Much Ado About Shrimp

From Lisa, the blogger known as the Homesick Texan, comes word of a food writer face-off down in Texas, where the Houston Chronicle’s Alison Cook has slammed the Gulf brown shrimp, prominent in Texas, in favor of the South Carolina white, saying that anyone who prefers the brown, with its flavor of iodine, is “a perverse subset” of humanity. As Lisa points out, “Dem’s fightin’ words indeed!”

Cook’s shrimp allegations aroused the ire of Robb Walsh, food writer for the Houston Press, who describes himself as the “self-appointed spokesman for this perverse subset.” He immediately emailed Cook the following missive:

My Dearest Alison—

My turn to call bull@#%$

I adore that bold iodine flavor in seafood.

In Gulf shrimp, in European (O. edulis) oysters, and in fresh raw sea urchins.

It is natural and it belongs there.

If you don’t like it, fine—but how dare you say that Gulf shrimp are bad because you don’t like that flavor!

Some chefs seek out high iodine seafood because their customers love it!

And with that, the Texan shrimp wars were on.

Much of it revolves around this issue of iodine flavor in Gulf shrimp. As Cook explains, “it never ever occurred to me that anyone might regard iodine content as a virtue.”

Readers are weighing in. Some prefer white shrimp, others don’t notice an iodine flavor at all, one poor former Texas resident, now living in Connecticut, is just happy to get shrimp that haven’t been frozen, while another says that iodine is good for the thyroid. One reader posted a link to content on the U.S. Marine Shrimp Farming Program’s site that says the substance in question isn’t iodine at all, but rather bromine.

Gulf brown shrimp tends to have an iodine flavor, sometimes more pronounced than others. … This is actually bromine, not iodine, and it is more of an odor than a taste. … Aromas are a large component of taste. However, most people don’t know what bromine smells like, so the accepted description is iodine-like when it occurs in shrimp. Not all shrimp in the same catch will have a bromine smell. It depends on what the shrimp has eaten. … Because so much shrimp is eaten sauced or seasoned with spices, some diners never notice this taste. Others prefer it.

I don’t have an answer to this issue (though I’d be happy to head south for a taste-off any time). Perhaps my favorite comment on the topic was this one: “Fried shrimp, boiled shrimp, baked shrimp, sautéed shrimp, broiled shrimp, cajan shrimp, shrimp creo, shrimp gumbo, grilled shrimp, BBQ shrimp. I eats all kinds of shrimp.”

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