The parts of a lobster that are not recommended for eating include the stomach, intestinal tract, gills, eyes, brain, green liver or tomalley, roe or coral, and lobster lungs. The tail meat, claws, knuckles, and legs contain the edible lobster meat.
Lobsters have a hard protective exoskeleton and 10 legs for walking along the seafloor. The front legs have large claws for catching prey, defense, and feeding. Lobsters have two compound eyes on eyestalks that can detect movement. They breathe using gills located under the carapace. The internal organs include the stomach, digestive tract, greenish liver or tomalley, gonads or coral, and a simple brain.
The external anatomy includes the eyes, antennae, carapace or shell, claws, walking legs, swimmerets, and tail. The eyes and antennae help the lobster detect predators and prey. The tough carapace protects the inner organs. The front claws are used for defense, catching prey, and tearing food apart to eat it. The walking legs allow the lobster to crawl along the seafloor. The tail helps propel the lobster backwards quickly to escape predators. These external body parts are not eaten.
Inside the carapace is the lobster’s digestive system, including the mouth, stomach, and intestinal tract. Lobsters also have a heart, central nervous system, gills, and reproductive organs called the coral or roe. The greenish liver, called the tomalley, filters waste from the blood. None of these internal organs are eaten.
Edible vs. Inedible Parts
The main edible parts of a lobster are the tail meat, claws, knuckles, and walking legs.
- Tail meat – This is the sweetest, most tender lobster meat. It can be removed whole or sliced into medallions.
- Claws – The claws contain meat that is slightly firmer than the tail. Claw meat may be left whole or pulled for use in dishes.
- Knuckles – The joints where the claws connect to the body. Knuckle meat is firm with a concentrated lobster flavor.
- Legs – The remaining walking legs contain smaller amounts of meat. Leg meat is often pulled and added to lobster dishes.
The inedible parts of a lobster that should not be consumed include:
- Stomach and intestinal tract
- Green liver or tomalley
- Roe or coral (eggs)
Eating these parts may cause illness, stomach upset, diarrhea, and other problems due to bacteria or toxins.
Reasons to Avoid Eating Certain Parts
There are good reasons to avoid eating the stomach, intestines, eyes, gills, brains, eggs, and so on.
Bacteria and Parasites
The stomach and intestinal tract harbor bacteria, parasites, and toxins that can cause foodborne illnesses. Consuming undercooked or raw lobster guts could result in vomiting, diarrhea, and stomach cramps. The lungs can also harbor bacteria.
Difficult to Digest
The lobster’s brain, eyes, and stomach lining are difficult to chew and properly digest. Eating these parts provides little nutritional value and may cause choking or indigestion.
While the lobster tomalley or liver does have a creamy texture, it can also have an unappealing fishy or bitter flavor. The dark green color is also unappealing. Roe or coral has a grainy texture and fishy taste.
The liver and intestines can accumulate environmental toxins like heavy metals and pesticides. Over time, lobsters filter and store these contaminants which are unhealthy for humans to ingest, especially in large quantities.
Some people may experience food allergies when eating the stomach or intestinal tract. Allergic reactions to shellfish are common and can be life-threatening. Avoiding the internal organs reduces this risk.
How to Prepare Lobster
When cooking lobster at home, follow these steps to safely prepare and remove the inedible parts:
- Purchase live lobsters from a reputable seafood market or grocer. Avoid lobsters with cracked shells or missing appendages.
- Humanely kill the lobster just before cooking by plunging a knife into the body between the eyes. This severs the central nervous system.
- Separate the tail from the body by twisting and pulling apart.
- Use kitchen shears to cut through the underside of the tail lengthwise. Remove and discard the intestinal tract.
- Twist off the claws where they meet the body. Crack with a mallet or nut cracker.
- Remove the stomach sac and gills from the body cavity. Rinse thoroughly.
- Cook as desired by boiling, steaming, baking, or grilling.
- Pull the cooked tail, claw, leg, and knuckle meat from the shell before eating.
- Discard all inedible parts or use for lobster stock.
Properly preparing live lobster ensures you eat only the most delicious and nutritious parts of this prized seafood.
