Shrimp Buying Guide - How to Purchase Fresh Shrimp

While shrimp might not be the world champion when it comes to seafood consumption, it is the reigning champ in the United States, with more than one billion pounds of the beloved crustaceans being consumed each year. In fact, Americans eat more shrimp than anyone else, so it should not be surprising that it is taken seriously.

However, despite the amount of shrimp eaten by Americans each year, most of it does not come from the states. While there are exceptions, the majority of shrimp sold and eaten in the US comes from Asia and Central America. Even at reputable fish markets, there is a greater chance that you will find something imported than remotely local.

The fact that most of the shrimp available comes from other countries highlights how important it is to know how to buy shrimp. Of course, learning this is not an easy task and might depend on availability where you live. But that is precisely the goal of this article: to help you understand your options and buy the best shrimp possible.

The Types of Shrimp Available

While the majority of people are only familiar with a few types of shrimp, there are actually more than 2,000 different species of shrimp. However, not that many are commercially available. In fact, it can all be boiled down to around six main types of shrimp, which makes it a lot easier to figure out what you should buy.

The Shrimp That Most People Think About

There are three types of shrimp that come to mind for most people, and those are pink, white, and brown shrimp. These are the most common shrimp, and they each have their own unique points.

  • Pink Shrimp: These shrimp are usually pink when raw and incredibly tasty, even considered to be some of the tastiest shrimp out there. They are mild and sweet, and their small size has earned them the label “salad shrimp” in some circles. You will find them as essential components in plenty of seafood cuisine.

  • White Shrimp: White shrimp come in several varieties, but they are all tender and sweet. They are also large and firm enough to find a place in kitchens around the world, with many chefs appreciating their flavor and how easy they are to use.

  • Brown Shrimp: Another common type of shrimp that many people think about are brown shrimp. These shrimp are firm in texture and have a unique flavor, though it can vary from mildly sweet to salty. Some even have an iodine-like flavor. Their unique flavor is sought after for certain dishes.

  • While these are the most common types of shrimp — which are thought of and used by most people — there are a few other types of regularly used shrimp out there.

    Some Other Shrimp Choices

    Since there are so many types of shrimp out there, it is not a surprise that the variety extends beyond three basic types. Moreover, even these choices are not all that rare, with rock shrimp, tiger shrimp, and spot shrimp being known by many.

  • Rock Shrimp: These shrimp are difficult to work with, and they were all but ignored for a long time because of that. However, technology changed things, and they are now a great choice for those that want a sweet protein that shares a flavor profile with spiny lobster.

  • Tiger Shrimp: A shrimp with tiger stripes on its body stands out, but their mild flavor and firm texture make them a popular option. They can also get absolutely massive, growing to sizes around a foot long. Moreover, their popularity has them as one of the most farmed shrimp in the world.

  • Spot Shrimp: While a lot of people have probably heard about these shrimp, they are often called spot prawns instead of shrimp. Despite the usage of “prawn,” these are actually shrimp, and they are a great variety, being both sweet and tender. They get pretty large as well.

  • There are plenty of other shrimp out there, such as the incredibly rich royal red shrimp. However, if you are looking for something fantastic that is easy to work with and find, then it is advised that you consider the more common options.

    The Tastiest Shrimp

    There is not really a tastiest type of shrimp. People have different preferences, and some of the flavor profiles work better in certain places than others. That being said, spot shrimp are known to be some of the tastiest, especially if you want a rich shrimp flavor. On the other hand, rock shrimp are often compared to lobster.

    The Different Sizes of Shrimp

    Now that you know a little more about the types of shrimp on the market, you should consider the size of shrimp you want. The first thing to know is that shrimp have a unique size scale, which involves labeling them by the amount of shrimp it takes to make a pound.

    An example of the way shrimp are sized is 21/25, which denotes that there are 21 to 25 shrimp in a pound. Sometimes, a “U” is used as well, which means less than. Therefore, 10U would mean that there are less than ten shrimp in a pound. The trend means that the smaller the number, the larger the shrimp.

    That being said, most people are probably more familiar with labels such as “large” and “jumbo” shrimp. Here is a simple chart that classifies the most common sizes by their numeric counterpart:

    Sizing Term

    Count Per Pound











    There is some overlap, but that is because there are more sizing terms, such as “medium large” for shrimp. Knowing the sizes is important for a few reasons, but the most applicable one for most people is for understanding how many to buy for a recipe. Additionally, the count per pound is affected by whether the shells and heads are on.

    Heads, Shells, and Veins

    The type and size of the shrimp are not the only factors to consider when you are shopping. You also have to consider how much of the work is already done for you and whether you want any of the work to have already been done. After all, a lot of the flavor comes from these components.

    A good place to start is with the heads and shells, though, since they affect the counts mentioned above.

