Why Do Lobsters Turn Red When You Cook Them?

The red punch of a freshly cooked lobster lends aesthetic appeal to your dinner plate, but don't expect to see bright red crustaceans out in the wild. Live lobsters can be brown, gray or olive-green— less showy than the dish they'll become, but definitely more practical for camoflage. So what exactly is going on in those first few seconds after a lobster hits boiling water? Get ready to digest a healthy dose of science:

Lobster shells contain a biochemical called astaxanthin, a caretenoid pigment found in some shellfish, fruits and vegetables. It absorbs blue light and reflects back red, orange or yellow. The pigment is locked up in protein molecules, but these molecules break down once a chef introduces the lobster to a hot pot of water. Astaxanthin can withstand heat, so when a lobster is submerged, all the other pigments break down and the bright red hue remains.

So there you go. Now you can be that guy getting all scientific at your next lobster bake, but if you're going to do that, also be that guy who brought the good lobster-pairing beer.

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