What part of the shrimp head is edible?

Shrimp are a popular type of seafood that are enjoyed around the world. While many people eat just the shrimp’s tail, the head and shell also contain edible parts. Knowing which parts of a shrimp’s head are edible can help reduce food waste and provide more value from this tasty crustacean.

Are shrimp heads edible?

Yes, shrimp heads are edible. In fact, there are several parts of a shrimp’s head that are not only edible but also very flavorful.

The main edible parts of a shrimp head include:

  • Rostrum – The pointy part at the end of the head
  • Carapace – The hard upper shell covering the head
  • Eyes
  • Brain
  • Antennae

While the legs and smaller appendages can also be eaten, they don’t contain much meat. The rostrum, carapace, eyes, brain and antennae are the shrimp head parts with the most culinary value.

Are shrimp heads healthy?

Yes, shrimp heads are nutritious. Shrimp heads contain a concentrated amount of the nutrients found in shrimp tails. This includes:

  • Protein – Shrimp are a high protein food, providing lots of this important nutrient for building muscle.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids – Shrimp contain beneficial fats that are good for heart and brain health.
  • Vitamin B12 – Shrimp are an excellent source of vitamin B12, which supports nerve function.
  • Selenium – This antioxidant mineral found in shrimp may reduce inflammation and boost immunity.
  • Astaxanthin – This antioxidant compound gives shrimp their reddish-pink color and provides health benefits.

Eating the heads adds to the nutritional value you get from shrimp. The heads are packed with dense nutrition compared to the tails alone.

Do shrimp heads taste good?

Shrimp heads have a concentrated shrimp flavor. The taste is similar to the tails but even more intense. When cooked properly, shrimp heads offer a robust and delicious flavor.

Here are some notes on the taste of individual parts of a shrimp head:

  • Rostrum – This tip of the head is crunchy and packed with shrimp taste.
  • Eyes – The flavor is likened to soft caviar or sea urchin roe, with a somewhat grainy texture.
  • Carapace – This upper shell is similar in taste to soft-shell crab or shrimp crackers.
  • Brain – The brain has a soft, creamy seafood flavor.
  • Antennae – The antennae offer a pure shrimp essence.

When cooked properly by frying, boiling, grilling or roasting, the entire shrimp head has a wonderful umami seafood taste.

How to cook and eat shrimp heads

Shrimp heads require some additional preparation before eating compared to the tails, but cooking them is fairly simple.

Here are some tips for preparing and cooking shrimp heads:

  • Remove the hard lower shell, but leave the upper carapace on.
  • Optionally remove the legs and smaller appendages.
  • Devein the shrimp by making an incision down the back of the head and removing the digestive tract.
  • Cook briefly either by boiling, grilling, sautéing or roasting.
  • Eat the whole head or remove the meat after cooking.
  • Add seasonings like garlic, lemon, parsley or salt to complement the flavor.

Including shrimp heads in seafood soups, stocks and sauces is an easy way to use them. The heads can also be fried into crunchy chips or used in shrimp head patties.

Nutrition facts of shrimp heads

Here is a comparison of the nutrition facts for 100 grams of boiled shrimp heads vs. tails:

Nutrient Shrimp heads Shrimp tails
Calories 90 85
Protein 18g 15g
Total fat 1g 1g
Carbohydrates 0g 0g
Vitamin B12 12 mcg 4 mcg
Selenium 39 mcg 24 mcg

As shown, shrimp heads provide significantly more protein, vitamin B12 and selenium compared to the tails alone. This makes the heads a very nutritious part of the shrimp.

Shrimp head recipes

There are endless possibilities for creative recipes using shrimp heads. Here are a few tasty ways to cook and enjoy this nutritious part of the shrimp:

Crunchy shrimp head chips

Fry the shrimp heads in oil until the shells are crispy and top with salt and lemon juice for a crunchy snack or garnish.

Shrimp head stock

Simmer shrimp heads in water with vegetables like onions, carrots, celery and peppercorns to make a flavorful seafood stock.

Stir fried shrimp heads

Cook the heads in a hot wok with garlic, chilies, soy sauce and vinegar. Throw in some chopped greens at the end.

Shrimp head curry

Boil the heads, then simmer in a sauce of curry powder, coconut milk and tomatoes for an Indian shrimp head curry.

Shrimp head fritters

Form the shrimp heads into patties with herbs and spices, then fry into crispy fritters.

Can you eat a shrimp’s poop vein?

The dark vein that runs along the back of a shrimp is its digestive tract, often referred to as the “poop vein”. While not appetizing in name, the poop vein is actually edible.

The shrimp poop vein has a gritty, grainy texture and concentrated seafood flavor. Some compare it to the taste of saltwater taffy or seabird guano.

This part of the shrimp contains nutrients like omega-3s, astaxanthin and selenium. Eating the poop vein can provide added nutrition along with the unique taste and texture.

However, because it is the intestinal tract, proper cleaning is essential. The vein should be thoroughly removed and deveined. Washing well can help remove any remaining grittiness or waste material.

When properly prepared, the poop vein is an edible part of the shrimp. The rich flavor and nutrition can be enjoyed by more adventurous seafood eaters.

Are shrimp heads safe to eat?

Yes, shrimp heads are safe to eat when properly stored, handled and prepared. Here are some tips for safe consumption of shrimp heads:

  • Purchase shrimp heads from a reputable seller and inspect for freshness.
  • Store shrimp heads on ice or refrigerated below 40°F (4°C). Use within 2 days.
  • Wash heads thoroughly under cold running water before cooking.
  • Discard any heads with an unpleasant odor.
  • Cook to an internal temperature of at least 145°F (63°C).
  • Consume cooked heads within 3-4 days and reheated leftovers within 3 days.
  • Avoid eating raw or undercooked shrimp to prevent foodborne illness.

By following basic food safety principles, shrimp heads can be safely enjoyed. They provide great flavor and nutrition when properly handled.

Do other cultures eat shrimp heads?

Yes, eating shrimp heads is common in many food cultures around the world. Here are some examples of cuisines that regularly incorporate shrimp heads:

  • Chinese cuisine – Shrimp heads are used for flavoring soups and stews or crispy fried as a snack.
  • Thai cuisine – Roasted shrimp heads are served whole with lime and chili dipping sauce.
  • Filipino cuisine – Shrimp head sisig is a popular appetizer made with grilled shrimp heads.
  • West African cuisine – Spicy shrimp head stews are common in countries like Nigeria and Ghana.
  • Indian cuisine – Shrimp head curries and fritters are an underutilized protein source.
  • Caribbean cuisine – Jamaica’s national dish ackee and saltfish often includes boiled shrimp heads.

Making use of the whole ingredient is key in many food cultures. The flavor, texture and nutrition of shrimp heads are prized around the world.


Shrimp heads are an edible and nutritious part of the shrimp that offer unique flavors and textures. The rostrum, eyes, brain, carapace and antennae all provide culinary value.

When properly cooked, shrimp heads have a robust seafood taste. They can be fried, boiled, roasted or added to soups and stocks. Shrimp heads provide more protein, vitamin B12 and selenium compared to just eating the tails.

Preparing shrimp heads does require some extra work, but offers more value and less waste from this healthy seafood. Countries around the world value and consume shrimp heads in local cuisines.

So don’t throw those heads away next time you cook shrimp. With some creative kitchen skills, you can unlock a tasty source of nutrition that would otherwise go to waste.

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