Whether it’s hand-caught or store-bought, lobster is one of the most coveted seafood items. That’s why it’s so frustrating when the smell or consistency isn’t quite what it should be.
There are a few ways to judge freshness (or a lack thereof), including an ammonia smell that is often present in crustaceans that are a bit “off”.
Here’s a quick guide with the information you need to determine whether or not your lobster is good to eat.
Why does my lobster have an ammonia smell?
Lobster, like all other crustaceans, has a tender meat that is very sensitive. The meat will quickly spoil if proper care is not taken after the lobster has died. Spoiled lobster will often present itself with an unpleasant ammonia smell or with a soft, cottage-cheese-like consistency.
That’s the short and sweet. If you detect an ammonia smell in your lobster meat, chances are good that the meat has spoiled and should not be eaten. The ammonia odor occurs when the sensitive meat starts to break down.
It’s not always so straightforward though. The smell isn’t always evident under certain conditions and you need to take the right steps to be sure, especially if the meat is frozen.
Lobster is often frozen before freshness is accurately determined. Once it’s frozen, the ammonia smell won’t be obvious and it may not exist at all until the meat has been thawed. This means that many people don’t realize that their lobster is spoiled until they’ve already started or finished the cooking process.
If your lobster is frozen, you need to thaw it before you test it for spoilage. You’ll be able to tell pretty quickly whether or not the ammonia odor is present once the meat has been brought down closer to room temperature. A very faint odor shouldn’t be a problem and simple common sense will be all you need to know whether or not the meat is too far gone.
Even after it’s cooked, spoiled lobster will have a lot of the same signs, so don’t assume it’s fine just because it has been cooked.
Also, keep in mind that there is a difference between an “iodine” smell and taste and an ammonia smell and taste. The iodine smell/taste comes naturally from what the lobster has consumed and isn’t a problem like the ammonia smell/taste.
Signs & Symptoms of Spoiled Lobster
- Ammonia odor
- Soft, cottage-cheese-like consistency of the meat
- Slimy meat
- Discolored meat
- Meat that falls apart without much effort
Preventing Spoiled Lobster
There’s a good reason why you see live lobsters in tanks at restaurants and at seafood markets. Lobster meat spoils very quickly after a lobster has died and it’s often easier to simply keep the lobster alive until it’s time to cook them.
That’s also why it’s a common practice to boil lobsters alive. When they’re cooked that way, they literally have no chance to decompose and maximum meat quality is retained.
Live lobster storage isn’t a viable option for most folks, so care needs to be taken in other ways to prevent spoilage whether you’re dealing with lobster that you caught in the wild or bought from the store.
No matter how you obtain the lobster, you need to make sure that you limit the time that the lobster spends at room temperature. The moment that a lobster is dead, plan to cook or clean the meat within a short period of time. Short means short. Don’t let a dead lobster sit around at room temperature for an hour.
Your best bet is always to cook the lobster immediately it has died. If that’s not an option, remove the tail from the lobster and freeze it after proper cleaning.
Frozen lobster won’t spoil quickly, but its quality will suffer if it’s kept frozen for long periods of time. Try to use any frozen lobster within 4-6 months if possible. Any longer than that and you have a high risk that the meat will develop an unpleasant texture and consistency.
Cooked lobster meat will last in the fridge for 3 or 4 days.
Warm-water vs Cold-water Lobster – Which One is Better to Eat?
When purchasing lobster, make sure to find out whether the lobster for sale is cold-water or warm-water lobster. Warm-water lobster (spiny lobster) is native areas like the Caribbean, Florida, and Latin America and has a few major differences from cold-water lobster. The most obvious difference is that warm-water lobster doesn’t have claws.
Generally, I don’t recommend buying warm-water lobster. The only time it’s really worth buying is when you can be 100% sure that it’s fresh. The only edible meat in a warm-water lobster is located in the tail, but that’s not the biggest problem.
The main issue with warm-water lobster is that the meat is softer, less “clean” tasting, and is harder to find fresh when compared to cold-water. It will also typically have more of an ammonia smell to it than the cold-water variety.
Cold-water lobster grows slower and in better conditions. This makes the meat firmer and the lobster itself cleaner. It’s also sweeter and less “fishy”.
Keep in mind though that I’m not at all suggesting that you shouldn’t eat warm-water lobster. It’s still very good eating. It’s simply much easier to deal with if you’ve caught it yourself rather than buying it from someone else. Lobster season in Florida is one of my favorite times to go out and catch dinner.
Now that you know what to look for, you should be able to quickly and efficiently determine whether or not your lobster is good for eating. Spoiled seafood is one thing that is really not worth the risk- lobster and other crustaceans especially. It’s worth it to take the time to be sure that what you’re eating is safe.
If you’ve read through this guide and the common sense signs suggest that your lobster is spoiled, it probably is. There are few things more unpleasant than food poisoning brought on by spoiled seafood.
Don’t ever be afraid to throw out questionable seafood and save yourself from the sickness that can come with consuming it!