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Crab Facts, Selection, and Storage


Female or she-crab

Female or she-crab

Peggy Trowbridge

About Crabs:

The crab is one of the oldest species on earth. The horseshoe crab dates back over 200 million years and is literally a living fossil. It's easy to tell the difference between a male and female (she-crab) by looking at the underside of the shell (see photos). The female has a broad, triangular-shaped area in the center of the shell, whereas the male has a distinctive, elongated spire in the center.

Scientific Name:


Common and Other Names:

crab, dungeness crab, stone crab, snow crab, peekytoe, crabe, granchio, nefestigungsklammer, cangrejo, caranguejo

Crab Availability:

Crab is available in some form year-round in most markets.

Crab Selection:

Purchase live crabs whenever possible. Crabs should be alert and brandish their pinchers when poked. Soft-shell crabs should be translucent and completely soft. Crabs should have a fresh, salt water aroma; avoid those that smell sour or extremely fishy. Thawed, cooked crab should also be odor-free, and thawed only on the day of sale. Do not purchase or consume whole, uncooked, dead crabs.

Crab Varieties and Forms:

There are over 4,400 varieties of crabs. Click for more information and graphics. Crab is available in live, raw, frozen, cooked, and canned forms.

Crab Storage:

Live crabs should be refrigerated and used on the day of purchase. Raw crabmeat should also be kept refrigerated and used within 24 hours. Thawed, cooked crab should be used within the same day of purchase. Vacuum-packed crab can be stored in the refrigerator up to a month and used within four days of opening. Canned crab is good for six months. Frozen crab can be stored up to four months at 0 degrees F.

Miscellaneous Crab Information:

Crab contains goodly amounts of selenium, a trace element of critical importance that works as an antioxidant. Studies have shown that test patients with the highest blood selenium levels have the lowest cancer rates. It also helps protect against heart and circulatory diseases. Lysate, an extract of the horseshoe crab's blue blood is used in the fight against cancer and to detect spinal meningitis.

In-depth Crab Information:

Sample Crab Recipes:

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