What Is Calamari: Unveiling the Secrets of this Seafood Delicacy

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Fried calamari with a piece of lemon and a small bowl of dip on a wooden serving tray

Calamari is now a popular dish, appreciated by many seafood lovers worldwide. It is often praised for its outstanding taste and original texture. It is also quite versatile, as it can be prepared in various ways – fried, grilled, sautéed, or even used as a topping for seafood salads

As it has a mild flavor on its own, it combines well with many different sauces and spices, creating lots of opportunities for both professional and amateur chefs to experiment with diverse ingredients and flavors. Let’s learn more about calamari!

What Does the Word Calamari Mean?

To be exact, the word calamari means squid in Italian and is often used to call various dishes using this sea animal as an ingredient. In the US, this term is most commonly used to describe fried squid pieces. However, some restaurants in both North America and Europe refer to squid as calamari regardless of the way it is prepared (to make the dish sound more exotic and fancy, most probably).

The History of Calamari

First, calamari was typical specifically to Mediterranean cuisine, and it still is often eaten in modern Italy with a bit of salt and lemon juice. What’s more, it is often added to kabobs along with grilled vegetables in Portugal or served with aioli in Spain. 

Somewhere in the 1970s, calamari started to be popular in North America as well, taking the form of a deep-fried dish. At that time, the most frequent use of squid on the east coast was fisherman’s bait. And how did it reach American tables? All the credits go to Italian restaurants in the US!

How Does Calamari Taste and Feel?

The flavor of calamari is mild, delicate, and a bit sweet. It is often described as something between fish and shellfish. When it comes to texture, it is chewy and tender but, at the same time, slightly firm. It is important to keep in mind that calamari shouldn’t be rubbery – if it turns out to be, it means it was overcooked. Be careful about that!

Nutrients in Calamari

Calamari is loved not only for its taste but also for its strong nutrient profile. Some of its advantages are:

Rich in Protein

Impressively, calamari can provide 15.6 grams of protein per 100 g serving. Moreover, it is a complete protein, meaning that it combines all nine amino acids in the right proportions. As a result, it can be helpful in building muscle and sustaining energy.

Italian calamari soup

Low in Mercury

Recently, there have been some concerns about the possible contamination of fish and seafood in general. Nevertheless, when it comes to mercury contamination, calamari turns out to be one of the least-affected kinds of seafood. 

Good Source of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

The best way to provide yourself with omega-3 fatty acids is to eat oily fish like mackerel or salmon, but calamari is also quite a good source of this nutrient. Namely, it includes 0.50 grams of omega-3 fatty acids per 100 grams. 

Omega-3 is very beneficial for our body, as it may support heart health, eye health, and healthy skin, and can help ease inflammation and reduce liver fat. It may also promote brain health and protect against a few chronic conditions.

Interestingly, calamari has almost no omega-6 acids, which can be important for people trying to keep a better omega-6 to omega-3 ratio.

Contains Selenium

Another significant element in calamari is selenium, as this mineral has antioxidant properties. It activates selenoproteins that may boost immune response and improve protection against various health problems. 

In a 100-gram serving, you get 44.8 mcg of selenium, which is as much as 64% of the recommended daily intake.

Provides Choline

Choline is a vitamin-like substance that can support liver and brain function. It can be difficult to get the recommended intake of it in our diet, but some foods provide quite a good amount of it. The best source of dietary choline is an egg (around 117 mg in one cooked egg), but calamari can also be quite a good one (approximately 65 mg per 100-gram serving).

Rich in Copper

Another health benefit of calamari is that it contains significant amounts of copper. This mineral is important for your nervous and cardiovascular systems, bone health, red blood cell formation, and iron metabolism. 

It’s worth knowing that copper is the most concentrated nutrient in calamari, as 100 grams of it can provide 1.9 mg of the mineral (95% of the daily recommended intake).


Calamari is not only rich in various minerals but also very nutrient-dense. This term describes the concentration of nutrients in particular food in relation to its energy density.

As 100 grams of calamari provides all the above-mentioned nutrients for only 92 calories, it is considered to be very nutrient-rich.

The Concerns and Drawbacks of Calamari

As we all know, nothing is perfect, and calamari, despite its delicious taste and nutrient density, also has its drawbacks. First, squid is a mollusk, so it can cause similar allergic reactions as oysters, clams, or mussels. However, if you are sure you’re not allergic to shellfish, nothing bad should happen.

Also, take into consideration that when calamari is battered in flour and deep-fried in oil, it gains many extra calories. If you want this dish to be lighter and more healthy, you can go for a grilled version.

How to Prepare and Cook Calamari

Before you cook calamari, you need to clean and prepare the squid. First, it’s essential to separate the tentacles from the rest of the body. Then, you should peel off the outer skin and carefully rinse the squid under cold water. In this way, you will clean any residual grit or sand. Next, you can slice the body into rings and leave the tentacles intact for cooking.

Fresh squid

When they’re ready, they are typically dipped in a mixture of flour, herbs, and spices and then fried in vegetable oil in a deep pan or fryer. Calamari is usually served with lemon wedges and a chosen dipping sauce.

However, cooks can come up with different variations of this seafood dish, and achieve unique flavors and combinations. For example, to achieve a tropical flavor, you can batter the rings with shredded coconut. In many Italian restaurants, you can get calamari with marinara sauce or topped with Parmesan cheese.

Where to Buy Squid for Calamari

Even though squid was once considered a specialty item, now you can buy it in the most well-stocked grocery stores and fish markets. Interestingly, you can often find the already cleaned squid, especially in the freezer section. Alternatively, you can also ask the fishmonger to clean it for you if you don’t want to do it yourself.

The Bottom Line

All in all, calamari is a delicious dish originating from the Mediterranean area, famous also in the United States and all around the world nowadays. It is made from squid, a mollusk with an elongated soft body, eight arms, and two tentacles.

Calamari on a plate with spices, pieces of lime, and some dip, next to a knife

The arms and the body cut into rings are then fried, grilled, sauteed, or prepared in any other way. It is great for parties and gatherings, as it can be easily shared and dipped. Try it out!

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