Hard Facts on Killing Lobsters

Discussion in 'Food & Cooking' started by anneke, Jun 6, 2002.

  1. anneke

    anneke

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    I am looking please, for some clear and documented information about lobster. Every chef and every cookbook has its own theory about the life and death of a lobster; apparently, lobsters are very mythical. I'm looking for the real deal. My questions are as follow:

    1. I understand that upon dying, a lobster releases a toxin that makes its way throughout the flesh and can render it inedible.
    - Is this true?
    - What killing method limits this?
    - How does acidity affect this process if at all?

    2. What is the most humane way to kill a lobster?
    - When is it officially dead? (since it keeps moving several minutes after being torn apart or in a pot of boiling water)
    - Does the knife-behind-the-eyes-trick affect the release of the aforementioned toxins?

    Thomas Keller "steeps" lobters in a boiled water/vinegar solution for a couple of minutes before removing the flesh. He pours the solution on the lobster so the lobster never actually is in boiling liquid. How can this possibly kill the lobster? How can this be enough to remove the flesh easily?

    3. How long does it take for a lobster to reach the one pound
    mark?

    4. What does it eat?

    5. With what frequency does it shed its shell? Is this different for farmed lobsters?

    6. Why is June announced as lobster season when nobody on the coast would eat a lobster at this time of the year?




    No, this isn't for a school paper, I promise (;))! I'm really just curious and trying to build some knowledge about it.

    Thank you to all the brave souls who will attempt to answer this lenghthy post..!
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Mar 22, 2014
  2. kimmie

    kimmie

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    I will attempt to answer no.5:

    Lobsters molt (shed their shells) to grow. They secrete enzymes that soften the shell and connective shell joints. The shell spilts up the back and the creature backs out leaving it behind...including the membrane that covered the eyes. They will increase their size by about 20% at every molt. By the time a lobster is of legal size, it will have molted about 20-25 times, averaging 4-5 molts a year. After a molt the animal is vulnerable because the new shell is very soft. It will hide among the rocks on the bottom for 6-8 weeks until its shell hardens enough to offer some protection.

    Lobster shedding in a nutshell

    The larger the lobster, the longer it takes it to shed. A legally sized lobster spends about 1/2-hour escaping from its old shell once it has rolled over on its side.

    To begin shedding, the carapace (part of shell covering the body) lifts up away from the tail. The lobster raises the carapace by swallowing water. Then, the whitish colored membrane between the body and tail bursts, the fluid escapes, and the lobster rolls over on its side.

    Lobsters shed the body and head first. The gills can be seen beneath the carapace while the lobster molts the lining of its gills (fuzzy stuff attached to legs).

    Next, the eyes pop out under the old shell. By now you can see the new shell covering the body. Throughout this time the lobster pulls and pulls until it finally frees the bulky claw meat from the narrow joints.

    Once the claws are shed, the entire lobster is freed with the flip of the tail. An intact shell now lies beside the helpless rag.

    For the next 1/2-hour, the lobster flops around unable to support itself on its legs. The claws are shriveled up and the antennae fall to the bottom. The lobster swells up again with water to build itself a hydrostatic skeleton. Then, if it is a sexually mature female, it walks toward its mate and copulates. If it is a male, it begins to eat its old shell.

    Gradually, the claws swell up to fill in the new shell. In a few hours, the new shell grows to its full size.

    (excerpted from Commercial Fisheries News - August 1999 - 11A)
     
  3. anneke

    anneke

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    Wow.

    Maybe I'm a nerd, but I find this fascinating. Thanks Kimmie!
     
  4. mudbug

    mudbug

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    #1. This may be somewhat of a myth depending on how you look at it. I don't believe lobsters release toxins upon dying. They may however very likey harbour toxins from litter in the oceans depending on where they've been.

    #3. It takes a lobster approximately seven years to grow to be one pound.

    #4 What do lobsters eat?
    "Lobsters usually move around and hunt for food at night. It was once thought that lobsters were scavengers and ate primarily dead things. However, researchers have discovered that lobsters catch mainly fresh food (except for bait) which includes fish, crabs, clams, mussels, sea urchins, and sometimes even other lobsters! There are, however, many fish that eat baby lobsters." From Lobsters Online

    More on this question here.

