Shrimp is Americans’ favorite seafood. We eat an average of four pounds of shrimp a year, more than tuna or salmon. Like chicken, this crustacean has dense white meat with a fresh, mild flavor that marries well with a variety of ingredients.
Unlike its close relatives, lobsters and crayfish, shrimp are primarily swimmers rather than crawlers. They swim forward by paddling the legs (swimmerets) on their abdomens, but they can move backward quickly by using their fanlike tails. Shrimp are found in warm coastal water from Virginia on south, but the largest shrimp-fishing area is the Gulf of Mexico. The shrimp that are caught are usually frozen right on the boat, or sometimes packed in ice for shipping “fresh.”
Some 300 species of shrimp are sold worldwide, and are generally designated as warm-water or cold-water species. For the most part, the colder the water, the smaller and more succulent the shrimp.
Though wild shrimp are caught in coastal waters of all continents, about half of the shrimp sold raw in the US is farmed. This is a controversial industry, especially in Asia, because of the environmental damage shrimp farms can cause.
Once considered a potentially unhealthy food primarily because it contains cholesterol, shrimp have suffered from an undeserved bad reputation. Research suggests that saturated fat raises blood cholesterol more than dietary cholesterol does. Shrimp contain considerably less fat than meat. Also, the little fat they have is healthier—it’s largely unsaturated and includes omega-3 fatty acids.
Thus, shrimp has emerged as a healthy food choice. It is important to watch out for how shrimp is prepared though, because in a typical serving of breaded shrimp, for example, half of its weight may be the oil-soaked breading.
For a full listing of nutrients, see Shrimp in the National Nutrient Database.
Types of shrimp
The most common type of shrimp in the market is warm-water shrimp, a species that is classified by shell color—white, pink, and brown—though the differences in appearance and flavor are hard to detect. You can buy fresh shrimp in the shell, or shelled and deveined. Frozen shrimp are also available in the freezer section of the supermarket, as well as at the seafood counter. You can also buy cans of cooked shrimp.
Here are the main types of shrimp sold in supermarkets:
Brown shrimp: These have a stronger, more pronounced iodine flavor than white shrimp. Their shells are reddish-brown.
Cold-water shrimp: These are caught in the North Atlantic and northern Pacific, and have a firm texture and sweet flavor. They are usually sold cooked and peeled, but you can occasionally find them fresh. A popular type hails from Maine.
Pink shrimp: Wild or farm-raised with light brown to reddish-pink shells, these shrimp are mild and sweet.
Rock shrimp: So-named because of their rock-hard shells, their flavor is often compared to lobster.
Tiger shrimp: Easily identified by their dark-striped shells, most of these shrimp are large—with about 15 to 25 per pound. Because they are grown in warm, tropical waters, they grow quickly, making them the most widely distributed and marketed shrimp in the world. They have firm-textured meat and a mild flavor. Available frozen and raw, they are sometimes found in the market with their heads still on.
White shrimp: These are wild or farm-raised shrimp harvested in waters from South Carolina to the Gulf of Mexico. White shrimp have firm flesh and a mild, sweet flavor.
Shrimp: Recipe Ideas and Cooking Tips
Shrimp add healthy, delicate flavor to many meals. Try these cooking tips and recipes for spectacular shrimp dishes.
Published April 28, 2016