Why do my shrimp taste like chlorine? Guide to buying better shrimp

by Joost Nusselder | Last Updated:  June 18, 2022

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I’d like to quote Charles Dickens in his book A Tale of Two Cities, where he wrote: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.”

Most people thought that he was only talking about the French Revolution itself; however, some contend that he may have been referring to the worldwide state of the shrimp industry.

It was in a state of decline in the latter years of the 16th century, and had it not recovered, we would’ve had a boring seafood industry today. 

But it can still be tricky to get fresh enough seafood, depending on where you live. And a lot of you have asked: Why do my shrimp taste like chlorine?

Why do my shrimp taste like chlorine

If your shrimp tastes like chlorine or ammonia, it’s bad for you, and you best stay away from it. You can tell whether shrimp is good by its firm meat and sweet taste.

Bad shrimp are easily identified, as they taste like ammonia or chlorine. Not only do they stink, but they’re sometimes harmful to your health. Apparently, they use these chemicals to clean and preserve the shrimp.

Fortunately, that’s becoming less and less of a problem as consumers become more aware and companies have to follow suit.

Flourishing shrimp industry

Well, if you ask me, I’m just glad that the shrimp industry is booming now more than ever! Chefs and regular folks come up with awesome shrimp recipes regularly, so you can just look them up on the internet, follow the cooking directions, and come up with the same exact tasty seafood delight as they did.

In a 2015 survey by the National Fisheries Institute (NFI), they found that there has been an 11.11% increase in shrimp consumption by Americans between 2013 and 2014, which sums up to 4.5 lbs of shrimp per person per year (previously, it was 3.6 lbs in 2013).

I’m very happy that a lot of people are enjoying seafood these days! And it gives a lot more opportunities to get your hands on fresh and chlorine-free shrimp.

Shrimp, which is a very succulent delicacy and one of the most delicious crustaceans around, is also a very versatile kind of food to ever grace our dinner plates. You can grill it, smoke it, and even eat it raw.

Practically anywhere you go, as long as it’s a city near the sea (some cities that don’t have a bay area purchase seafood (including shrimp) from suppliers and they get delivered via trailer trucks), you can almost always order a shrimp dish.

You can get smoked shrimp in Denmark, piri piri shrimp in South Africa, tandoori prawns in India, and other similar cuisines in other places.

Want to make something different with these? Why not try these shrimp appetizers on a smoker?

The shrimp industry smells

However, there seems to be something stinking in shrimp farms around the world. And it’s not just negative publicity, but some very serious implications.

There are news of abusive labor practices, polluted shrimp farms, and industrial packing plants using “unsafe” chemical preservatives. These kinds of news would be more than enough to make you feel like vomiting and never eat shrimp again, but I don’t think just about every shrimp supplier is that bad.


Feeling more like eating meat? Check out this amazing smoked lamb shoulder recipe

How to buy chlorine-free shrimp

Now that you have a couple of history lessons on the shrimp business, it’s time to find out how to purchase them as safely as possible. Your local supermarket won’t tell you whether they’re fresh or have no unwanted chemicals on them, so I thought we should.

It’s certainly something different if you’re thinking about smoked shrimp instead of the immensely popular pulled pork recipes that are dominating the market right now.

Local or imported

Cities that are on the East, West, and Gulf Coast here in the United States are the only ones that have a large local supply of wild and farmed shrimp. The rest of the country heavily relies on imported shrimp.

Roughly 90% of the shrimp we eat is imported from other countries and the biggest exporters of these succulent crustaceans are China and Thailand. In some cases, some store owners put up signs on which country the shrimp came from and most of the shrimp are farm-raised as well.

Wild or farmed

In case you have very little choice but to buy farm-raised shrimps, then try to choose those that have the “Best Aquaculture Practices Label” issued by the non-profit Aquaculture Certification Council. This non-profit organization is dedicated to providing good information to the American people on food safety, especially those that are imported into the country.

It’s unfortunate to know that some farm-raised shrimp are treated with banned chemicals, antibiotics, pesticides, or other contaminants that are hazardous to your health.

Frozen or fresh

If you live near the coastlines or in the Gulf of Mexico, then there should at least be 1 supermarket that gets a fresh supply of shrimp from fishing trawlers. You’re lucky if this is the case because you’ll have an infinite supply of fresh shrimp daily!

However, if you live inland, then you can also buy frozen shrimp. And if they’re not imported, then you can be certain that they came from the East or West Coast and are shipped to your location.

With its head on or not

Most of you may not like the idea of seeing a shrimp with its head still on while the seafood delicacy’s served on your table. However, you’d be surprised by the benefits it can bring!

In reality, shrimp heads add depth of flavor to soups, stews, shrimp boils, and mixed grills. Plus, the juices in the heads are incredibly tasty too!

With or without its shell

Most supermarkets don’t have the time to remove the shrimp shells, so you may have to settle with them on. But they’re not that bad at all, as they protect the delicate meat from the ice they’re displayed on and also from high temperatures, especially when you grill them.

It’s a lot more fun to eat them with their soft shells on. I mean, if you like peeling them off while eating, that is. Japanese restaurants have popular fried peeled shrimp cuisines that really taste good with chili sauce!

Shrimp size

Don’t get carried away by their labels when you’re purchasing shrimp, because it’s better to buy per pound than by size. You may see labels like “small,” “medium,” “large,” “jumbo,” or “extra colossal;” however, these can be misleading sometimes, and you’ll be forced to pay a larger amount than what you intended to pay for the shrimp!

Tell the vendor that you want the U-10s, as this code indicates that there should be around 10 large shrimp for every pound of them you’ll get.

It’s up to you to decide if you want the shrimps with their heads on or off after that. In my opinion, it’s better to buy them with their heads on, as they’re great for grilling.

Fresh shrimp free from chemicals

Purchase fresh shrimp, without stinky smells

As a rule of thumb, when buying seafood products, always rely on your nose. Check if the shrimp smell fresh or if they have some repulsive odor (it could be ammonia, chlorine, or boat bilge). If they do, then it’s not a good sign.

Furthermore, if you don’t get fresh shrimp at your local supermarket, then you can also opt to buy online. Websites like Linton’s Seafood are good places to find fresh or frozen shrimp.

Also check out: which BBQ smoker to buy

Joost Nusselder, the founder of Lakeside Smokers is a content marketer, dad and loves trying out new food with BBQ Smoking (& Japanese food!) at the heart of his passion, and together with his team he's been creating in-depth blog articles since 2016 to help loyal readers with recipes and cooking tips.