Shrimp is one of the most sought-after delicacies among many seafood lovers. They are tasty and rich in nutrients your body requires.
There are different ways you can prepare shrimps. You can steam them, bake them, boil them, or even fry them.
Being sea creatures with biological adaptation features, whole shrimps are usually caught with their tails and shells still intact.
However, you will almost always find shrimps with their shells removed in most food stores and seafood vendors in the US.
So, are you wondering whether you should eat those shrimp tails and shells or not? Read on to learn more about shrimps and their exoskeletons.
Generally, shrimp tails and shells are edible and will not be harmful when you eat them. Although most western cuisines tend to remove them for a more palatable texture, some recipes keep them intact for consumers who desire the coarse texture and enhance flavor from eating shrimps with their tails and shells.
What are Shrimp Tails and Shells?
Shrimp shells are unique biological adaptation features found in specific aquatic animals. In the culinary world, they can refer to the outer body shell, the head, the legs, or the tail.
The shells are hardened protective materials made from an organic polymer called chitin, as we shall see later here. Their toughness is the reason why most people remove them and prefer eating the softer and more palatable inner parts.
When buying shrimps, you can get them with some, or all these parts included.
What are They Made of?
Shrimp shells and tails are primarily made of chitin and protein. Chitin is like cellulose (the stringy parts of a plant).
It functions similar to keratin, the same element that makes up nails and hair in the human body. In shrimp, chitin combines with calcium carbonate, which makes the shells and tails hard but still elastic.
Due to their chemical composition, shrimp shells and tails are an additional source of protein with elements that work well in the human body.
Are the Shrimp Tails and Shells Edible?
Although they are not meant to be eaten, shrimp tails and shells are edible. However, they are mostly preserved for flavor enhancement and presentation purposes, not necessarily for consumption.
They are much like the cartilage on the chicken bones; some eat it, while others pick only its meat but don’t touch the rest.
The tails are tough and chewy, though easy to chew through when the shrimp is relatively young. They carry so much flavor, but you can get rid of them if you want.
The larger the shrimp, the harder the shells. Bigger shrimp, including colossal and jumbo, will have bigger and harder tails, and I wouldn’t recommend eating those since they can be a choking hazard.
Smaller shrimp tails are easier to chew through, but it’s up to you to choose whether to eat them or not.
Is it Healthy to Eat Shrimps with their Shells and Tails?
Shrimp shells and tails are reasonably good for your health. They have no known adverse health effects. Instead, they help enhance your health based on their nutritional content.
In addition, there are no known toxic compounds in the shells or tails that can make you sick.
Are There Any Nutritional Benefits of Eating Shrimp Shells and Tails?
Although they are quite difficult to digest, shrimp shells and tails have a few benefits. They are a very simple biomaterial containing keratin-type protein beneath the shells.
The minerals contained in chitin are zinc, calcium, sodium, and phosphorus.
Dry-fried shrimp shells contain a high content of glutamic acid. This amino acid is a bit high in dried shrimp heads and shells.
Dried shrimp appendages have no aflatoxins and are free from bacterial contamination.
So, unless you are allergenic, the shrimp shells and tails will definitely add nutritional value to your diet.
Are Shrimp Tails and Shells Digestible?
Shrimp shells are made of chitin, which is usually indigestible and quite uncomfortable to chew and swallow.
However, they are easy to eat, crispy, and tasty when deep-fried. When prepared this way, you can even consume the entire shellfish, including the tails and head.
If you are thinking about tossing those shrimp heads, check out this video on how to Make Crispy fried Shrimp heads at home.
Shrimp Shells and Tails Nutrition Facts
Here are some nutrition facts about shrimp tails and shells.
Shrimp tails are low in calories but rich in nutrients
Shrimp tails have a strong nutrition profile. They are low in calories, give only 84 calories in a 3-ounce serving, and don’t contain carbs.
About 90% of the calories in shrimp tails come from protein, while the rest come from fat.
In addition, shrimp tails are rich in zinc, selenium, vitamin B12, and chlorine, making them a great meal to add to your diet.
Here is a nutrition overview for a 3-ounce (85 gram) shrimp serving from Healthline.
|Selenium||48% of the RDI|
|Vitamin B12||21% of the RDI|
|Iron||15% of the RDI|
|Phosphorus||12% of the RDI|
|Niacin||11% of the RDI|
|Zinc||9% of the RDI|
|Magnesium||7% of the RDI|
Shrimp exoskeletons are also a great source of iodine that helps maintain thyroid function and prevent thyroid diseases. Iodine also helps support brain health.
Shrimp Allergies are Very Common
Shellfish, including shrimp, are among the most allergic foods, along with fish, milk, peanuts, and wheat.
Shrimp allergies are usually triggered by tropomyosin, a protein found in shellfish. Other proteins in shrimp shells and tails that may trigger an allergic reaction include hemocyanin and arginine kinase.
Can Dogs Eat Shrimp Tails and Shells?
Dogs cannot eat shrimp tails and shells since they present a choking hazard and can cause harm to your dog’s intestines.
The shells and tails consist of chitosan, which is difficult to digest, while their brittle, sharp edges make them easy to get stuck inside the digestive tract or pierce the animal’s intestine wall.
You may give a small amount of cooked shrimp to your dog but never give shrimp tails, whether raw or cooked.
Can Cats Eat them?
Similarly, cats should not be fed whole shrimp tails and shells. Shrimp exoskeletons are only safe for cats to eat if well ground.
However, they should not be a part of their daily meals. They should always be served with your kitty’s regular cat food and only used as an add-on to a treat.
Plain-cooked (steamed or boiled) shrimp shells are the best type to feed your cat. However, ensure you have washed them properly before preparing and serving them to your kitty.
Where to Buy Whole Shrimp with Head, Tail, and Shell
Most stores in the US don’t sell shrimps with their heads, shells, and tails on. I think they do this to save on the packaging costs and maybe to lengthen their shelf life.
However, you can still find whole shrimp in some local stores such as Walmart, Wholefoods, local seafood markets, and fish depots across the US.
You can also order them online on Amazon.
Other Uses of Shrimp Shells and Tails
Here are three additional uses of shrimp shells and tails.
i. Shrimp shell fertilizer
Shrimp shells contain nutrients in high concentrations and compositions favorable as fertilizer. The shells also contain a substance known as chitin, which significantly affects plant health.
The material can hamper fungus growth and trigger natural mechanisms in plants.
ii. Fish feed
Shrimp shell powder, a by-product of the processing industry, is used to make fish feed. This powder is beneficial to fish due to its high crude protein and digestibility (84.29%). It also stimulates fish growth.
iii. Biodegradable plastics
A material known as shrilk is made from chitosan, a chemical found in shrimp shells. Unlike other similar bioplastic films made before, plastics made from shrimp shells are solid and resistant to water and oils at room temperature of up to 80-degrees Fahrenheit.