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Why Do Lobsters Turn Red When They are Cooked?

By pearl • 12 months ago • 1100 views • 100 comments
Why Do Lobsters Turn Red When They are Cooked?

It's no mystery why natural selection favours bluish-green lobsters: Individuals that live inconspicuously on the seafloor are more likely to survive and pass their genes on to offspring.

Lobsters live in rocky or muddy areas, said Anita Kim, an assistant scientist at the New England Aquarium in Boston. They rely on a specialized blue pigment to blend into their environment and avoid the gaze of cod, haddock and other fish that enjoy lobster dinners.

However, as any lobster connoisseur knows, these crustaceans turn bright red when they're heated. So, why does this dramatic color transformation happen?

Scientists have struggled to understand this pigment change since the 1870s. Well over a century passed before the biochemistry came into focus. As it turns out, lobster camouflage is the product of two molecules: a protein called crustacyanin and a carotenoid (a pigment responsible for bright red, yellow and orange hues) called astaxanthin.

Lobsters can't make their own astaxanthin, so they get it from their diet.

"It's very similar to beta-carotene," Kim told Live Science. "Flamingos eat shrimp with beta-carotene and turn pink. When a lobster eats astaxanthin, it gets absorbed into their body."

But that isn't a simple process. Astaxanthin is red, but it turns live lobsters bluish green. It wasn't until 2002 that researchers discovered that the protein crustacyanin changes the color of the pigment astaxanthin by twisting the molecule and changing how it reflects light.


"When astaxanthin is free, it's red. When it's bound to crustacyanin, it turns blue," Michele Cianci, a biochemist at Marche Polytechnic University in Italy, told Live Science. He was a doctoral student in the lab where researchers discovered the phenomenon.

Into the pot

When lobsters are heated to high temperatures — whether they're boiled, baked or grilled — crustacyanin lets go of astaxanthin, allowing the pigment to untwist and show its true color.

As the lobster is heated, the crustacyanin molecules lose their shape and reorganize in different ways, Cianci said. This physical change in the protein's shape has a noticeable effect on the lobster's color.

To put it another way, "imagine holding a rubber band in your hands," Cianci said. "You can impose any kind of configuration you want," just as the crustacyanin molecules can twist the astaxanthin.

"When you release the rubber band, it goes back to its own shape," he said. Likewise, when the crustacyanin is heated, it lets go of astaxanthin, allowing the pigment to turn red again.

Scientists have nailed down the chemistry, but they still don't completely understand the physics of how crustacyanin can temporarily and reversibly make a red pigment blue. Several research groups are using a range of techniques to figure out how crustacyanin and astaxanthin work together to reflect blue light.

"Why astaxanthin is blue when it's bound is being investigated," Cianci said. But that shouldn't stop you from dropping some knowledge about carotenoids with your friends next time you chow down on a succulent red lobster.

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100 Replies | Last update 10 months ago | Last comment

  • »
     
    12 months ago

    Never knew until now!

  • »
     
    11 months ago

    This very educative

  • »
     
    12 months ago
    this is insightful
  • »
     
    12 months ago


     

  • »
     
    12 months ago

    Woah ooooooooo....... This had given me more ideas as a young scientist ..... Thanks to writersgut for this precious information to me

  • »
     
    12 months ago

    Thanks for the information

  • »
     
    12 months ago

    This is surprising indeed God is really a great God

  • »
     
    12 months ago

    Very surprising

  • »
     
    12 months ago

    Amazing 

  • »
     
    12 months ago

    Wow

  • »
     
    12 months ago

    Nice uodate... I love this

  • »
     
    12 months ago

    Do I know

  • »
     
    12 months ago

    Who knoes

  • »
     
    12 months ago

    Great.  Enlighten. 

  • »
     
    12 months ago

    This post is so helpful and educative and thanks for letting me know the reason lobster turn red.

  • »
     
    12 months ago

    Wonderful 

    But I don't understand all these scientific terms o. 

    Lolz. 

  • »
     
    12 months ago

    Very swet thing, i like eating it

  • »
     
    12 months ago

    Come again

  • »
     
    12 months ago

    I never knew until now, thanks for the interesting information  , nice write-up too

  • »
     
    12 months ago

    Wow, I had no idea that lobsters aren't originally red in color.

  • »
     
    12 months ago

    Wow

  • »
     
    12 months ago

    Wow

  • »
     
    12 months ago

    I don't know Why

  • »
     
    12 months ago

    Those who have never tried a lobster before need to give it a try. It is sumptuous and I loved it like any other sea food. 

  • »
     
    10 months ago

    Wow 

  • »
     
    12 months ago

    Thanks for your teaching,encouraging....

  • »
     
    12 months ago

    Wow good one

  • »
     
    12 months ago

    Wow this is a good and educative one

  • »
     
    11 months ago

    Wow

  • »
     
    12 months ago

    Very educative 

  • »
     
    12 months ago

    Thanks so much for this enlightment

  • »
     
    12 months ago

    God is so great

  • »
     
    12 months ago

    I just learn this today,  dont even know its name.  Good information you have here.

  • »
     
    12 months ago

    Looks nice

  • »
     
    12 months ago

    Who can even explain this change if not the scientist , indeed science is a great study

  • »
     
    11 months ago


     

    This is natural
  • »
     
    12 months ago

    Wow, thank you for enlightening me

  • »
     
    12 months ago

    Great

    Thanks for the enlightenment.

  • »
     
    12 months ago

    Thanks for sharing this 

  • »
     
    11 months ago


     

    This is very sweet
  • »
     
    12 months ago

    Good ... But I don't even like that stuff anyway, I still prefer my catfish jare... 

  • »
     
    12 months ago

    That's for those that eats lobsters

  • »
     
    11 months ago


     

    The same to crayfish
  • »
     
    12 months ago

    I.have never seen a lobster before.Thanks for this write up.thumbs up

  • »
     
    12 months ago

    That is how God made them

  • »
     
    11 months ago


     

    I think is natural
  • »
     
    12 months ago

    Ok

  • »
     
    12 months ago

    i love this lesson. Now I know some things I didnt know before about lobsters

  • »
     
    12 months ago

    This is serious. Very educative indeed

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