were nocturnal and deceptively difficult to keep alive in good health.

I would surprise me greatly if anyone was selling them as food in the States for that reason (also, out of their shells they aren't exactly the most appetizing looking things. AND, they aren't "true" crabs, so I have no idea what they might taste like.)

I say all this because you of course could take one home and eat it, no one can stop you, but they likely aren't being sold for that express purpose (please do correct me if they ARE clearly being sold for that, like in a food store and/or with tartar sauce on the shelf next to them). Every animal is enjoyed for eating somwehre in the world I'm sure.
posted by nelleish at 6:57 AM on January 9, 2005

If they're being sold as pets, I wouldn't trust them to be safe to eat. For your own sake, you should probably stick to the crustaceans you find in the grocery store or seafood market. Of course, as nelleish said, if the store is selling them to be eaten, then chow down and report back.
posted by Faint of Butt at 7:20 AM on January 9, 2005

If they are in an aquarium with pretty rocks and such, I would say they are being sold as pets. I actually know people now who have them as pets. Usually sea creatures sold as food are in plain tanks with no decorative things, and are kept in large quantities. I wouldn't eat them if they are in a pet aquarium, I know that I had to use chemicals to keep my pet fish healthy so who knows what those pet crabs have ingested.
posted by veronitron at 8:09 AM on January 9, 2005

Hermit Crabs are not refered to as part of the classification of "edible crabs". Having said that, neither are "swimming crabs" such as Blue Crab, which I enjoyed for lunch just last week.

MSN Encarta has this to say about edibility: In general, crabs are edible, and the meat is rich in protein and low in fat. For a commercial fishery to succeed, the crabs must be abundant and cheaply caught, usually in “pots” or with nets.

Personally? I'm on a try something new kick, but I'd shy away.
posted by FlamingBore at 8:56 AM on January 9, 2005

You may not be finding recipe results in google searches because I think hermit crabs are called conch when you eath them, much the way care tips for your Vietnamese potbellied pig would be hard to find using the term 'pork.' :> Try this.

I've seen several restaurants closer to the Gulf of Mexico that sell things like conch soup, but never any other preparation. I would think they'd be tough because their tails or whatever are just a big muscle to hold themselves inside their shells.

I personally wouldn't eat one because they look kind of like a cross between a spider and a slug, though as a kid I fished for sheepshead with them and now have two as pets, SpiderCrab and Little John John Kennedy. Most boring pets ever; after naming them it was all downhill.
posted by littlegreenlights at 9:38 AM on January 9, 2005

Conch are molluscs; they're the slimy slug things that are native to the shells that hermit crabs take over.
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:46 AM on January 9, 2005

Well, I'm oh for two now.
posted by littlegreenlights at 9:50 AM on January 9, 2005

Response by poster: Of course they're being sold as pets. THAT is not the point. The point is, evidently no one has ever eaten one. I would like to be the first.
posted by u.n. owen at 12:09 PM on January 9, 2005 [1 favorite]

The point is, evidently no one has ever eaten one. I would like to be the first.

Is this a Guinness Book of World's Records type thing or just an out-of the-blue strange urge, á la, "I could really go for eating something weird today"? I can think of plenty of other things no one has ever (willingly) eaten, if you're looking for suggestions.
posted by Shane at 12:15 PM on January 9, 2005

Response by poster: Out of the blue strange urge.

The appealing point is that not only has no one eaten it, it does have at least the possibility of being worth eating. Your ideas are probably things that are definitely disgusting a la Fear Factor. And that's not why I'm doing it. I'm doing it because no one's tried it and it could easily be good, for all we know.
posted by u.n. owen at 12:40 PM on January 9, 2005

Well, you seem to be hell-bent on devouring the critters, and while I don't think this is a good idea, for the reasons mentioned by everyone above, I certainly don't have any definitive information that indicates you would be doing yourself any harm. Maybe the best advice at this point is to boil them, crack them open, and if the meat doesn't look or smell like regular crabmeat, don't eat it.

Surely there's a marine biologist somewhere on MeFi?
posted by Faint of Butt at 1:47 PM on January 9, 2005

Of course they're being sold as pets. THAT is not the point.

