Myths about boiling crawfish

(Source: WikiCommons)
(Source: WikiCommons)

SOUTHWEST LOUISIANA (KPLC) - by Bruce Schultz, LSU AgCenter contributor

With crawfish season underway, south Louisiana residents look forward to dining on a regional delicacy, either in a backyard setting or a restaurant.

Recipes and routines for preparing crawfish for the pot are followed closely after being passed down from generations.

"This has allowed some myths or misconceptions to creep into the practice of entertaining with crawfish," said Ray McClain, LSU AgCenter crawfish researcher at the Rice Research Station near Crowley.

He said one of the myths involves using salt to clean or purge crawfish before boiling. "Research at the LSU AgCenter has shown that the addition of salt to the wash water provides no significant advantage in cleansing crawfish despite the numerous claims to the contrary."

Washing crawfish for as little as 10 minutes in water helps remove mud and debris but does little to eliminate intestinal wastes, he said, and salt appears to be of no benefit.

"The only way to significantly reduce size and content of the intestinal tract is with a 12- to 24-hour freshwater purge, which is difficult and impractical for homeowners to do."

Another myth involves the reluctance to eat crawfish with straight tails under the mistaken belief that tail curl is indicative of crawfish health before boiling. It is believed by some that only live crawfish at the time of cooking will exhibit tightly curled tails, but this is not necessarily the case, McClain said.

"Research at the LSU AgCenter showed that the degree of tail curl in cooked crawfish was not significantly different between crawfish alive at the time they were cooked and those that had been dead but stored in a cooler for five days prior to cooking."

But, he said, research by the LSU AgCenter concluded that straight tails may have been the result of some physical explanation when boiling occurred, such as putting too many crawfish in a pot.

"While that study did not investigate safety or quality issues, the results suggest that the age-old adage of avoiding straight-tailed crawfish at a crawfish boil, as a means of ensuring safety and quality, may not be reliable and certainly has little to do with knowing the living status of the animal at the time of cooking," McClain said.

For more information, email Bruce Schultz at