    Heads and Shells

    While the heads and shells of a shrimp cause the size count to be off, with there being fewer shrimp per pound, there are times when you want these things. In particular, those buying the shrimp to use in stocks and various recipes might want to keep the heads and shells on.

    If you want to skip the work and do not need those parts of the shrimp, though, then you are better off leaving them behind. In fact, shrimp without heads even tend to stay fresh for a longer period of time. Additionally, while shelled shrimp tend to be cheaper and sweeter, if you would prefer to avoid the hassle, feel free to do so.


    There is no instance where you want to keep the vein, as it comes with an unpleasant texture and taste. Moreover, it is part of a shrimp’s digestive tract, which is unappetizing, even if it is harmless if consumed. The only reason not to buy deveined shrimp is if it is not an option for the type of shrimp you want or if you want to do it yourself.

    The Importance of Freshness

    While type, size, and preparation are all important when you are shopping for shrimp, the thing you really need to consider is the freshness of the shrimp you are buying. As mentioned earlier, most of the shrimp in the US comes from overseas, which means that it has been frozen, and it is impossible to know for how long.

    Of course, there are two different freezing processes, which are block freezing and the Individually Quick Frozen (IQF) method. The IQF method is superior, with the shrimp receiving less damage, but block freezing is the most common method. That being said, there are other options.

    Buying the Freshest Shrimp

    While most shrimp is frozen, there are differences between frozen shrimp. There are also other methods of obtaining shrimp. Therefore, it is important to understand the options and know what to look for when shopping. Here are a few different methods for obtaining shrimp and what to consider:

  • Straight from the Source: Buying shrimp directly from a shrimper is perhaps the best option under most circumstances, but it depends a lot on location, and it can be a lot of work. Moreover, you have to know a shrimper who does not spend too long at sea since they would have to freeze the shrimp while shrimping.

  • Go to a Local Fish Market: There are a lot of fish markets out there, and while you are likely to only find frozen shrimp, you can get to know the fishmonger and try to get the freshest products. Many of them get new shipments in regularly, and those will be a fresher option.

  • Frozen Shrimp: Most of these options are going to experience freezing. However, if you buy frozen shrimp, make sure to look for flash-frozen or IQF frozen shrimp. You should also avoid the thawed shrimp at most markets, which is almost always frozen shrimp that has been thawed, reducing the quality.

  • However, while these are the most common ways to buy the freshest shrimp, there are alternatives, such as Sun Shrimp.

    The Beauty of Sun Shrimp

    When you are buying shrimp, the most important thing is freshness, and Sun Shrimp delivers on that in a way that nobody else does. The shrimp from Sun Shrimp comes from an island off the Southwest Coast of Florida, which prevents it from having to be frozen for long.

    Sun Shrimp also takes pride in shipping its shrimp out hours after harvest, freezing their shrimp in vacuum skin packages that keep the shrimp fresh while eliminating mess and odor. Their shrimp can even receive expedited shipping, ensuring the utmost freshness of their shrimp, no matter where you are in the US.

    Variety of Products

    Sun Shrimp is not just great because of the freshness of the shrimp, though. Sun Shrimp also provides a variety of products to choose from. While they only sell one species of shrimp, it is a versatile shrimp known as Pacific White Shrimp (Ecuadorian Whites). They are the most cultured shrimp in the world, and it is for a good reason.

    They also sell both large and jumbo shrimp, offering the ability to purchase different quantities of these delicious shrimp. Moreover, you can choose how you want your shrimp to come:

    • Whole Sun Shrimp
    • Sun Shrimp Tails
    • Peeled and Deveined Sun Shrimp

    The preparations mentioned before are all possible with Sun Shrimp. If you want the heads and shells for stocks or recipes, you can get them. The same is true for peeled and deveined or Sun Shrimp tails. No matter which you choose, they will arrive fresh and ready to go.

    The Best Shrimp to Buy

    The simple answer is that there are no “best” shrimp. Each type of shrimp has its own strong points. If you are deciding purely based on flavor, then spot shrimp are a solid choice. If you prefer something that will be available in most places, white shrimp and pink shrimp are both great options. Moreover, pink and white shrimp are easier to cook.

    The most important thing when you are talking about the best shrimp is still freshness. It cannot be stressed enough that fresh shrimp are vital, no matter how you plan on using them. Whether you want them by themselves or in a dish, they will only be good if they are fresh.

    Freshness being so important is why Sun Shrimp is such a great choice. It allows you to have great shrimp that is shipped out hours after harvest. Plus, there are plenty of convenient aspects, from the way the shrimp is packaged to the at-home delivery.

    When it comes down to it, you have to make choices based on your circumstances. Things like the size and type of shrimp often depend on their purpose. Additionally, the availability of fresh shrimp changes greatly based on location. Just keep in mind that there is always a fresh option. There is always Sun Shrimp.

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    How to Cook Fresh Shrimp

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