Picture this: You’re at a restaurant, excitedly awaiting your favorite seafood dish – a generous plate of sumptuously prepared shrimp. As the aroma of the freshly cooked meal wafts through the air, you can’t help but salivate at the thought of the first juicy, mouth-watering bite.
But then – hold up – your mind starts wandering as your gaze fixated on the once-forgotten shrimp tails lying snugly on the edge of the plate. You find yourself pondering that age-old question: Can you eat shrimp tails? Are you missing out on a crunchy treat or escaping a culinary calamity? In this blog post, we’ll be diving deep to explore this surprisingly debatable topic and unravel the mystery that surrounds the culinary fate of shrimp tails.
What are shrimp tails made of?
Shrimp tails are made up of chitin, a natural carbohydrate polymer that forms the exoskeletons of crustaceans like shrimp and lobster . The chitin provides structure and protection for the shrimp’s tail, much like bones do for humans. When cooked, the chitin becomes more brittle and is easily removed from the meat of the shrimp. However, in some cultures, the tails are saved and used to make flavorful broths and stocks.
Can You Eat Shrimp Tails?
The answer is yes, shrimp tails are edible and can actually be quite delicious. Shrimp tails can be a delightful addition to various cuisines and offer a crunchy texture that complements the shrimp meat. They are particularly popular in Thai and Northeastern Chinese dishes and can be served as eye-catching appetizers.
( However, do keep in mind some people might be allergic to the chitin in the shrimp shells.)
See also: Shrimp scampi recipe without wine
Shrimp tails can be digested by humans
If you’re worried about the tails being too tough to digest, don’t fret. Studies have shown that human gastric juice contains the enzyme chitinase, which can break down the chitin found in shrimp tails, making them safe to eat. 
What benefits of eating shrimp tails?
Eating shrimp tails may sound unconventional, but they can actually have some benefits for those who choose to indulge in them. One of the main advantages of consuming shrimp tails is their nutritional value.
Shrimp tails contain chitin, which is a component found in the supplement Chitosan. Studies have indicated that chitin can help lower cholesterol levels, which could be beneficial to heart health. [3, 4, doi] “A beneficial effect of chitin-chitosan as a food supplement is the reduction of plasma cholesterol and triglycerides due to its ability to bind dietary lipids, thereby reducing intestinal lipid absorption“
In addition to their potential health benefits, shrimp tails also add a unique flavor and texture to dishes. The tails can provide a satisfying crunch, while also enhancing the overall aroma and taste of the dish. Some chefs even use the tails as a garnish or to give a dish a more visually appealing presentation.
Some people may be allergic to chitin in the shrimp tail shell.
While it is not a common allergen, some individuals may develop an allergic reaction to chitin . Symptoms may include itching, swelling, and difficulty breathing. It is important for individuals with a known chitin allergy to avoid consuming shrimp or any other shellfish that may contain this protein.
If you think you may have an allergy to chitin or are experiencing symptoms after consuming shellfish, seek medical attention immediately.
Shrimp tails can be left on or taken off depending on the dish
Dishes that are typically eaten with hands, like popcorn shrimp or shrimp cocktail, often have the tails left on as a sort of handle for easy consumption. The tails are also visually appealing, adding a touch of decoration to the plate. In contrast, shrimp tails are generally removed for dishes that are consumed with utensils, such as pasta, risotto, or stir-fry.
Can dogs eat shrimp tails?
Shrimp tails are composed primarily of chitin, a tough substance that is difficult for dogs to break down and digest. Moreover, their small and rigid nature makes them difficult for dogs to swallow, posing a choking risk, especially in smaller breeds. Furthermore, attempting to consume large shrimp tails could also result in irritation or injury to the dog’s upper gastrointestinal tract.
Another concern is the possibility of raw shrimp tails being a source of bacteria, which could make your dog sick. Cooked shrimp can be a safe and nutritionally beneficial treat for canines when given in moderated amounts, but no such benefits come from allowing your pet to consume shrimp tails. Lastly, it’s worth considering that shrimp can trigger allergies in some dogs, so it’s always best to introduce new foods slowly and under close observation.
Can cats eat shrimp tails?
Cats, being obligate carnivores, have a diet primarily based on meat and derive their nutrients from animal proteins. While cats do require a high-protein diet, feeding them seafood may come with certain risks.
For humans, chitin has potential health benefits, such as reducing cholesterol levels and enhancing gut health. However, cats lack the enzymes needed to break down chitin efficiently, which might impair digestion.
Q: How can you prepare shrimp tails for consumption?
A: One popular way is to deep-fry them after coating them in flour and cornstarch, and then sprinkling with red pepper flakes. If that doesn’t suit your taste, you can also use shrimp tails to make a quick stock, which is perfect for making delicious risottos, gumbo, or as a replacement for various broths.
Q: Are shrimp tails edible?
A: Yes, shrimp tails are indeed edible and can be a flavorsome addition to certain dishes.
Q: How long does it take to cook shrimp with tail on?
A: On average, it takes about two to three minutes to cook small shrimp, while large shrimp may require four to five minutes.
For shrimp that are boiled or steamed, it’s essential to check the color to ensure they are fully cooked. When cooked through, shrimp typically turn pink and opaque; the tails will curl slightly. In the case of pan-searing or grilling, two to three minutes per side should suffice for perfectly cooked shrimp with a slightly charred exterior.
Q: Should I remove tail before cooking shrimp?
A: Deciding whether to remove the tails before cooking is often a matter of personal preference. Some individuals prefer to keep the shrimp tails on for presentation purposes or to use them as a built-in handle for finger foods. In such cases, the tails give the dish a more dramatic look, making the shrimp more visually appealing.
On the other hand, some people choose to remove the tails before cooking to make the dish easier to eat, especially when serving dishes like pasta, where all the components are meant to be eaten in bite-sized pieces. In these cases, removing the shrimp tails can make the dish more convenient and enjoyable for diners, since they won’t need to cut off the tails themselves while eating.
Q: Can you eat cooked shrimp tails?
A: Yes, you can certainly eat cooked shrimp tails!
Q: Can you eat the tail of shrimp tempura?
A: Yes, you can absolutely eat the tail of shrimp tempura.
Shrimp tails, including those served in tempura dishes, are indeed edible and provide an extra crunch to the already delicious dish. This practice of eating the tail is quite common in some Asian cuisines, particularly in Japanese dishes like shrimp tempura. The tail adds an interesting textural element that many diners find enjoyable.
Q: Can you eat shrimp tails in sushi?
A: Yes, shrimp tails in sushi are edible and can be consumed safely. There is nothing dangerous, poisonous, or unhealthy about ingesting them.
Bill Dawers is the CEO of naan on broughton, a contemporary Indian restaurant in Savannah, GA. The restaurant opened a few weeks ago and has already found a fan in City Talk columnist Bill Dawers. The restaurant sits right across the street from the Marshall House on Broughton Street, joining the large number of hot spots on the shopping street.