Well, it kind of is, for the reasons people have already mentioned. Sea creatures for eating are kept and maintained differently from sea creatures for pets, for very good reasons: there's more than one way seafood can make you very sick, and what's in the water the animals are kept in (and therefore in the animals themselves) is one of them.
posted by biscotti at 2:11 PM on January 9, 2005 [2 favorites]

Well, I've done a more more research and have sound some references to hermit crab being considered a delicacy in African, esp. Nigeria, although I've only seen the local species Coenobita cavipes being mentioned as consumed. Out in the Pacific, coconut crabs (considered "land hermits" since the young use shells to cover themselves) are also eaten locally. These are the first I've seen that might actually have enough meat on them to be worth eating (in my perception).

In the States, pet hermit crabs are normally either Coenobita clypeatus (i.e. Caribbean crab, purple pincher crab, land hermit crab, tree crab, or soldier crab) and Coenobita compressus (Ecuadorian Crab or E-Crab)

So, the point is, there is precedence for eating the things, but maybe not exactly the species you'll have access to. So if you're really gung-ho, then that's you're choice. Personally, I'd be leery, for the exact reasons pointed out by Faint of Butt and veronitron. Also, just the example of mushrooms, where some are perfectly safe and others will kill you, I wouldn't assume because one species can be eaten, they all can. Even if they ARE safe, they aren't being rasied as food, so who knows what they might have in them. Anyway, it's your choice!
posted by nelleish at 2:15 PM on January 9, 2005

I know on Roatan in the Bay Islands of Honduras they are eaten.
posted by Eekacat at 9:09 PM on January 9, 2005

I don't really have advice other than what's already been said, but seriously, u.n. owen - they should have that Budweiser guy sing a 'Great American Hero' song about you for the effort.
posted by icey at 10:35 PM on January 9, 2005 [1 favorite]

I can think of plenty of other things no one has ever (willingly) eaten, if you're looking for suggestions.
posted by Shane at 12:15 PM PST on January 9

Your ideas are probably things that are definitely disgusting a la Fear Factor.

Not exactly what I was thinking of... ;-)

All I can say is, I don't know how clean and hygienic it is inside those little shells, what with all the moving parts that are enclosed (some or all of the time) inside, and I doubt hermit crabs clean up as easily as snails. If humans, who eat practically everything else possible including dogs and cats and crickets, haven't latched onto hermit crabs yet, there's probably a good reason.
posted by Shane at 6:19 AM on January 10, 2005

This is a great and awesome idea, and I applaud your bravery; however, I don't wish to read a future AskMe thread by you that says "I'm vomiting and shitting my brains out and I may be dying. Please help."

Perhaps you could call your local university's zoology or biology department just to make sure that, like, the liver's not full of cyanide or something.

If you do go ahead with it, take photos of the process and put them up on one of them there weblogs and I'm sure sure sure it would indeed be the best of the web. Good luck, salud, bon appetit!
posted by Optimus Chyme at 6:34 AM on January 10, 2005 [2 favorites]

I'm doing it because no one's tried it and it could easily be good, for all we know.

This is a ridiculous assumption. People have tried eating pretty much everything. That is how we know what is poison and what is food, etc. There is absolutely no doubt that people have tried eating hermit crabs at some point in history. If they were seriously poisonous, that is probably well known (by zoologists, anyway). If they were seriously tasty, that would also be well known. They are probably nothing special to eat and more enjoyable to watch or play with, if they're being sold as pets.

I mean, maybe you can come up with a recipe that makes it worth your while, but don't imagine you're going to discover some unknown delicacy.
posted by mdn at 7:11 AM on January 10, 2005

Response by poster: Shane: Oh.

Optimus Chyme: I wouldn't trust the local "university." The local schools offer more courses in truck driving than history and philosophy COMBINED.
posted by u.n. owen at 7:42 AM on January 10, 2005

Well, I've eaten quite a few creatures I've found wandering in various waterly locations, frogs, crawfish, et al.

Of course, I've never gone to the pet store to 'peruse the delicacies', but it's all meat I guess.

I would just boil the heck out it, and enjoy with butter or tabasco.

There's plenty of room for all God's creatures. Right next to the mashed potatoes.
posted by patrickje at 1:08 PM on January 10, 2005

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