Inhibit Hormones, Eat Soft-shell Crabs Year Round


Yours truly enjoys a soft shell crab sandwich at Sam and Omie's Restaurant in Nags Head, N.C., during a family trip. (Photo by Bonnie Heath)

I absolutely love my yearly soft-shell crab sandwich, generally consumed whenever my wife and I make it out to the coast. Part of it's just the joy of fresh seafood and no doubt a lot of it is that I'm still not quite over the thrill of eating a sandwich with 10 finger-like crustacean appendages sticking out on both sides. Yes, I'm 12 years old.

Making a once-a-year play for this sandwich has its drawbacks however. As many of you already know, soft-shell crabs aren't a particular species. They're normal blue crabs that farms just managed to snatch up and freeze right after they've shed their shell. In other words, if crabs aren't going through spring/summer molting or if no one's around to collect them within a few hours, then you might wind up ordering a shrimp po'boy and trying to hide your disappointment.

Scientists at the University of Alabama at Birmingham may change all this, though. According to a National Geographic article, researchers have isolated the hormone receptor that inhibits molting. Block that receptor with the right compound and you could conceivably farm raise blue crabs that molt all year long.

I admit to being a little torn over the issue. On one hand, yes, I don't want to have to order the po'boy of shame the next time I hit OBX out of season. And there's also a case to be made for local crabbers who could use the extra business. But the seasonal rarity of the dish also adds to its charm. That's what makes it a delicacy. Plus, it's easy to imagine what might happen if the molting compound were to leak into the wild. They have those exoskeletons for a reason, after all.

And yes, I love soft-shell crab pong kari too.

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About the Author: Robert Lamb spent his childhood reading books and staring into the woods — first in Newfoundland, Canada and then in rural Tennessee. There was also a long stretch in which he was terrified of alien abduction. He earned a degree in creative writing. He taught high school and then attended journalism school. He wrote for the smallest of small-town newspapers before finally becoming a full-time science writer and podcaster. He’s currently a senior writer at HowStuffWorks and has co-hosted the science podcast Stuff to Blow Your Mind since its inception in 2010. In his spare time, he enjoys traveling with his wife Bonnie, discussing dinosaurs with his son Bastian and crafting the occasional work of fiction.