Many restaurants serve shrimp with the tail still attached, but these tails are usually removed and discarded before we eat the shrimp if you are a fan of seafood. Shrimp tails are edible, although the hard outer shell may pose a choking hazard. The soft inner flesh is one of the most delicious parts of shrimp and should not be discarded.
Depending on the culture, shrimp tails may be deep-fried as an appetizer and regarded as a delicacy! Learn why shrimps are normally served with the tail still on, what’s inside the tail, and whether it’s a good idea to eat the tail.
What Are Shrimp Tails?
The first thing we need to do is take a look at shrimp’s anatomy. Shrimp are aquatic creatures classified as crustaceans, which means they have an exoskeleton on the outside of their bodies. When you observe a shrimp before it’s prepared for eating, you’ll see it has a hard body attached to a large head, ten small legs, and a tail. It is rare to see shrimp with their shells still attached. Shrimp are normally served with their shells removed.
Some seafood fans may be familiar with prawns or langoustines that are served whole in their shells. These organisms share many of the same anatomical features as unpeeled shrimp. There are two common ways to serve shrimp if you buy them or order them in a restaurant. The external shell, legs, head, and tail may be removed completely or only the tail may be removed.
Many chefs feel that shrimp look more appealing with the tail on, so the tail is left on for presentation and appearance purposes. There are some people who believe leaving the tail on shrimp enhances its flavor, just as cooking meat on the bone is considered preferable.
Leave the tail on shrimp if you are serving them as finger food or appetizers. People can pick them up and eat them without touching the flesh. Could shrimp tails, which we’ve always removed and thrown away, actually be tasty and edible? Let’s find out!
Can You Safely Eat Shrimp Tails?
Shrimp tails are attached to the body of this delicious and flavorful crustacean. We usually discard the tail, if it is left on, because it is not used for eating.
If we want to know whether we can eat shrimp tails, we need to examine this part closely.
A thin point forms where the body connects to the tail, so the tail contains a small amount of flesh enclosed in a hard shell.
At the end of the tail, a harder, thicker shell surrounds the fleshy part of the tail. The shell encasing the body and fleshy tail is relatively soft.
Most people don’t eat shrimp shells, especially the very end of the tail, as this piece of shell is hard, crunchy, and unpleasant.
Shrimps with thinner shells and fleshier tails are also easier to chew. Generally, smaller shrimp have thinner shells.
The texture of this section of the shell is very different from the soft and juicy shrimp flesh inside.
The softer shell of a shrimp could be eaten, but we would not recommend eating the harder shell at the end of the tail, as it may be choking hazard.
Similarly, you should never eat the hard shell of a larger crustacean such as a langoustine.
When pulling the tails off cooked shrimp, many people fail to notice that there is a tiny but delicious piece of meat inside the soft shell.
The tail of a shrimp is one of its most succulent and tasty parts, so gently peel it away rather than pulling it off.
Do Most People Eat Shrimp Tails Or Not?
When shrimp are served with the tail on, most people peel it off and throw it out. The tail adds flavor to the dish, but the tough, chewy shell is unpleasant to eat.
The soft and succulent flesh inside the shrimp tail should be preserved and eaten. The rest of tail is normally discarded when shrimp is served with the tail on.
There are some circumstances in which shrimp tails are eaten and are considered a delicacy! In northern Chinese and Thai cuisines, shrimp tails are served separately as an appetizer.
A typical way of serving shrimp tails is to coat them in flour and cornstarch, and then deep fry them.
A seasoning, such as red pepper flakes, is then sprinkled on them.
Small shrimp are also sometimes cooked with their shell, head, and legs still attached. The exoskeleton on small shrimp tends to be thinner and easier to chew.
Frying or broiling whole small shrimp is the most common way to prepare them.
It may be intended that you eat the entire shrimp without peeling it if you’re served a plate of whole shrimp without shells.
Until recently, scientists believed humans couldn’t digest shrimp shells, but recent studies have shown we can digest shrimp shells using the enzyme chitinase.
Shrimp tail shells are perfectly safe to eat when prepared and cooked correctly. They may even reduce cholesterol levels when properly prepared.
You don’t have to eat shrimp tails if you don’t like them. The tail of a shrimp, along with its head, outer shell, and legs, contain the most intense and sweet flavors.
You can cook peeled shrimp with this rich and flavorful stock, or make a separate sauce to serve with your seafood dish.
What Do Shrimp Tails Taste Like?
The flavor of shrimp tails is fairly subtle. They taste similar to the flesh of the shrimp, but are more mild.
Shrimp tails and other parts of the exoskeleton, however, play a very important role in cooking.
Fully peeled shrimp tend not to absorb much flavor from the ingredients they are cooked with when fully peeled.
By leaving some or all of the shell in place, the ingredients are trapped inside; this creates an intense flavor hit and preserves the shrimp’s juices.
Due to this, many people prefer to eat shrimp that have not been peeled or who still have the tail on. This gives the shrimp a much stronger seafood flavor than if they have been peeled.
Should You Remove The Tails Of Shrimp Before Cooking Them?
As a seafood lover, you may have noticed that shrimp are often served with their tails on. This is due to the difficulty of removing the tails from shrimp.
Although shrimp tails are usually left on for appearances and convenience, sometimes it is better to remove them entirely before cooking.
Shrimp are normally cooked and served with their tails still attached in two situations.
When the consumer can easily remove the tail without too much trouble, that’s the first situation.
Serving shrimp with the tail on, for example, won’t make it difficult for the person eating them, if they are served as part of an appetizer or in a seafood salad.
A second example is when a shrimp is left with its tail on, which allows it to be eaten more easily because the tail acts as a handle, which a person can hold while eating the shrimp’s body.
When it comes to eating deep-fried battered shrimp, you can pick up the shrimp by the tail and nibble off the body after it is dipped in the batter.
Normally, shrimp would not be served with the tail or any part of the shell still attached.
If the person eating the dish had to pick up the shrimp and pull off the tail with their fingers, it would be far too messy.
You can imagine how messy peeling the tails off shrimps in a dish such as shrimp paella or seafood linguine would be!
It is best to remove the tails from shrimp before cooking them in sauces, broths, or other juicy dishes. Otherwise, your guests will be needing napkins and hand wipes to clean their fingers!
Watch this quick video from Clean & Delicious on YouTube to learn how to peel and devein shrimp: