To Eat or Not to Eat: Lobster Tomalley

What is the green stuff in cooked lobster? Is it safe to eat?

The soft green mass in the body of a cooked lobster is a digestive gland, sort of like a liver and a pancreas combined. It’s known to marine biologists as the hepatopancreas and to lobster fans as the tomalley. Many in the latter group prize the tomalley for its creamy texture and intense flavor; our tasters described it as akin to “lobster concentrate.” Tomalley is eaten as is, whisked into sauces, or mixed into a compound butter and spread on toast.

In recent years there has been concern that eating tomalley can lead to the contraction of paralytic shellfish poisoning (PSP), the illness caused by red tide. Red tide refers to a naturally occurring population explosion of particular types of poison-producing plankton that are ingested by filter feeders like clams and scallops. People who eat infected shellfish may experience dizziness and nausea. Lobsters do not filter-feed, but they do consume clams and scallops. If a lobster eats infected bivalves, the PSP could accumulate in its tomalley though not in the meat. So it’s fine to eat lobster meat during red tide occurrences, but it’s a good idea to forgo the tomalley when there’s a shellfish ban in place.

Try tomalley mixed into a compound butter and spread on toast.