What Does Shrimp Taste Like?

Did you know that commercial shrimp species support an industry that generates over fifty billion dollars annually? Even twenty years ago, the commercial production of shrimps exceeded seven million tons. That means many people eat a lot of shrimp, so clearly, they enjoy it! If you have not tried it, the question is – what does shrimp taste like?

Shrimp tastes like chicken to some people, like fish to others, and it’s also been described as tasting like butter. It’s generally agreed that shrimp has a delicate, slightly salty taste with a sweet undertone, and it’s a popular food in the cuisines of many eastern and western cultures.

Of course, raw shrimp will have a characteristic taste, but there are many ways of preparing cooked shrimp, and each of those will transform the taste. Whether you’re a keen home cook or a connoisseur of restaurant-prepared shrimp, we’d like to explore the many tastes of this small crustacean.

The Many Tastes Of Shrimp

Before looking at the different ways of preparing shrimp, and the tastes associated with each, there is another issue to debate – does wild shrimp taste better than farmed shrimp?

Wild Shrimp Vs. Farmed Shrimp – The Taste Difference

Just as organically grown vegetables are tastier, healthier, and more nutritious than artificially fed vegetables,  free-range chicken meat is worlds apart from that of battery-raised chickens, so wild-caught shrimp tastes a whole lot better than the farmed variety.

Commercially grown shrimp are fed chemicals to prevent infections, hormones to promote growth, and additives to give them the required pink color. Clearly, the taste of wild shrimp is going to be different, as they are uncontaminated by these artificial substances. They will also be much healthier to eat for the same reason. Their taste is richer and sharper than farmed shrimp.

Different Types Of Shrimp Have Their Own Unique Taste

Any taste can be masked by added ingredients when cooking. Although there are about two thousand different species, shrimps can be classified into seven basic types, each with a unique taste.

  • White shrimp is an umbrella term that covers several species. It is actually more of a blue-green color and turns pink when cooked. It has a sweetish taste combined with a slightly nutty undertone. It is a favorite among chefs because of its classic shrimp flavor and soft texture.
  • Brown Shrimp, also known as summer or golden shrimp. Wild caught mainly in the Gulf of Mexico has a flavor balance between sweet and salty, with a slight hint of iodine. Firm textured, it is usually steamed or boiled to retain its natural taste.
  • Pink shrimp, as its name suggests, is usually a pinkish color when raw but may also be gray or white. Smaller than most other types, pink shrimp is used in salads and has more of a sweet than savory taste. 
  • Spot Shrimp: Found in southeast Alaska and North Pacific as far south as San Diego. These sustainably sourced shrimp are one of the largest species and are considered one of the most flavorful. The meat is very delicate and tender when cooked with a distinctive sweetness.
  • Rock Shrimp are found in the western Atlantic and the Gulf of Mexico, including Cuba and parts of the Bahamas. Similar in taste to lobster, the rock shrimp is small and sometimes referred to as a prawn. It has a salty but sweet taste and is delicious when grilled.  
  • Tiger Shrimp are found in Southeast Asia and Australia and are now an invasive species in the Gulf of Mexico. The tiger shrimp is so-called much larger than the cold-water species because of the stripes on its body and tail. Considered a cheaper alternative to a lobster, its meat is firm, chewy, and tastes very much like lobster.        
  • Royal Red Shrimp is a deep-water shrimp, considered the tastiest of them all, with a strong resemblance flavor-wise to the salty taste of lobster and scallops. Unheard of thirty years ago but is now a firm favorite with seafood lovers.

You have an idea of the most common types of shrimp available and how their flavors vary. But that’s only the beginning of explaining the many varied tastes you will experience if and when you venture into the culinary world of shrimp.

The Many ways Of Preparing And Eating Shrimp

Raw Shrimp: We are not going to advise you to try eating raw shrimp – the chances of food poisoning are too high to take chance as they contain E. coli, salmonella, and Vibrio.

With that warning in mind, it’s still true that many people enjoy raw shrimp in certain sushi dishes.

The safest way to eat raw shrimp is to use only frozen shrimp, as freezing will kill harmful bacteria, and eat it within a few hours of defrosting.

Undercooked Shrimp: also not a great idea. Undercooked shrimp will taste somewhere between raw and cooked, but it has an unpleasant gelatinous texture and will still be a greyish color. As with raw shrimp, there is also the danger of undercooked shrimp containing harmful bacteria.

Cooked shrimp: There are two signs that a shrimp is fully cooked – it will be white, with possibly some pink tinges to it, and will feel firm. It will also curve into a half-moon shape – if it’s curled tightly, it’s probably been overcooked and will also be a little too chewy.

Shrimp can be prepared in several ways, each bringing out the subtle ways that the taste of shrimp can differ.

Grilled shrimp, cooked over coals or under the oven grill, is a quick and easy way to prepare shrimps and gives them a smokey flavor that combines well with their natural sweetness.

Fried shrimp, mainly if done in butter, takes no more than three to four minutes and allows the natural buttery flavor of the shrimp to dominate.

Boiled or poached shrimp provides a milder, more delicate flavor to the shrimp’s meat and only takes a couple of minutes.

There are endless recipes for shrimp, which can be used in cocktails, as an entrée in pasta, and soups and salads. No wonder the average American consumes over four pounds of shrimp annually, which amounts to a national figure of over a billion tons yearly!

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The Taste Of Shrimp – Some FAQs

Identifying all the tastes associated with shrimp has raised some interesting questions.

  1. Why does shrimp taste iodine? Shrimp have a strong iodine taste, resulting from eating algae or other organisms containing high levels of iodine. It’s not an unpleasant taste, being somewhat salty, but soaking the shrimp in milk before cooking will eliminate the iodine taste.
  2. Does shrimp taste like chicken? It’s difficult to compare seafood with a bird, but there is some similarity between the taste and texture of steamed or boiled shrimp and the breast meat of a boiled chicken. Given that battery-raised chickens are fed on fishmeal, and have a fishy taste, maybe the comparison is not that farfetched.
  3. What does bad shrimp taste like? If the shrimp has a chemical smell and taste, especially that of ammonia, it signifies that it’s no longer fresh and the process of putrefaction has begun. Don’t take a chance – discard it immediately!
  4. Does shrimp taste like lobster? There are some similarities between the tastes of shrimp and lobster, but shrimp tends to have a sweeter and more delicate flavor. If you’re adding a marinade or sauce, you may not pick up the difference in taste. The good news is that shrimp is much cheaper than lobster and much more plentiful.
  5. Does wild-caught shrimp taste better than farmed shrimp? Yes, it does – unfortunately, farmed shrimp may have been fed with additives to their diet to make them grow faster and bigger, enhance their color, and prevent infections. There is very little control over imported farmed shrimp, so although they are more expensive, wild-caught shrimp is always the best option.
  6. What are the tastiest and healthiest shrimps:  Studies have shown that the best source of shrimps available in the US, with the least contaminants and artificial additives, are the shrimp farms in the USA and Canada, as well as those in Central and South America. The best of all is the wild-caught shrimp harvested along the coast of the US.

Conclusion

Shrimp has become incredibly popular in the US, and for a good reason – it’s low in fat and calories, high in protein, and can assist in reducing weight. Several types of shrimp are available in stores, and you must buy the best quality products.

The taste of shrimp can’t be compared with other foods, but we’ve tried to give those who have yet to try it some idea of what to expect. Words like delicate, sweet, salty, and delicious will hopefully tempt those who are a little wary of taking the plunge and ordering a shrimp dish from your favorite seafood restaurant, or better still, prepare one in your own kitchen. It won’t be the last!   

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