Do you love shrimp, but aren’t sure what types of shrimp to buy? Are you concerned about buying ethically and sustainably sourced shrimp? Do you need help finding recipes? This guide is here to help!
Shrimp is, by far, America’s favorite seafood. At last count, we’re eating about four pounds of shrimp per person each year-– (that’s 1.3 billion pounds total per year)— more than any other type of fish or shellfish. It’s also one of the most controversial.
Why? The reasons are complicated, and can leave you (the consumer) feeling confused, unsure about what types of shrimp to purchase.
This guide on the different Types of Shrimp will help you buy sustainable shrimp, understand what you’re buying, and give you recipe ideas!
Different Types of Shrimp: Which Are Sustainable Shrimp?
Domestic American Shrimp tend to be well-harvested or farmed, but you should still check labels for chemical additives. Keep in mind that shrimp species are not always marked clearly (or at all) on packaging.
Also, remember that there are over 300 species of shrimp and prawns, but the majority will be hard to find except in specific areas. If you live on the coast, or are visiting a coastal area, try to find some local shrimp!
Here are some types of American shrimp you might find in a grocery store or market:
- Brown Shrimp: Often from the Gulf of Mexico, Relatively easy to find, Typically small, Mild
- Pink Shrimp: Often from Florida, Large and meaty, Sweet
- White Shrimp: Often from Atlantic or Gulf, Also imported, Can be hard to find, Sweet
- Spot Prawns: Seasonal West Coast shrimp, Large, Expensive and hard to find
- Maine Shrimp: Cold water East Coast shrimp, Small, Hard to find
- Oregon Shrimp: West Coast shrimp, Small or Large, Relatively easy to find
- Royal Red: Often from the Gulf of Mexico, Large, Can be hard to find, Sweet like lobster
If you’re buying imported shrimp, be on alert– check for traceability, certifications, and chemical additives. Here are a couple of kinds you might find:
- Whiteleg Shrimp: Common shrimp, Generally imported, Easy to find, Generally not clearly labeled
- Tiger Shrimp: Farmed shrimp, Signature striped shell, Can be expensive and hard to find
Note: Recently, there has been a marketing campaign trying to push Argentine Red Shrimp. This shrimp is currently on the AVOID list.
What’s Better– Farmed Shrimp or Wild?
A few years ago, I heard a truly disturbing episode of KCRW’s podcast “Good Food” that highlighted an Associated Press report on Slavery in the Seafood Industry— in particular, the report focused on farmed shrimp originating in Southeast Asia.
I listened in rapt attention– and sadly realized that it’s entirely possible that I’d been buying shrimp that originated in these poorly managed, unethical farms for years.
Has the problem gone away? No, at least not entirely, and poorly labeled seafood can make it hard to know what you’re buying.
Is wild shrimp a better option? Maybe– but there are problems there too.
Sadly, one of the main ways to catch shrimp is bottom trawling— which has an extremely high bycatch rate. In other words, a lot of other species and plants are picked up right along with the shrimp. Environmental disasters (like the BP oil spill), can also affect shrimp availability and safety.
So, what can we do? Is shrimp still a responsible choice?
How to Buy Sustainable Shrimp
Step one is to buy a little bit less shrimp, and try to include other, more sustainable options in your diet.
Step two– understand what you’re buying. If you’re near the ocean, maybe you’ve got a fishmonger that you can talk to. For the rest of us, we need to read labels. Here’s what to look for:
- Look for RAW shrimp, Peel-on
- Pre-cooked shrimp tend to be overcooked and rubbery. (You can test this yourself– raw shrimp that you cook at home will win every time.)
- As for the peel– the fewer people who handle your shrimp before it arrives in the store, the better. Plus, a lot of the shrimp slave-labor issues go back to shrimp-peeling factories.
- You might also see “E-Z Peel Shrimp”– these have been split and deveined. My preference is to skip these, because again– the fewer people who handle your shrimp before it arrives in the store, the better.
- Look for Sustainability Certification Labels or Traceability Information.
- Marine Stewardship Council or Naturland certifications for wild shrimp
- Best Aquaculture Practices, Aquaculture Stewardship Council, or Global Aquaculture Alliance labels for farmed shrimp.
