Horseshoe Crabs: The blue blood life saver

  • Is this Britain’s strangest museum?
  • The health benefits of crabs (no, not that kind)
  • Crab alternatives for vegetarians

Lara and I paid a visit to Margate last weekend.

Some friends live there and we fancied a bit of old-fashioned seaside fun.

There was so much to see and do.

The town has a theme park (‘Dreamland’), with the oldest rollercoaster in the UK.

It’s also famous for The Shell Grotto, a series of subterranean chambers lined with mosaics made up of millions of shells.

(Nobody knows when it was made, possibly in the 1800s, or possibly even before the Romans!)

But most significantly…

And most unusually…

Margate is home to the CRAB MUSEUM!

It is one of the strangest little museums I’ve ever visited.

You walk up a little flight of stairs, where you read a comedic (but true) history of crab evolution.

At the top is a room with glass boxes containing diagrams of historical street scenes that include crabs wearing hats…

There are photos of crabs, samples of shells and claws, with biological explanations…

There’s also a video in which a lady with a fake beard tells the story of the ‘Famous Margate Crab’.

This was purportedly a monstrously large crab that was caught by a Victorian circus owner who kept it in a cage for the entertainment of crowds, and toured it around the UK with a bearded lady.

That was until, one day, the circus owner was found dismembered next to the open cage of the monster crab.

It’s probably untrue, of course.

But that’s the Crab Museum for you!

However, there was one section that was most certainly factual.

The prehistoric blue blood that saves lives

While not technically crabs, there was an interesting section about horseshoe crabs.

If you’ve ever seen one, they look exactly like the kind of creatures that lived in the sea in the very early evolution of life.

And that’s because they are.

They’ve been around for 450 million years, which makes them older than dinosaurs.

Their blood is a milky light blue and full of immune cells that are highly sensitive to toxic bacteria.

And this has long been important for health science.

Because we’ve been able to use it to test medicines and vaccines for any unexpected nasties.

Alas for the horseshoe crab, this has resulted in them being milked in huge numbers, like cows (the blood-letting doesn’t actually kill them).

If you see pictures of it, you’ll find it quite bizarre, grim and disturbing.

Ethical issues aside, it’s amazing that a 450 million year old living fossil is an essential part of ‘modern medicine’.

It goes to show that no matter how advanced we think we might be, we rely on the plants and animals of this world for our civilisation to continue.

But what about ordinary crabs? The ones you can eat?

Well, this might interest you…

The health benefits of crabs

Crabs are super-high in protein, without nearly the same amount of saturated fats in land animal meat.

Because it is low in connective tissue, the meat of the crab is easily digestible for older people, too.

And of course, you also get the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids you get in shellfish and oily fish.

Estimates are that 100 grams of crab will provide your weekly intake of omega-3s.

And there’s more…

Crabs are richer in selenium than other kinds of shellfish, which helps prevent cell and tissue damage, as well as supporting thyroid hormone metabolism.

The same 100 grams of crab meat gives men 112% of the daily recommended selenium, and women 140% of their recommended amount.

It also contains:

  • Riboflavin (Vitamin B2) – crucial for  the health of your skin, eyes, nervous system and blood cells.
  • Copper – this helps with the absorption and metabolism of iron for healthy blood and bones.
  • Phosphorus – vital for skeletal health and development.

All good stuff.

But what if you can’t eat crab?

Crab alternatives for vegetarians

You cannot replicate crabs but if you want to cook a dish with a crab replacement, you could try jackfruit.

This has a meaty, slightly stringy and flaky texture. It also absorbs all the flavours you throw into it, which is why it’s often used in vegetarian cooking.

It’s packed with vitamin C, magnesium, manganese and potassium.

Or try ‘hearts of palm’. These are not a widely known vegetable but they look a bit like white asparagus spears.

They’re low in fat, high fibre and packed with vitamins and minerals including iron and manganese.

Unfortunately, they can be expensive to buy fresh, although the tinned options are affordable.

Alternatively, artichoke hearts are another option, as they also have a tender flakiness and softness that can be used as a crab meat replacement.

Artichokes are actually a type of thistle, not a vegetable, and have been used as a natural medicine for many centuries to control blood sugar levels and improve heart and liver health.

Like crab, it’s also easy on the digestive system.

So while it’s not possible to get the very same nutritional combination that you’ll find in crabs, you can cook similar dishes and get a whole other array of goodies instead.

(Also don’t forget that you can now get vegan Omega 3 too – see here.)

Now that spring is heading towards summer, these could be lovely dishes for sunny evenings.