It’s a simple question, and those who have never cooked their own lobster might even be surprised to learn that the delicious, bright red lobster served in restaurants didn’t start out that way. Even though there is some variety in color due to genetics and diet, most live lobsters start out a brownish color,”even though their shells contain astaxanthin, a carotenoid from the same family of organic pigments that includes beta-carotene, the source of carrots’ bright hue,” says Shaunacy Ferro of Popular Science. Other shellfish, like crabs and shrimp, also contain this substance.
Free astaxanthin is red, but when it bonds to proteins in a lobster’s shell it changes color and can become blue or yellow. When you look at a live lobster, you are actually seeing light as it is reflected through layers of bonded and free astaxanthin and that is why they typically appear brown.
Michael Tlusty, the director of research at Boston’s New England Aquarium says, “What happens when you cook it, you denature the protein through the heat, and it releases the pigment.” Ferro goes on to say, “The resulting free astaxanthin makes the shell red all the way through. The same process applies to crabs and shrimp.”
Diet can vary the color of live lobster. When they don’t eat things that contain astaxanthin, like shrimp and seaweed, they are much lighter in color. In addition, genetic differences in lobsters can make some look blue. However, their tantalizing red color makes you think of red symbols, like the Valentine’s Day heart, which makes them the perfect way to dine with your loved one.
There is a synthetic form of astaxanthin that is used in farm-raised seafood to help the color, but nothing can replace the real thing. In addition to providing the signature color, astaxanthin is also an antioxidant, very healthy in a human diet. It is said to have anti-cancer properties and can reduce inflammation in the body
So, the next time someone serves you a shiny red lobster, you may want to think about the process it goes through to come to you looking that way. To witness the process for yourself, order fresh live Maine lobster from Cape Porpoise Lobster Co. today.