Because shrimp shells are a simple biomaterial, they have some small health benefits and no apparent health risks.
The shells are very safe to eat and contain keratin-like proteins that can be beneficial. Unless you are specifically allergic to them, shrimp shells won’t cause you any harm.
Can you eat shrimp shells?
Shrimp shells are edible unless you are allergic to shrimps. There are even minor benefits to eating them. For instance, shrimp shells contain biochemical elements which contain several essential minerals and compounds. They also contain proteins in the keratin family, helping the healthy growth of nails and hair.
What are the shells of shrimps made of?
Shrimp shells are made up mostly of chitin and shrimp shell protein. It may sound weird to you to be thinking of eating chitin, but chitin is a safe bio-product.
Chitin is a protein. Although it is the substance that causes shrimp shells to have a horribly crunchy texture, the protein is nevertheless fully digestible.
In fact, this is why shrimp shells are so healthy–because your body can make use of all of it. Still, many (if not even most) people will never think of it as anything but gross.
So why eat shrimp shells anyway?
Well, we eat chicken and chicken skins that have been properly prepared. Shrimp shells are delicious when they have been expertly cooked and carefully prepared.
Actually, shrimp shells are a common Asian dish, especially when the shells have been fried.
Eating shrimp shells is just like eating fish bones. So yes, I have often eaten shrimp shells. I don’t find them at all disgusting, and salt and pepper shrimp is in my top ten favorite Asian recipes.
Whenever I cook salt-and-pepper shrimp, I cook the shrimps whole and eat everything but the head. However, I don’t like the head because I have a personal distaste for it.
There’s nothing actually wrong with eating the head too, and I know several people who do.
I have tried shrimp heads, but I didn’t like them, so I don’t eat them. As for me, I eat everything else, and it’s yummy!
I also like the tails. I always have. So when I get the shrimp, I just slip off its head and hunker down on the body, tail, and shells, and everything is full of flavor.
Tip: if you positively, absolutely, totally cannot stomach the idea of eating their shells, try sautéing the shells in a little bit of water with a choice of herbs. Use the liquid as stock to enrich the flavor of shrimp meat.
I know I’m biased, but I think if you have never even tried shrimp shells, you are probably missing out on life.
Eating shrimp with their shells on
There are a couple of ways to eat shrimp:
- Just peel them and gobble them up
- Simply suck out the shrimp’s head and toss all the other stuff
- Without shelling them, twist them by their legs off and on again, leaving you a delicious treat that you can nibble at. Use their legs like little cocktail sticks. When you’re done, there’ll be nothing left but the shell and legs.
This is probably the easiest way to enjoy shrimp with shells. If this doesn’t appeal to you, try one of these three ways that involve cooking.
- Broiling or baking
- In stock, or a broth
Broiling or baking
You can use the same method for shrimp shells if you’ve previously prepared soft-shelled crabs in the oven or broiler. The shells can be left on the shrimps, and they will still be edible.
This technique has been tried by many chefs and cooks. Although many folks find the shell’s texture difficult at first, dishes like these have become very popular in New Orleans.
In stock, or a broth
Why not try some shrimp-flavored soup? Shrimp-flavored soup is probably the most popular way to use plain shrimp shells, and arguably the best way.
Place the shells in a boiling broth or gravy, then lower the heat to simmer. Allow the shells to cook until they are semi-dissolved. (They will never dissolve completely.)
The resultant texture can still be a problem for many people, just as with any other type of shell soup. You might want to eat around the shells, or you might want to pick them out of the gravy. The important thing is that you enjoy your meal, so don’t sweat it either way.
Tip: if you want something delicious and easy to make, cook shrimp shells in broth, then add it to seafood-based meals, even as a gravy for fish, for example.
As I mentioned above, deep-fried shrimps with their shells intact are a favorite of Eastern cultures. If salted and peppered properly, you can eat them directly by hand. You can also dip them in a sauce.
This recipe can be made at home by deep-frying or pan-frying the shrimp until they are golden brown. If you are going to dip the shrimps in a sauce, you don’t need to season them, as their flavor will shine through.
When done properly, deep-fried shrimp shells become brittle and crispy. This method of cooking shrimp with the shell makes it easier to enjoy the flavor and even the texture, which far more people can tolerate when the shrimp is presented this way.
Frequently Asked Questions About Can You Eat Shrimp Shells
Can eating shrimp shells make me ill?
Unless you happen to be specifically allergic to it, no. However, this would be a super-rare allergy (I’ve certainly never heard of it). Most people are usually either allergic to shrimp or not. I don’t know anyone who is allergic to just the shell.
Why do I get stomach upset when I eat shrimp shells?
You’re probably eating too many. Of course, although the shell is digestible, it takes time to digest, and the more the number of shells consumed, the longer it’s going to take to digest them. In effect, eating too many shrimp shells can lead to discomfort–but that’s no different from eating too much of any other food.
Can I eat shrimps’ legs?
Shrimps’ legs (as well as their tails) can be delightful to eat. There is something unique about shrimps’ legs that sets them apart from other parts of the shrimp. When cooked, the legs can turn crispy, and people seem to love their texture. Folks will even often eat the legs individually. The delicate and tasty seasonings added to shrimps’ legs probably account for their popularity.
Afterword: Can you eat shrimp shells?
You know now that you can eat shrimp shells quite safely, and they won’t harm your health when eaten in moderation.
The shells are very unlikely to cause any allergic reactions if you’re not allergic to shrimp (but I’m not offering medical advice here!).
If you can’t stand the thought or texture of eating the shells, use them to prepare a delicate shrimp-flavored sauce suggested above and use them in tandem with shrimp meat.