What is Chem-free shrimp?

Chem-free shrimp refers to  products that did not undergo any treatment with moisture retention agents (MRAs).  There are two kinds of MRAs on the market: phosphate-based and phosphate-free. MRAs are typically added to protect shrimp from freezer burns and retain moisture. Many companies process shrimp with MRA agents as the added weight makes products heavier, which allows companies to sell at a lower price. 

Moisture control

Successful programs for the control of moisture in shrimp depend on the proper concentrations of phosphates for the best product performance and consumer preference. Exposure time and the related product temperatures are key factors in developing a process that provides product protection without compromising product taste, texture, or appearance. 

Ideally, buyers or processors should conduct studies with actual products and processing operations that include the opinions of the most important people in the value chain, consumers. The results will determine the best treatment specifications for their particular shrimp products. 

Many shrimp operations are ahead of the game, with outstanding treatment specifications already in practice. Some, however, stretch the use of additives as far as possible. These operations have divided the U.S. market into pro phosphate buyers and anti phosphate buyers. 

Target moisture level 

Buyers have a legal and moral responsibility to provide consumers with safe, top-quality shrimp. Product specifications that identify acceptable phosphate types, concentrations, exposure times and treatment temperatures are a proven approach for consistent and preferred quality. On the other hand, buyers who do not want any applications of phosphates or similar additives should specify they want no additives, including nonphosphate blends. 

What is the difference?

In the retail sector, chem-free shrimp does not seem to be trending yet. The price point deters consumers as untreated shrimp is generally more expensive. They are about 5-10% more expensive, depending on the size and product form.

Consumers who buy treated shrimp which is cheaper and has the desired moisture and flavor, but they pay for more water and less shrimp. Moreover, the treated shrimp cooks differently from untreated shrimp. With such a high moisture content, they steam rather than sear when you try to sauté them. They also have a bouncy, rubbery texture and stay oddly translucent even after cooking.

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