Ask a Chef: Why Buy Gulf Shrimp Instead of Imported Product?

When you visit the seafood counter at your local grocery store, you’ll usually see an array of shrimp product.

Some of it’s been cooked, some of it’s been peeled and deveined, and some of it’s still raw in the shell. But the most important factor is where the shrimp come from—or, more specifically, how far they traveled to get there.

Sure, those imported shrimp—typically from countries like Indonesia and Thailand—are a cheaper price. But there’s a reason for that. The simple answer is that it’s a lower quality compared to domestic product (especially Gulf shrimp). But if you need more convincing, there’s more to the story.

For our ongoing Ask A Chef series, we reached out to Chef Jim Smith, former Top Chef contestant and current owner/executive chef of The Hummingbird Way in Mobile, to answer a few questions about why Gulf shrimp are well worth the few extra dollars. Read up, then pay Chef Smith a visit and order one of his rotating Gulf shrimp dishes.

Why are imported shrimp so plentiful at local supermarkets?

Imported shrimp are so plentiful at local supermarkets for one simple reason: They are cheaper. It’s important to remember the adage “You get what you pay for,” especially when thinking about shrimp and seafood in general. Cheap imported shrimp are just that—cheap.

Are there any countries or regions in particular that raise a red flag when it comes to shrimp farming?

Farm-raised shrimp coming from Asia and South America are usually farm-raised in overcrowded tanks with little to no regulation of food safety or feed. They do not have to go through the same rigorous testing and inspecting processes that American shrimp go through.

How do imported shrimp compare to Gulf shrimp in flavor profile?

Imported farm-raised shrimp simply do not taste as good as Alabama Gulf shrimp. Farm-raised imported shrimp loose the taste of the ocean and are fed in a sketchily unregulated way. This means that they taste like the mass-produced manufactured product they are.

Do Gulf shrimp feature more health benefits than imported shrimp?

Alabama Gulf shrimp are certainly healthier than imported shrimp. Alabama shrimp are highly regulated and inspected. The processing facilities are also inspected. Imported shrimp do not go through the same rigorous testing procedures. Wild shrimp also tend to be lower in saturated fats because of what farm-raised shrimp are fed. Imported shrimp can also be infected with antibiotic residues that have been linked to cancer. Alabama Gulf shrimp are simply safer, healthier, and tastier.

What about the red shrimp from Argentina? How do they compare to Gulf Royal Reds?

Red shrimp from Argentina may taste better than other imported farm-raised shrimp because they are wild and sweet like Alabama Royal Reds. However, they are fished in an unsustainable fashion, and they appear on the Monterey Bay Aquarium list of seafoods to avoid. They are bottom-trawled without the safety protocols that are in place for Gulf shrimpers. All Alabama shrimp boats must be turtle safe, and our stocks are regulated to make sure that the fishing is safe and sustainable.

Why are shrimp from the Gulf Coast more expensive if they’re harvested so close?

Alabama shrimp cost more because they are regulated more to ensure their safety.

If I buy Gulf shrimp, how much does that impact local fishermen and processors?

Eating Alabama shrimp supports the local economy and your neighbors. When given the choice between purchasing an inferior product that is slightly cheaper or buying a much better product that supports local communities, the choice should be clear. Supporting local shrimpers is always better.

How can I be sure my local restaurants are serving Gulf shrimp?

Consumers should always be asking where their shrimp is coming from. If your local market is only selling imported shrimp, ask them to buy Alabama shrimp. They have access to Alabama shrimp and are probably just buying the cheaper product. Let them know that you want Alabama shrimp.

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