A langostino by any other name still isn't a langoustine.
Ah, yes, shellfish. They're consumed and beloved globally. Americans consumed roughly 4.6 pounds of shrimp per person in 2020 alone. But the undisputed king of crustaceans is of course the lobster. Although considered to be a luxury food item today, lobster was originally considered the food of commoners. It was even canned and used as army rations during the Civil War. These rations led to a rise in popularity and food tourism to New England to try fresh lobster.
Once diners had a taste of fresh lobster, there was no turning back. Demand for fresh lobster skyrocketed. However, lobsters need to be shipped live, which led to increased costs that were passed onto the buyer. Within 50 years of the Civil War, lobster had transformed from a cheap, canned protein to a fresh, succulent delicacy.
The breed most US citizens are familiar with is the American lobster, (Homarus americanus). Both Maine and Canadian lobsters belong to this species, although differences in climate lead to unique characteristics. Most notably, due to the warmer waters of Maine compared to Canada, Maine lobsters have softer shells and more tender meat. This difference in texture and flavor means that Maine lobsters are more highly sought out and more expensive compared to Canadian lobsters.
The ever-increasing demand for Maine lobsters has led to fishing regulations. If a lobster is less than 8.5 centimeters long, it must be returned to the ocean because it is still growing. If it is over 13 centimeters, it should also be released because this size is excellent for breeding. Experts worry that overcapitalization by increasing commercial fishing fleets will lead to overfishing and depletion.
There's also the European lobster (Homarus gammarus). This lobster is typically smaller than its American cousin. A topic of much debate is which tastes better, Maine lobster or European lobster. Search the Internet, and you'll find a range of sources claiming that one is sweeter than the other. Regardless of which side of the argument you choose, it's an undeniable fact that Maine lobster is in demand in the European market. Unfortunately, this has occasionally led to Maine lobsters accidentally being released into European waters. Sweden, in particular, was not happy about this and even considered banning the import of American lobsters at one point.
American and European lobsters are the only true lobsters, notable for their large front claws. However, even more luxurious than Maine or European lobsters is the langoustine (Nephrops norvegicus), or Norway lobster. The langoustine isn't a true lobster but is instead a smaller relative of the lobster. They are also the only living species in their genus. They thrive in the cold waters of the Atlantic and North Sea. Having been overfished in the past, their scarcity and tender meat have made them a true luxury item.
Less closely related to true lobsters are rock lobsters (made famous in a song by the B-52s). These clawless crustaceans are also known as spiny lobsters, or in some parts of the world, crawfish (not the type you get in New Orleans, though). Their closest relatives are the slipper lobsters, which also aren't true lobsters. They're less sweet than true lobsters and may run a bit salty, depending on where they came from.
Lastly, we come to the lowly langostino, or squat lobster. Like spiny and slipper lobsters, it is not a lobster and is not related to lobsters at all. Its closest relatives are actually hermit crabs. This non-lobster has been the subject of controversy in the food industry in the past when restaurants (including Long John Silver's and Red Lobster) marketed langostino meat as lobster. The FDA requires that the term langostino be used adjacent to "lobster" if the meat is actually from a langostino.
That wraps up our trip through the wonderful world of lobsters. So, the next time you're dining out, remember that langoustine equals luxury, and a langostino isn't a lobster at all.