    # 6. I believe the dates of "lobster season" are different for depending on the locations of the body of water where they are being harvested. Lobster season can be at any time throughout the year. Assuming you are referring to NW North America coast... You may find this informative:

    "...It may, at least in part, be attributable to some interesting weather and ocean current phenomena. Normally, ...in June, the winds are coming from the southwest and the surface waters surrounding the Cape would be warming, setting up the thermocline, the thin layer of water that forms in spring and summer between the lower, colder portion of the ocean and the warmer, oxygen-rich surface water...The surface water begins getting warmer and warmer as the longer, sunnier days of spring and summer heat it."

    In short Anneke, it is most likely a combination of a multitude of environmental factors we do not yet fully understand: ocean currents, tide, temperature, the timing of thousands of species of animals and plants which provide food at any given time in any given place which leads to migrations of whole species to a particular location to feed.
     
  5. marmalady

    marmalady

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    Hi, Anneke,

    Don't want to get too ghoulish here, but - When you sever the brain stem, the organism dies. Doesn't matter the organism. Or when oxygen/blood flow don't supply the brain anymore. So the knife behind the eyes does kill the lobster immediately. The movement you see are nervous impulses that have nothing to do with 'life as we (or the lobster) knows it. As a little girl on my grandparents' farm, I would help grandpa kill the chicken for Sunday dinner; he used the old axe and chopping block method, and the bird actually ran around for a few minutes with no head.
    It's also a well known fact that human corpses in the morgue will 'sit up', sometimes a day or two after death. Electrical discharges account for some of that 'movement'.

    As for 'toxins' released, I've never heard of that - do you know what they are?
     
  6. suzanne

    suzanne

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    I'm no expert (except at eating lobsters ;) ), but the "toxins" you refer to might actually be enzymes. I just read somewhere that cold-blooded creatures are prone to faster decomposition after death because of the release of enzymes. A dead lobster won't necessarily kill you, but it will go bad fast, as will most sea-creatures.

    My favorite fish store, which is both retail and wholesale, takes the (same-day returned) dead lobsters, cooks them immediately, and sells them CHEAP. The key is that they know when they might have died, and it's not very long ago. In any case, I'm still alive! Isn't that an oxymoron?? Anyway, to me they're just delicious bugs, so I don't worry about it. Maybe I would if they tried to get back at me, but ... (Hope this doesn't offend anyone.)
     
  7. kimmie

    kimmie

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    Nerd Anneke? Well then, that makes at least 2, me included! :lol:
     
  8. kimmie

    kimmie

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    Lobster are trapped off City Island in New York City (more than 20 lobstermen with over 6,000 traps). Called locally 'Bronx Lobster' or 'Long Island Lobster', they are smaller, browner and not as sweet as other American lobster ('Maine lobster').

    The Pilgrims thought lobsters were ugly, and considered them to be poor man's meat.

    In the 1880's the wholesale price of lobster was less than ten cents per pound.

    Approximately 40 million pounds (nearly 90 percent) of the nation's lobster supply is caught off the coast of Maine.
     
  9. isa

    isa

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    1- I heard the same thing about released toxins after death. I was always led to believe it's unsafe to eat lobsters who have been dead for a few hours or more.

    A few weeks ago at a local supermarket they had a lobster sale, many of them were already dead. The clerks said they were just cold having spend the night on an ice bath. He even said you can eat lobster that has been death for 24 hours without problems.

    2- The quickest and less painful way to kill a lobster is to run a knife through the indentation on top of its head. I was always told the movement they make once in boiling water are only spasms. You can also put it to sleep before killing it, some believe it helps.

    4- Lobsters eat clams, mussels, snails and marine worms. They also eat starfish, some seaweeds, and fish when they can get them. Lobsters are not scavengers in the true sense of the word, as they seem to prefer fresh food rather than decaying fish. Many lobsterman claim they catch more lobsters when they bait their traps with fish that is a bit rotten. This is because the lobsters are attracted to the decaying bait, but they will not eat it.

    One of the lobster’s favourite meal is the rock crab (Cancer irrocatus). But a close relative of the rock crab, the Jonah crab (Cancer borealis) is not eaten. When this crab is attacked it tucks its claws and legs close to its body and settles down into the bottom. The attacking lobster has nothing to grab, and eventually gives up. Rock crabs try to defend themselves when attacked, but they are no match for lobsters.

