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Squid VS Calamari VS Cuttlefish: What are the Differences and How to Distinguish Them

Squid is generally sweeter and has a generally more neutral taste than calamari, while cuttlefish is crunchier. The other differences are physical and almost imperceptible.

By Cookist

All three are very good and look very similar but we must not confuse them: squid, cuttlefish and calamari are three different animals. At a glance it is difficult to recognize the various specimens and distinguish them from each other: they are part of the same family of cephalopod molluscs after all, so they have some traits in common. We are mainly interested in the gastronomic aspect, however: even if the meat of squid, cuttlefish and calamari is often used in the kitchen in similar ways, there may be slight differences in flavor and consistency. The squid is sweeter, the calamari has a tougher meat while cuttlefish is crunchier. Their bodies' shape is one of the most noticeable differences though: squids have shorter, rounded bodies; while calamari tend to have longer, tubular bodies. Precisely, in this regard, cuttlefish are the most easily distinguishable due to their shape: they are in fact more oval, wider and stockier than squid and calamari.

However, let's start with a curiosity because squid and calamari are amongst the oldest inhabitants of the Earth that have survived to us: think that there are traces of fossils dating back to the Mesozoic, an era also known as the "Age of the Dinosaurs". It was precisely in this period that large reptiles developed and, at the same time, we already find these delicious molluscs in the sea. Let's see together all the characteristics of the three fish products, both the common ones and the dissimilar ones.

The Common Traits of Squid and Calamari

They are three cephalopod molluscs who are the protagonists of many delicious and tasty recipes. Being part of the same family, they have very similar physical traits. They have 10 tentacles equipped with suckers, divided into 8 shorter and 2 longer. Some species of squid may have a pair of hooks on their tentacles in addition to the suckers. Squid and calamari have a tapered shape and a "mantle" that entirely covers the body. It is that membrane that we ignorantly call "skin" and that we remove before cooking them. Cuttlefish, on the other hand, are rounder and larger. Both squid and calamari have lateral eyes and a mouth with beak-shaped jaws. Cuttlefish are the only ones with eyes with the characteristic W-shaped pupil.


All three animals have a sac of edible ink that they use as a diversion to escape predators. They are also predators, even very voracious, and they move using a propulsion system similar to the one we use in submarines. To conclude, they have a habitat in common because they both live deep down, in muddy, rocky and/or sandy bottoms. In some cases the confusion is even easier to make because not only do they share the type of habitat but they often live in the same sea: calamari are found almost everywhere, from the North Sea to the Mediterranean Sea; the squid lives mainly in the Atlantic Ocean, but it is also found in the Mediterranean Sea and the North Sea.

How to Distinguish Squid and Calamari: All the Differences

We must make a necessary introduction to this whole matter: we are giving generic indications but within there are different types of squid and calamari which also differ from each other.

  • Generally speaking, let's say that the shape is perhaps the most obvious difference that we can see as to not make mistakes: squids are smaller and rounder, while calamari have more elongated bodies and cuttlefish are oval.
  • We see other physical differences inside the body: squids have a sort of feather-shaped internal skeleton, while calamari have the famous bone, as does the cuttlefish.
  • Within species there may also be differences in the arrangement and numbers of suckers (which are generally larger in calamari, and in the hooks present in many squids).
  • The flavor, however, has very few differences: squids have a delicate and slightly sweet taste, decidedly more neutral than that of a calamari. The meat is softer and more tender in the squids, crunchier in the cuttlefish which have a higher and more unmistakable saltiness.

Tasty Ideas for Using Squid and Calamari in the Kitchen

Stuffed, baked, fried or stewed: with squid and calamari we can really create many dishes, all delicious and very simple to make. We can cut them to make baked rings, tasty skewers to eat with your hands or stuff them with caciocavallo, eggs and mozzarella.


Almost all recipes are interchangeable although squid generally has a sweeter taste than calamari. Let's start with the stuffed squid, a typical Tuscan second course with animal sacs stuffed with squid tentacles together with bread, eggs, anchovies and cheese. We also recommend the squid skewers: the mollusc is breaded and then cooked in the oven if you want a lighter preparation but they are also excellent fried. Finally we move from Tuscany to Campania with a typical Sorrento recipe: Sorrento style squid. In this dish, the squid, after having been cleaned, are stuffed with a filling made up of eggs, mozzarella, grated cheese and breadcrumbs, to then be cooked for about an hour in the sauce made with San Marzano tomatoes.

For calamari we stay on the sea: if there is a dish common to the entire Italian coast, especially in the South, it's fried calamari. We recommend the rounds that drive adults and children crazy in combination with a delicious lemon and parsley mayonnaise. Calamari are also excellent fillings, an ideal recipe for the holiday or for Sunday lunch. Finally, we recommend the calamari with parsley sauce: a sort of roasted calamari enriched by the deliciousness of the sauce.

Cuttlefish can also be cooked stuffed but there are some traditional Italian dishes that inextricably link this mollusc to legumes: cuttlefish and peas or cuttlefish and beans are historically poor dishes (even if now with such poor increases they are no longer so). The first is a typical dish from Lazio, a great classic of local cuisine, ideal to bring to the table for a family lunch or a fish-based dinner in the company of friends; the second is a variant of cuttlefish with peas, more common in Abruzzo and Puglia.

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