Lobster meat is lean, low fat, and high in protein. It provides important vitamins and minerals, especially vitamin B12, phosphorus, zinc, copper, and selenium.
|Lobster (3 oz cooked)||Calories||Fat||Protein|
|Tail meat||83||1 g||17 g|
|Claw meat||74||1 g||15 g|
Lobster is lower in calories, fat, and cholesterol compared to beef, pork, and chicken. The lean protein makes it a healthy choice. Lobster also provides minerals like:
- Selenium – 55.8 mcg – 80% DV
- Phosphorus – 180 mg – 18% DV
- Zinc – 3.1 mg – 28% DV
- Copper – 0.3 mg – 33% DV
- Vitamin B12 – 5.4 mcg – 90% DV
These nutrients support immune function, metabolism, DNA synthesis, and neurological health. Lobster can be part of a nutritious diet in moderation.
Common Cooking Methods
Lobster can be prepared in many delicious ways while avoiding the inedible parts:
Boiling or Steaming
Dropping live lobsters into boiling water or steaming are humane cooking methods. Use plenty of seasoning in the water. Cook for 7-11 minutes until the shell turns red. Cool, then remove the meat.
Split lobster tails lengthwise and brush with olive oil, garlic, and lemon. Grill meat-side down for 2-3 minutes until opaque. Sprinkle with fresh parsley.
Stuff lobster tails with breadcrumbs, lemon zest, and melted butter. Bake at 375°F for 20 minutes until hot and flaky. Garnish with fresh chives.
Sauté chopped lobster meat in butter or olive oil. Season with salt, pepper, oregano, and chili flakes. Toss with pasta or rice.
Broil halved lobster tails meat-side up for 5-8 minutes. Top with melted Swiss cheese, breadcrumbs, and lemon juice the last 2 minutes.
What Parts are Used in Lobster Stock?
Lobster stock utilizes the shells and inedible lobster parts to create a flavorful base for soups, stews, and sauces. The steps for making stock are:
- Save shells, legs, claws and discarded parts after cooking lobsters.
- Lightly smash shells with a mallet or rolling pin.
- Simmer shells and parts in water with vegetables, herbs, and seasonings for 1-2 hours.
- Strain out and discard solids. Refrigerate or freeze liquid stock.
Parts commonly used in lobster stock include:
- Leg shells
- Tomalley or liver
- Cracked claws
- Leg joints
This allows you to use every bit of the lobster and reduce waste!
Can You Eat Lobster Roe?
Lobster roe, also called coral, refers to the bright red or black eggs found inside the female lobster. While it is technically edible, lobster roe has some drawbacks:
- Grainy texture – The individual eggs feel sandy or gritty when eaten
- Not much taste – Lobster roe is less flavorful than the leg and tail meat
- Very perishable – The eggs deteriorate quickly after the lobster dies
- Small amount – Each lobster only contains a few ounces of roe
- Often spoiled – Old or bad roe has an unpleasant sulfur smell
Due to its poor flavor and risky food safety, lobster coral is not a recommended part to eat. Any roe present should be removed and discarded during preparation. The tail, claw, leg, and knuckle meat are much tastier choices.
Is Lobster Tomalley Safe to Eat?
Lobster tomalley, or the green liver, is safe to eat when the lobster is very fresh. However, there are some health risks associated with eating tomalley:
- High cholesterol – Tomalley is high in fat, cholesterol, and calories
- Contaminants – Can accumulate environmental toxins like heavy metals
- Allergies – Proteins may cause shellfish allergy reactions
- Foodborne illness – May harbor bacteria from gut contents
- Viral diseases – Potential presence of lobster pathogens
- Ciguatera fish poisoning – Biotoxin can accumulate in liver
For these reasons, it is generally recommended to avoid eating lobster tomalley, especially for children, pregnant women, and people with medical conditions. Caution should be used when including it in seafood dishes or lobster rolls.
When Tomalley May be Safe
If you choose to eat lobster liver, only harvest it from lobsters caught in unpolluted waters. Purchase live lobster and cook the tomalley thoroughly to reduce risk of bacterial illness. Start with a small amount to test for allergic reaction. Tomalley consumption is considered safe for most healthy adults when these precautions are followed.
While lobsters have many body parts and organs, only some are both safe and appetizing to eat. Stick to the tail, claw, leg, and knuckle meat which offer the sweetest flavor and tender texture. Avoid the stomach, intestines, eyes, brain, gills, liver, roe, and lungs to reduce risk of illness. Follow proper preparation and cooking methods to fully enjoy lobster’s delicious taste and nutrition while tossing out the inedible parts.