- Shrimp caught in American waters or farmed in America is much more regulated than imported shrimp. If you can’t find certification labels, stick to non-imported shrimp.
- Check for Chemical Additives
- Shrimp are sometimes treated with chemical additives that plump them up and make them larger. Check the label on the shrimp packaging, and make sure it only lists shrimp.
Best Frozen Shrimp: Buying Sustainable Shrimp When You’re Landlocked
Knowing what to look for and actually being able to find it– well that’s two different things.
If you, like me, live in a smallish town far, far away from the ocean, can you still find shrimp that meets all of the above criteria? What should I look for to get the best frozen shrimp?
To answer this, I took a drive around my little town. Where did I go? What were my options? Basically, I’ve got three grocery stores to choose from. There are three Krogers, two Walmarts, and an Aldi. (There’s also one specialty health food store that sells high-quality seafood, but so far, no shrimp.)
What types of shrimp should I look for?
I knew I could find raw, unpeeled shrimp at all three stores. I started with Aldi– they had raw, unpeeled shrimp, and all their shrimp was BAP certified! Sadly, all the shrimp they had in stock had chemical additives.
Moving on, I went to Kroger. They had raw, unpeeled, BAP certified shrimp– but it also had chemical additives. Kroger did have one bag of their Simple Truth organic line that was chemical-free (yay!)… but sadly, it was all pre-cooked, tail-off (boooo!).
Finally, I drove to Walmart. And that is where I found it– Raw, Unpeeled, BAP certified, Additive-Free Shrimp! It CAN be found! Keep in mind, this shrimp was right next to bags and bags of shrimp that did NOT meet the criteria. So even where they carry the shrimp you want, you still need to read labels.
Types of Shrimp: Are Shrimp and Prawns the Same Animal?
Technically no– shrimp and prawns are similar, but different animals. Both have similar flavor profiles, however, and the terms are often used interchangeably in cooking. You can substitute prawns for shrimp– or shrimp for prawns– when following a recipe.
What Size Shrimp Should I Buy?
It’s totally up to you! Think about how you’re going to use the shrimp. Will you be dipping them in a sauce? Go bigger. Are they going in a salad or soup? You can choose smaller shrimp.
Should I Buy Fresh Shrimp or Frozen Shrimp?
If you live near the ocean, are buying shrimp from a live-tank, or are absolutely certain that the shrimp you’re buying have never been frozen– then you could consider buying fresh shrimp. Look for black spots on the shrimp head or body– these are signs that the shrimp is old.
If you don’t live near the ocean, or you aren’t sure how old the shrimp is– stick with frozen shrimp. Also keep in mind that shrimp at the seafood counter has often been previously frozen, and then thawed (for who knows how long!)
Should I Buy Head-On Shrimp?
You’ll usually only find head-on shrimp fresh, not frozen. Again, make sure that the shrimp is extremely fresh, and that there are no dark spots on the head and body.
How to Devein Shrimp? (Do I Have To?)
Deveining shrimp refers to removing the digestive tract, or the dark vein that runs along the outer center of the shrimp. Removing it is fairly easy– simply slit open the shrimp with a paring knife and pull out the vein.
It can be time consuming though– so do you have to?
No, you don’t have to devein your shrimp– especially in smaller shrimp where the vein isn’t as dark and noticeable. In larger shrimp, however, the vein might be noticeable to your guests, and it may even add a gritty texture to the shrimp. So no, you don’t have to, but you might want to.
Leftover Shrimp Shells Make My Trash Stink– Help!
An easy way to prevent any unpleasant seafood smells is a little counter-intuitive. Don’t throw the shells away.
Instead, store them in the freezer in an air-tight container. Then, make Seafood Stock with the frozen shells.
Should I Buy Organic Shrimp?
Maybe, but just be aware that as of right now, organic seafood is still unregulated by the USDA. It’s possible that it will mean more in the future, but for now– you should still read your labels!
Is Canned Shrimp Ethical and Sustainable?
Maybe. Several canned seafood brands were recently in the spotlight for having ties to slave labor, so take extra care with canned shrimp. Read labels, and look for sustainability certification.
Once you’ve found some shrimp, it’s time to cook! Here are a few more shrimp-tastic recipes:
↓ Shrimp Cheat Sheet ↓