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  1. I wonder why Chinese mitten crabs are a delicacy in Chinese food, while most people in Europe and US don't eat them even though there are many of them now in these two places? For example, in Germany, mitten crabs are only caught for exporting to China.
  2. In US, why are blue crabs popular and valued while Chinese mitten crabs are not? On the food safety side, are the two species both safe to eat?


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up vote 3 down vote accepted

As a Chinese, who have had many mitten crabs in my life, I think I can provide 2 insights:

  1. In Chinese culinary culture, it's not only meat that's the most appreciated, but rather the taste, texture and the freshness especially with seafood.

  2. Mitten crabs during the autumn season contains a lot of eggs under the shell. The flavour of the eggs are what's appreciated as well.

Mitten crabs (not sure in the US) are safe to be consumed from food safety perspective as long as it's being cooked properly like any other seafood.

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Aren't 1. and 2. also true of Blue Crabs, though? Taste, texture, and freshness are also important. Do mitten crabs have a different texture? Blue Crabs are also prized for their eggs in the US. – ESultanik Oct 26 '11 at 17:55
Yes, but I think the difference is Blue Crabs were not local in China, hence historically mitten crab was already an established delicacy. And one of the nature of the crab is its return to the sea to hatch eggs from upstream fresh water - in China they used to use gate to catch them on the downstream move. As why Americans do not value them as much, I think again it's the focus of consuming the eggs more than the meat that makes it a bit more special to Chinese culinary – K2so Oct 26 '11 at 21:48

I'm not sure about the culinary differences, but I've heard that mitten crabs are a bit sweeter (although I think they may have less meat).

As for why they're not more popular, at least in the US mitten crabs are considered an invasive species (i.e., they take over the habitats of the native species, like blue crabs, thus lowering the native population). While controlled harvesting of the crabs could potentially help slow the spread of the species, it also creates a conflict of interest among the fishermen. For example, if fishing of mitten crabs becomes more profitable than fishing of blue crabs, the market could naturally tend to preserve the mitten crab population. Therefore, it is currently illegal to even own a mitten crab in the US:

(2) The importation, transportation, or acquisition of any of the species listed in this paragraph is prohibited except as provided under the terms and conditions set forth in Sec. 16.22:
        (i) ...
        (ii) Live mitten crabs, genus Eriocheir, or their viable eggs;

Section 16.22 simply states that you need a special permit in order to keep mitten crabs, along with a special containment facility to ensure that none of them escape into the wild.

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