The Life of Your Seafood: Calamari

Calamari. Squid. Which would you rather eat? Most people know that calamari is the squid. Many people enjoy squid. I’m not one of them, but it’s not going to keep me from writing about it. Jeffrey L. Steingarten, a food critic for Vogue magazine, coined the term Calamari Index, or C.I. to explain how Americans have integrated odd foods into the normal diet. Tastes change, although the taste of these unique foods doesn’t change. If the taste of tentacles appeals to you, calamari is your dish.

The term calamari is Italian, the plural of calamari or calamari. It can also be traced back to Medieval Latin calamari ink pot, the inky substance the squid secrets, and also refers to the Latin word calamus. Around 1961 the term calamari came into fashion, referring to the squid used as food. An interesting side fact- The squid ink is sometimes used to color and flavor foods like pasta, rice, and sauces. Calamari is squid that has been sliced, batter fried or grilled, and served with lemon, special sauce, or homemade mayonnaise. (home-made mayonnaise seems to be especially important with serious calamari chefs. That part of the dish appeals to me-forget the squid. Ha!)

Well-wait a minute. Let’s not forget the squid, because without it there’s no calamari. What is life like for a squid, anyway? Let’s look into that. Squid, cuttlefish, and octopus (octopi?)are all mollusks and are classified as cephalopods. They have a large head(called a mantle), ten tentacles with suckers arranged in pairs, and an internal, rather than external, bony structure. There is a single flat bone plate in the body. Their siphon, called a hypostome, is used to shoot them away from predators or move them along quickly. Like the octopus and cuttlefish, squid can change color like a chameleon. These pigment cells or chromatophores hold liquid dye and change color by contracting and expanding their outer covering. When they contract, the pigment is darker, and as they develop the pigment is lighter. The camouflage hides them from other sea creatures.

Squid are not passive creatures. Like the octopus, they are voracious and aggressive eaters. There are two elongated tentacles used specifically for food. The mouth of the squid is located under the mantle area in the center of the body. If you were to look at it in a jar (I’ve seen one)it looks like a walnut. Its made of chitin, the same material that is in shellfish. It’s called a break because of its resemblance to the shape of a large birds beak. Squid has no teeth, but they have a very efficient mechanism called a radula. This is a long saw-like tongue that cuts up the food and can be used to defend the squid. It is sharp as a razor. Don’t worry- that’s not going to be found in your calamari!

Squid have a lot of heart-two in fact. Having two hearts is physically beneficial, but having a heart is not common in female squid. Males have to trick females into mating and do it in a variety of ways. How they do it not important to a male squid but the drive to do it is what counts. Females call the shots and will even go as far as choosing whether to keep or discard the sperm of the male. In fact, she may decide to wait for months before impregnating herself with the stored sperm. Once she does, she will raise her babies from eggs to small squid. At that point, her life cycle is over and her babies life cycles have just begun. They’re off and on their own.

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