Why do we boil lobsters alive?

In this short article, we will provide an answer to the question, “Why do we boil lobsters alive?”. Do lobsters feel pain when they are boiled alive? Why can’t we kill the lobsters before boiling them? And how to recognize if the lobsters have gone bad?”. 

Why do we boil lobsters alive?

We boil lobsters alive to reduce the risk of food poisoning. Harmful bacterial species naturally reside in the flesh of lobsters and other shellfishes. These bacteria can immediately reproduce and release toxins, once the lobster is dead, which may not be destroyed by cooking. 

Therefore, cooking the lobsters alive saves us from various health problems. Furthermore, cooking them alive is associated with the better taste and freshness of the meat. 

Do lobsters feel pain when boiled alive?

It has been claimed that lobsters do not own a true brain and therefore, they can not feel pain when boiled alive. It is appropriate to say that they are not self-aware in the same way that we humans are, but they do respond to tissue damage both hormonally and physically, so they are clearly capable of detecting pain to some extent. 

In fact, the cortisol hormone that they secrete into the bloodstream is identical to the one that humans produce when they feel pain. Yet, the most noticeable sign of pain is the twitching tail, which emerged as an escape reflex.

To minimize the occurrence of pain, place the lobster on ice for 15 minutes before dropping it into boiling water. This produces the shortest tail-twitching interval (20 seconds). 

Why can’t we kill the lobsters before boiling them? 

If we do kill the lobsters before boiling them, the harmful bacterial species including Vibrio species that reside on the flesh of the lobsters will start to multiply. Not all bacterial species are killed by heat therefore, it becomes really difficult to get rid of them. So it is safer to simply keep the lobster alive until you serve it. 

What happens if you eat a bad lobster? 

If you have consumed an improperly cooked lobster, you can contract an infection from Vibrio species that are common constituents of lobsters. These vibrio species cause vibriosis that is commonly characterized by stomach cramps, diarrhoea, fever, chills, nausea and vomiting. Any person can be infected with vibriosis. Individuals with a weakened immune system, liver disease and cancer are most at risk of getting sick.

Additionally, consuming lobsters can lead to severe food poisoning. Lobsters that feed upon toxic algae can pass these toxins onto the consumers, leading to Amnesic (ASP) or Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP). Symptoms appear within 24 hours of consumption and are characterized by vomiting, diarrhoea, memory loss and headache.

How to recognize if the lobsters have gone bad?

Fortunately, you can easily recognize whether the lobsters have gone bad or not. Just smell them. Bad lobsters can be identified by the smell of ammonia that is released when the body starts to decompose.

Additionally, if your lobster feels slimy to touch or has a soft, cottage cheese-like consistency, it has definitely gone bad. 

How to cook lobsters? 

There are two principal ways to cook lobsters; they can either be boiled or steamed. 

To boil a lobster:

  • Place a large bowl of water with salt over a high flame.
  • Once the water starts boiling, place live lobsters with their heads down in the water. 
  • Cook the lobsters for 6-13 minutes, depending on their weight. 
  • After the lobsters have become bright red and are thoroughly cooked, turn off the flame and remove them from the boiling water. 
  • Let the lobsters cool a bit, then serve with melted butter.

This is one of the quickest ways to cook lobsters. This method also helps to ensure that the lobsters are cooked thoroughly and evenly.

To steam a lobster:

  • Take 3-4 inches of water in a large container and bring it to a boil.
  • Put the lobsters in the pan and cover them with a lid. 
  • Steam the lobsters for 8-15 minutes, depending upon the weight. 
  • Carefully transfer the lobsters from the container to the serving tray. 
  • Let them cool a bit, then serve with melted butter. 

Steamed lobsters can be more tender than the boiled ones, but it does take slightly longer to cook.

What is a better way of cooking lobsters?

Boiling lobsters alive seems an inhumane and illegal way of cooking them, despite having a lot of health benefits. Instead of boiling them alive, many cooks freeze their lobsters, then kill them before cooking, as an alternative method that kills the bacterial species in the same way. 


In this short article, we have provided an answer to the question, “Why do we boil lobsters alive?”. Do lobsters feel pain when they are boiled alive? Why can not we kill the lobsters before boiling them? And how to recognize if the lobsters have gone bad?”. 



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