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Nov 29, 2006 08:46 PM

Crab with Ammonia Odor Question?

i bought some live crabs the other day. the method of cooking was steaming.

after they were finished upon smelling the meat it had a strong odor of ammonia. what is this? what does that mean? were they not fresh?

they didn't taste bad....but the smell was off?

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  1. Hi Larry. My husband ordered cioppino with crab several years ago while on a trip to San Francisco and he was alarmed to find that his soup smelled of PineSol. We have always wondered why.

    1. larry,

      I have run into this as well. Since I live in Illinois mostly frozen crab is available here. I can get live Dungeness, but have to travel to get it. I have noticed that "amonia" smell as well when steaming snow crab in the past. Mostly the body segments. I have no clue what it is, I always thought the crab may be old. Either way it goes in the garbage.

      1. If you smell ammonia, it's too late. Toss them (or return them immediately to your fish monger, where you should expect and receive a refund).

        3 Replies
        1. re: Covert Ops


          If you smell that in a restaurant, send it back, leave, and never eat there again.

          1. re: Robert Lauriston

            Had halibut like that at a defunct restaurant just off Third Street Promenade in Santa Monica. It was heinous. Sent it back, refused to order anything else, just ate the sides, paid and left, vowing never to return. It had been an excruciating wait for the food anyway, although my husband said his steak was good.

            That restaurant deserved NO second chances. At the time, it was packed.

          2. re: Covert Ops

            Hi! My parents bought crab yesterday from a korean grocery store. They didn't have that ammonia smell just until we were about to eat. My mom cracked up a crab and had noticed the smell of ammonia. To our disgust, we stopped eating them and put them aside to take back to the store the same day we got them..(I looked it up on the internet and found this page) Then my mom called up the store had spoken to the manager. The manager asked if we can just come back the next day (how stupid). My mom was like listen your crabs smell like ammonia and we couldn't eat them so we are taking them back for a refund ( we had the proof). So when my mom had finally arrived at the store, she spoke to the manager and he said that he couldn't give us a refund because they had been cooked. He said that when we got them they were FRESH (what a dumb---) He wanted us to return the bad crabs alive so they could sell it to others (what a crook) There's something wrong with that store.. First off we got overcharged. The cashiers just punch random numbers so if you don't check your receipt you're defeated ( It happened to my mom's friend who goes to shop there (what a coincidence). Second, they sell expired stuff and it happened to our friend who goes there to shop as well (another coincidence). And now the crabs..I'm still heartbroken (I feel sorry for my parents that it happened to them)..It's not right..

          3. So odd! A few years ago I dined at a restaurant. I had skate wing, and it smelled strongly of cleaning solution. I was really grossed out, especially because I still ate most of it. What does it mean???

            3 Replies
            1. re: cherie

              Ammonia is what fish & shellfish excrete...they don't produce urea/urine like mammals. So if you're smelling ammonia, the fish or shellfish is WAY WAY past its prime. Fresh seafood has NO ammonia smell. That smell is a product of decay.

              1. re: cherie

                Skate and rays and shark are not fish, and they have to be skinned and ripened properly (for 24 hours) to avoid an ammonia taste. For those creatures, it does not mean it's old so much as it was not handled and prepped properly

                1. re: Karl S

                  ok, so they may need to be handled differently to avoid the taste...and have a cartilaginous skeleton, but they most definitely are fish.

              2. My understanding is that the ammonia smell is a result of deterioration of the seafood. I got hold of some bad crab once and some bad shrimp. It smelled like someone had opened a bottle of Parsons in the kitchen. Phew.

                3 Replies
                1. re: Andiereid

                  Yes, ammonia smell is prime indicator of deterioration, but that doesn't really answer the question as to why live crabs would exhibit that odor after being steamed. By definition live crab would be fresh crab...

                  1. re: djohnson22

                    I was thinking the same thing. Ammonia would only be present in dead crabs past their prime.

                    To the OP, were all the crabs alive before you cooked them?

                    1. re: djohnson22

                      LIve crabs are often kept in a tank for a long time, perhaps too long. They are still, however, excreting into the water of the tank. If the water in the tank is not cleaned frequently enough, the crabs filter and absorb enough of their fellow crabs excreted waste to smell, and/or taste funky. This means that the place doesn't keep their tanks clean enough, even tho the crabs are alive.