Some find them creepy and shriek back in fear, while others find them tasty and can't wait to get their hands (or should I say taste buds) around them. They are found all around the world in fresh water streams, lakes, and rivers, hiding under rocks or burrowed down in mud. In the U.S. they are known by many names: crayfish in the north, crawdads in most central and eastern parts of the U.S., and crawfish ormudbugs in the south. Australians call them yabbies, while Spaniards know them as cangrejo de río or river crab.
Whatever you call them, crawfish are eaten all over the world and have become an important part of the culinary culture of the southern United States, most especially Louisiana. Louisiana is in fact the largest crawfish producing state in the U.S., responsible for an estimated 98% of U.S. crawfish production. Louisiana is also the largest crawfish eating state in the union, and consumes approximately 70% of what it produces.
Crawfish are closely related to lobsters, but compared to their much larger relatives, adult crawfish are quite small, usually no longer than 7 inches. Only a small part of the crawfish is actually edible. In most entrees or soups, only the tail is served. A few crawfish, however, have large enough claws to make meat extraction worth the effort. The most famous way to eat them though is the crawfish boil--piles of seasoned whole bodied crawfish mixed in with boiled potatoes and corn-on-the-cob. When crawfish are boiled in this fashion, a great deal of the flavorful seasoning settles into the fat of the head cavity. For some folks, Louisianans in particular, this is the best part! They even have a saying for it, "suck the heads; pinch the tail."
So what about the health benefits of crawfish? So long as they aren't drenched in butter (as crab meat often is), shellfish like crawfish are very low in fat (only 1g per 3oz serving), are an excellent source of protein (15g per 3 oz serving), and are low in calories. Shellfish are also low in saturated fat, are high in HDL cholesterol (that's the good cholesterol), and are a good source of zinc, manganese, phosphorus, vitamin B12, and other vitamins and minerals. One study by the University of Southern California found that weekly consumption of shellfish reduced heart attack by as much as 59%!
The next time you're looking for a healthy snack or a new recipe, don't let the beastly mudbug scare you. His health benefits are far too beautiful to ignore.