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Raw oysters, opened, and presented on a plate

Shellfish is a culinary and fisheries term for exoskeleton-bearing aquatic invertebrates used as food, including various species of mollusc, crustaceans, and echinoderms. Although most kinds of shellfish are harvested from saltwater environments, some kinds are found only in freshwater. In addition a few species of land crabs such as Cardisoma guanhumi, are eaten, for example in the Caribbeanmarker.

Familiar marine molluscs enjoyed as a food source by humans include many species of clams, mussels, oysters, winkle, and scallops. Some crustaceans commonly eaten are shrimp, prawn, lobster, crayfish, and crabs. Echinoderms are not as frequently harvested for food as molluscs and crustaceans, but sea urchin roe is quite popular in many parts of the world.

Most shellfish eat a diet composed primarily of phytoplankton and zooplankton.

Shellfish are among the most common food allergens.

Use of the Term

term shellfish is used both broadly and specifically. In common parlance, as in having "shellfish" for dinner, it can refer to anything from clams and oysters to lobster and shrimp. For regulatory purposes it is often narrowly defined as filter-feeding molluscs such as clams, mussels, and oyster to the exclusion of crustaceans and all else.

Although the term is primarily applied to marine species, edible freshwater invertebrates such as crayfish and river mussels are also sometimes grouped under the umbrella of "shellfish".

Although their shells may differ, all shellfish are invertebrates. As non-mammalian animals that spend their entire lives in water they are "fish" in the historic sense; however the denotion finfish (or fin fish) has been developed to distinguish fish as animals defined by having vertebrae from shellfish in modern terminology.

The word "shellfish" is both singular and plural; the rarely used "shellfishes" is sometimes employed to distinguish among various types of shellfish.

Shellfish in various cuisines

Archaeological finds has shown that humans have been making use of shellfish as a food item for thousands of years. In the present, shellfish dishes are a feature of almost all the cuisines of the world, providing an important source of protein in many cuisines around the world, especially in the countries with coastal areas.

Sakura ebi

In Japan

In the Japanese cuisine, chefs often use shellfish and their roe in different dishes. Sushi (vinegared rice, topped with other ingredients, including shellfish, fish, meat and vegetables), feature both raw and cooked shellfish. Sashimi primarily consists of very fresh raw seafood, sliced into thin pieces. Both sushi and sashimi are served with a dipping sauce, made using soy sauce mixed with wasabi paste (a Japanese horseradish root, a spice with extremely strong hot flavor), thinly-sliced pickled ginger root, and a simple garnish such as shiso (a kitchen herb, member of the mint family) or finely shredded daikon radish, or both.

In the USA

Boiled Maine Lobster
Lobster in particular is a great delicacy in the United Statesmarker, where families in the Northeast region make them into the centerpiece of a clam bake, usually for special occasions. Lobsters are eaten on much of the East Coast; the American lobster ranges from Newfoundlandmarker down to about the Carolinas, but is most often associated with Mainemarker. A typical meal involves boiling the lobster with some slight seasoning and then serving it with drawn butter, baked potato, and corn on the cob.

Clamming is done both commercially and recreationally along the Northeast coastline of the US. Various type of clams are incorporated into the cuisine of New England. The soft-shelled clam is eaten either fried or steamed (and then called "steamers"). Many types of clams can be used for clam chowder, but the quahog, a hard shelled clam also known as a chowder clam, is often used because the long cooking time softens its tougher meat.

The Chesapeake Bay and Marylandmarker region has generally been associated more with crabs, but in recent years the area has been trying to reduce its catch of blue crabs, as wild populations have been depleted. This has not, however, stemmed the demand: Maryland-style crabcakes are still a well known treat in crabhouses all over the bay, though the catch now comes from points farther south.

In the Southeast, and particularly the gulf states, shrimping is an important industry. Copious amounts of shrimp are harvested each year in the Gulf of Mexicomarker and the Atlantic Oceanmarker to satisfy a national demand for shrimp. Locally, prawns and shrimp are often deep fried; in the Cajun and Creole kitchens of Louisianamarker, shrimp and prawns are a common addition to traditional recipes like jambalaya and certain stews. Crayfish are a well known and much eaten delicacy here, often boiled in huge pots and heavily spiced.

In many major cities with active fishing ports, raw oyster bars are also a feature of shellfish consumption. When served freshly shucked (opened) and iced, one may find a liquid inside the shell, called the liqueur. This is a primary feature of the raw bar, and should be sampled, if not enjoyed. Some believe that oysters have the properties of an aphrodisiac.

Inter-tidal herbivorous shellfish such as mussels and clams can help people reach a healthy balance of omega-3 and omega-6 fats in their diets, instead of the current Western diets. For this reason the eating of shellfish is often encouraged by dietitians.

Around the world

Shellfish is a common part of indiginous cuisines throughout the globe.

Dishes using shellfish:

Religious dietary restrictions

Jewish Kosher Law traditions forbid the eating of shellfish. The book of Leviticus prohibits the consumption of shellfish.In Islam, one Sunni school of thought forbids eating shellfish, while the other three Sunni schools, along with Shi'ite schools allow it. Seventh-day Adventists do not eat shellfish.

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