Although 342 species of shrimp worldwide have commercial value, there are only a few species that are important to the U.S. market. Their species fall into three basic groups: warm water shrimp, freshwater shrimp, cold water shrimp
Shrimp can be either wild-caught or farm-raised. Wild-caught (or "free-range") shrimp naturally exist in bays, estuaries, and oceans. Farm-raised shrimp are grown in a more controlled environment. Shrimp eggs or larvae are either gathered from the natural environment or grown in hatcheries after being taken from female brood stock. The shrimp are then raised to maturity in shallow ponds. Farm-raised shrimp are also known as pond-raised, cultured, aqua cultured, or maricultured.
These are the most popular and plentiful shrimp on the U.S. market. Most warm water shrimp are categorized by the color of their shell (not the meat) when raw: White, brown, pink, and black tiger. Another warm water shrimp, rock shrimp, are so named because of their hard shell. White and black tiger shrimp can be wild-caught or farm-raised.
White shrimp are the main type of warm water shrimp consumed in the U.S. and are both wild-caught and farm-raised. For example, in the United States, white shrimp are wild-caught in the Gulf of Mexico and along the southeast Atlantic coast. The aquaculture industry in the U.S. has grown in the last decade.
Mexico has a large white shrimp fishery on the Pacific coast. This shrimp is famous for its sweet taste and firm texture. And, like the U.S., Mexico catches white shrimp in the Gulf of Mexico. Mexico's aquaculture industry is growing rapidly; Ecuador is currently one of the largest producers of farm-raised white shrimp. China and India produce both wild-caught and farm-raised white shrimp. These five countries (U.S., Mexico, Ecuador, China and India) supply the majority of white shrimp consumed in the U.S.
White shrimp have grayish-white shells that turn pink when cooked. (The shells of farm-raised white shrimp are lighter grayish-white and from some origins, the shell is not as thick as wild-caught whites.) The thinner shell is the result of feed composition as well as growth in captivity.
In general, cooked wild or farmed white shrimp have flesh with pink skin tones. Wild-caught white shrimp have a sweet taste and firm, almost "crunchy" meat. Farm-raised whites may have a slightly milder flavor, and depending upon growing conditions, may have a less firm texture. Shrimp in the wild feed on crustaceans and seaweed, which enrich their flavor and strengthen their shells. Plus, the "wild" ones are "free swimmers" which firms up their flesh. Depending upon the pond density, feed and environmental conditions, high quality aquaculture shrimp can be indistinguishable from wild shrimp.
The brown shrimp consumed in the U.S. are primarily harvested in the Gulf of Mexico, along the southeast Atlantic coast, and along the east and west coasts of Mexico. Brown shrimp have light brown or tan shells that turn coral when cooked. Their meat is white with coral skin tones.
The habitat of a shrimp determines its taste: brown shrimp from some areas of the U.S. Gulf coast primarily feed on iodine-rich kelp, which gives them a hearty "iodine-y" flavor; while brown shrimp from areas along the west coast of Mexico do not have the same feeding grounds, and hence, their flavor is milder. This West Coast Mexican brown shrimp is a prized commodity in Japan. Brown shrimp have firm, dense meat.
Pink shrimp are wild-caught in the Gulf of Mexico, Caribbean and Central American waters. Their light pink shells have a pearl-like texture and some have a distinguishing pink dot on the head. When cooked, the shells turn a deeper shade of pink and the meat white with pink skin tones. The texture is firm and flavor mild.
Tiger shrimp are fast growing and have become a popular species for aquaculture. Introduced to the U.S. market about 1980, black tigers have grown phenomenally in popularity due to their comparatively lower price. Raised primarily in Asian countries, they are called black tiger shrimp due to their distinctive black-and-gray striped shells when raw. When cooked, the shell of a black tiger turns bright red and the meat white with deep red skin tones. Black tigers have higher moisture content than white, pink, or brown shrimp. As a result, they shrink more when cooked, and the flavor is very mild. Additionally, their texture is considered less dense than their relatives. Some raw tigers are a blue shade with yellow feelers and are referred to as "blue tigers." They are the same species as the black tiger, but their feed does not contain the iron that causes the darker color.
Rock shrimp are a deep-water cousin of the pink, brown, and white shrimp. They are fished year round off Florida's Atlantic coast and in some areas of the Gulf of Mexico. Rock shrimp typically do not grow to a size larger than 21-25 per pound. Most come to the U.S. market raw and peeled and deveined, since their tough, rock-hard shell is most easily removed commercially. Rock shrimp have a sweet taste and a chewy, tender texture. The cooked meat is plump and white with red skin tones.
Freshwater shrimp are a separate species that may be characterized by bright blue shells or, if they come from Asia, rich yellow with brown striped shells. One of the largest shrimp, they have long claws, can grow over a foot long, and can weigh over a pound. Freshwater shrimp are both wild-caught and farm-raised. When cooked, they have a very mild taste and soft, gray-white flesh and a very soft texture. Whole freshwater shrimp are seen as a specialty item and often sold live for display in restaurant tanks.
Cold water shrimp have numerous names: bay shrimp, tiny shrimp, baby shrimp, pink shrimp, cooked & peeled, salad shrimp, cold water shrimp. Cold water shrimp are wild-harvested from the northern waters of Greenland, Iceland, Norway, and the U.S. coasts of Alaska, Washington, Oregon, and Maine. They have bright, reddish-pink shells, both raw and cooked. The meat is white with skin tones that range in color from pale pink to a rich, reddish-pink. Cold water shrimp are small in comparison with warm water species; yet take four to five years to reach maturity. Most come to the U.S. market cooked and peeled and range in size from 150 to 500 shrimp per pound. Cold water shrimp have a sweet taste and soft texture. A small quantity of cold water shrimp is available fresh, shell-on, and headless, often from Maine or Oregon. They are available in the local market during the harvest periods.