Top photo: Don’t discard the tentacles;
they’re delicious. If you don’t want to fry
them, save them and blanch them later.
Photo courtesy Ultimate-guide-to-greek-
SQUID VS. CALAMARI: THE DIFFERENCE
In The Beginning: Taxonomy
While “calamari” has become a culinary term that encompasses calamari, squid and even cuttlefish, they are “different species,” as the popular term goes. Literally, they are in different orders; and below the order level are hundreds of genuses of “squid” worldwide, differing in size, skin color and other features.
If your eyes are starting to glaze over, skip to the next section, “The Source Of The Confusion.” Otherwise, soldier on:
One step down from the top taxonomy, Kingdom (here Animalia) is the phylum Mollusca.
Remember your high school biology? After kingdom and phylum comes class, and there are two tasty ones that comprise most of the seafood we eat. Squid and calamari are members of Cephalopoda class; clams, geoducks, mussels, oysters and scallops are in the class Bivalvia. Lobsters, shrimp and other crustaceans differ one level up, at the phylum levele Arthropoda.
Squid, calamari and cuttlefish are known as cephalopods, mollusks that have lost their hard shells in the evolutionary process. They are members of the class Cephalopoda and subclass Coleoidea. The Coleoidea subclass also includes octopus. They then fall into different families, then species, then genuses within the species.
After Class is the Order level, where there is a parting of ways: squid and calamari to the order Teuthida and cuttlefish to the order Sepiida. Food geeks who want to know more can check out the full taxonomy.
Treat cephalopods with the respect they deserve: Scientists believe that the ancestors of modern cephalopods diverged from the primitive, externally-shelled Nautilus (Nautiloidea) some 438 million years ago. This was before there were fish in the ocean, before the first mammals appeared on land, before vertebrates crawled from the sea onto land, and even before Earth had upright plants.
Cephalopods were once one of the dominant life forms in the world’s oceans. Today there are only about 800 living species of cephalopods, compared with 30,000 species of bony fish. [Source]
The Source Of The Confusion
Calamari are plentiful in the Mediterranean Sea; Italians call the live and cooked versions calamari (the singular is calamaro). Since most people in English-speaking countries first encountered dishes called calamari in Italian restaurants, the word is used interchangeably.
Truth to tell, Italian restaurants in America may well have been selling squid. Wholesalers and retailers blur the lines. Given the scientific complexities, it’s best to let this one lie and use the words interchangeably. Most people couldn’t tell the difference once they’re cleaned and cooked.
However, if you’re buying raw squid/calamari, you can tell the two apart by the fins:
Squid have fins that form an arrow shape on the end of the squid’s body (the body is also known as the tube, hood or mantle).
Calamari fins extend almost all the way down the hood.
Yes, it’s that simple.