Photo: Shutterstock/Brent Hofacker
America loves its shrimp—just look at this wide variety of shrimp recipes! And according to an in-depth investigation into America’s love of this sweet yet savory crustacean by Consumer Reports, Americans eat, on average, almost four pounds of shrimp per year—the vast majority (as of 2015, approximately 94%) coming from outside the United States. With many types to sample, shopping for shrimp can be confusing. That’s why we put together this handy guide to the type of shrimp you might be buying.
Farmed vs. Wild
Before we differentiate tiger prawns from rock shrimp, let’s get into the basics of how shrimp comes to your supermarket. Shrimp is either farmed or caught out in the wild. According to Consumer Reports’ investigation, it’s best to shop for sustainably farmed or responsibly caught shrimp. This ensures that your shrimp makes its way to your table in an eco-friendly way. They have a great guide to consult if you’re looking at specific brands here, but in general follow these two guidelines:
- For wild shrimp, look for certification from the Marine Stewardship Council or shrimp listed as “Best Choice” or “Good Alternative” on seafoodwatch.org.
- For farmed shrimp, look for certification from Naturland, Aquaculture Stewardship Council, or Whole Foods Responsibly Farmed.
Shrimp vs. Prawns
Now that you know what labels to look for, let’s talk about the difference between shrimp and prawns. Some folks think that shrimps are just, well, shrimpier prawns, but that’s not the case. On the surface, shrimp look different—they have that trademark bend or curl to their body while prawns do not. They also have some other distinct biological differences (the types of gills and claws), but we won’t bore you with that. What’s important to know is that culinarily, these two can be used interchangeably, so if your local grocer is out of rock shrimp but you see tiger prawns are on sale, it’s an OK substitution.
Types of Shrimp
Rock shrimp get their name from their rock-hard shells, and are usually sold cleaned and de-shelled since the process is pretty challenging. Flavor-wise, rock shrimp taste very similar to lobster—they even have a lobster-like texture. So this is a great substitute if you’re looking for the flavor of lobster with the ease of preparation of shrimp.
Photo: Shutterstock/Kentaro Foto
The term “white shrimp” covers many different species of shrimp, all of which are translucent blueish-greenish when raw but pink when cooked, and all of which tend to be sweet, tender and easy-to-peel. These shrimp are tender with a sweet flavor. Most of the time, generic white shrimp is actually Pacific white shrimp or whiteleg shrimp for those of you that want to know exactly what species you’re cooking.
Pink Shrimp, like white shrimp, is a blanket term used for several species of shrimp that are generally pink when raw, though the hues can range from almost white to almost gray. Most are small in size and are sometimes designated as “salad shrimp” (because they go well in shrimp salad). Overall, these shrimp are mild and sweet.
Photo: Shutterstock/Kit Leong
This one is a bit of a paradox. First of all, biologically speaking, spot prawns are shrimp. Second, these shrimps are jumbo, growing up to 12 inches in length. Aside from their size, you can tell a spot prawn by its spikes and by the fact that it’s easy to tear them in half while peeling them. Spot prawns tend be wild-caught off the coasts of Alaska, California, Washington and British Columbia, and fetch a heftier price than most other shrimp (and prawns).
Photo: Shutterstock/Evgeny Karandaev
You can tell tiger prawns (or tiger shrimp) by the telltale striping on the body. These prawns are mostly found in Asia but there are some non-native populations off the East Coast as well. Like spot prawns, tiger prawns can grow enormous in size (up to 12 inches long). Whether farmed or fresh, they have a strong shrimp flavor.
Brown shrimp have reddish-brown shells with dark green and red tail-fan appendages. Along with white shrimp, they are the most commonly sold American wild-caught shrimp and come primarily from the Gulf of Mexico. They may also be referred to as “summer,” “redtail” or “golden” shrimp. These shrimp tend to have a firm texture and a mild, mineral-like taste.
Now that you know how to pick out your shrimp like a boss, try cooking it one of these 10 ways.