By Sean Zucker –
There’s a good reason why a character as well-lived as Forrest Gump gravitated toward the shrimp industry: it’s one of the most versatile seafoods around. Shrimp is nutritious, low in calories and delicious when dipped in a cocktail sauce. What might come as a surprise, however, is that the seafood’s shells that are often tossed in the bin are not only edible but equally beneficial.
Before diving into the shells, it’s worth recapping why shrimp is such a boon for health. Time reports that the seafood is an excellent source of lean protein, with a standard three-ounce serving packing nearly 20 grams of protein. Additionally, shrimp provides selenium, an essential compound that helps protect against cell damage and infections. In fact, this serving will provide almost half of the daily recommended amount of selenium, while potentially fighting off cardiovascular disease, cognitive decline, thyroid disease and certain cancers.
If that’s not enough, the dish even offers a hefty dose of omega-3. Time does warn that more processed shrimp can carry large amounts of sodium so it’s best to stick with the American-produced options as they’re held to stricter standards.
Vinmec, a not-for-profit healthcare institution, lists the various additional benefits provided when consuming the shrimp in its entirety, shell included. Just like the meat of it, shrimp shells are a solid source of protein and omega-3 vitamins. But Vinmec adds that the shells also contain high levels of vitamin B12. The combination of these crucial B12 and omega-3 compounds results in shrimp tails having anti-inflammatory effects. This can help reduce the risk of heart disease by improving heart health overall.
These benefits extend throughout the shell down to the tail, all of which is made of an elastic substance known as chitin which does not break down when heated. This protects the meaty flesh bits during the cooking process. Vinmec notes that its nutrients may aid brain development in children and healthy brain functions in adults by providing adequate blood levels of vitamins B12 and omega-3. Outside of the compounds found in shrimp shells, they’re significantly low in calories and combined with their high protein content make for a helpful weight-loss tool. Vinmec explains that protein-rich foods help individuals feel fuller longer, therefore minimizing the threat of overeating.
Clearly, shrimp shells are worth consuming for the health boost they provide but what about the taste? The recipe blog FoodWine.com admits the casings have little to no flavor at all when uncooked and unseasoned. Okay, this might initially make them sound less than appealing. However. the outlet suggests there are various ways to metaphorically spice them up so that they’re enjoyable for taste buds. One option is to drop them in a broth or stew and season them accordingly. Stir-frying is another way to spruce up their flavor and edibility.
Shell recipes don’t stop here. A simple Google search of “shrimp shell recipes” resulted in over eight million hits.
Of course, eating shrimp shells is not without its risks. Vinmec warns that for some people overeating the casings can cause allergic reactions or food poisoning. So, like most things, shrimp shells should be enjoyed in moderation.