    When a lobster locates a meal, it uses almost all of its appendages to eat. The lobster’s large claw crushes and breaks the prey’s outer covering or shell. The ripper claw tears at the flesh, and the pincers on the first set of walking legs bring the food to its mouth. The large appendages on each side of the lobster’s mouth are called the maxillipeds; they hold the food in place while the other mouth parts work on it and bring it into the body for digestion. All this tearing, transferring and grinding is not very efficient, and much of the food is lost to the currents and fish.

    5- The shell of the lobster, called their exoskeleton, gives the body its shape. Having a hard covering on the outside offers good protection from enemies but also present some problems as the animal grow. As the lobster gets older the shell become tight and it must cast off the restrictive shell. The shell the animal sheds is a perfect replica of the lobster itself down to the tiniest detail.

    It is quite a job for a lobster to struggle out of its shell. Sometime lobsters struggle so hard that they wear themselves out and die. Most often though, if a lobster is having difficulty molting, it can sacrifice a claw or leg to complete the molt.

    Water temperature and food are the two most important factors affecting a lobster's growth and weight gain. But also important are: salinity, availability of shelter, frequency of regeneration, and even the kind of bottom they live on. In warm water they grow much faster than in cold, and naturally they do best when they can find all the food they need in a small search area.

    Because of all the variables, by looking at any lobster it is virtually impossible to determine its age. Over the years though, scientists working with lobsters have come up with some estimates. They can say that a lobster taken from the wild in the 1-11/2 pound range, the size most often seen in restaurants and fish markets, took between six and eight years to attain that weight. More specific that that they cannot be, unless some of the variables are supplied.
     
  10. amberman

    amberman

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    Plunging it head first into boiling water is the humane way, anything else is considered cruel. Knifing it is only sensible if you are roasting or grilling it, otherwise you lose flavour into the brine, though I'm sure you knew that.
     
  11. phatch

    phatch Moderator Staff Member

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    About seafood and enzymes. The deal is that fish, being cold blooded and living in a cold environment have enzymes that operate at about 40 degrees F. Mammals, for example, have enzymes that operate at about body temp, 90-100 something degrees depending on the animal.

    So seafood with low temp enzymes are actively breaking up the flesh if it's not frozen. Same is true for mammals but as they don't get to the active enzyme temperature unless we're cooking them, we never notice the breakdown. So seafood needs to be very fresh or frozen below 0 degrees for best keeping and eating.

    The enzyme issue isn't strictly just about cold blooded animals. Many exothermic animals have the higher temp enzymes. It depends more on the temperatures the animal is active in. Butterflies need to attain a body temperature upward of 80 degrees before they can fly.

    Good topic.

    Phil
     
  12. shawtycat

    shawtycat

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    #2 If you’re looking for a more humane alternative to cooking live lobster, try either of the following 2 methods:

    Place lobster on sink or counter on their backs (belly facing up) so they will fall into the light sleep mode (beta state).

    Then place lobsters in a pot of cold water (instead of hot) and set heat on high. As the water heats up, the lobsters will gradually cook while continuing to sleep.
    NOTE: Start timing of lobster from the time steam arises (if steaming) or water starts to boil (if boiling).


    Another method which is especially good for baking (as well as boiling and steaming) is:

    Place lobsters in a paper bag.

    Place paper bag (with lobsters inside) in your freezer for 10 minutes.

    Take lobsters out of freezer and bag after 10 minutes and cook as you normally would cook live lobster. This places lobster in the deeper sleep mode (theta state).

    This is highly recommended for two reasons:

    The lobster will not produce the usual release of bitter chemicals produced from the shock of being put in hot water. They will be completely in a relaxed sleep state and will feel no pain.

    And as a result of not producing these chemicals, the meat will tend to be sweeter and more tender.
    So now you can enjoy your lobsters without even a hint of guilt.

    Courtesy of The Maine Lobster Company
     
  13. richardl

    richardl

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    "Histamine" might be the toxcin involved in most unfresh crustacean and seafood poisons. Histamine is massively derived by enzymatic decomposition of dead fish and crustacean tissues
    containing proteins with an amino acid called "Histidine".
    When accumulated enough in human body, histamine can cause fatal allergic reactions including shock!
    :bounce: :bounce: :bounce: