Biblical in origin and practiced for millennia, Jewish kosher laws are those that govern the food approved to be eaten and how those approved foods must be prepared.
When it comes to shrimp, the Hebrew book of Leviticus reads,
“whatever in the water does not have fins and scales is abhorrent to you.”
Since shrimp and other crustaceans do not have scales, they are not considered Kosher.
In our ever-advancing world of technology and innovations though, the kitchen is no stranger to new and creative food developments. In 2016, one of these developments successfully made kosher shrimp – Shr!mp!
Shr!mp is made with red algae and plant-based protein powder and was developed by New Wave Foods in California. Originally developed to create a more naturally sustainable shrimp substitute, Shr!mp has also been certified by a kashrut certification board at Rabbi Alex Shandrovsky’s L’chaim Foods.
Shr!mp also has the following claims to fame in addition to being labeled kosher:
- Sustainably sourced
- Environmentally friendly
- No shellfish or soy allergens
- Zero cholesterol
- Lower in calories
Can You Eat Shrimp on a Kosher Diet?
For those who follow a kosher diet, there are many food items that cannot be eaten, including shrimp.
However, with the development of plant-based kosher alternatives like Shr!mp, people can enjoy the substitute without ever feeling like they are missing the real thing.
The Shr!mp website even claims that you can –
“Enjoy this delicious plant-based alternative in your favorite hot shrimp dish: sautéed, grilled, breaded, baked or fried. It tastes just like traditional shrimp.”
In addition to the Shr!mp option developed by New Wave Foods, Dyna-Sea is a brand featured by the House of Kosher Gourmet Market in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, for its surimi shrimp.
Dyna-Sea is also a brand kosher-diet customers can find at larger grocery stores like H-E-B not only for surimi shrimp, but for surimi crab and lobster options (two other seafood items that are not kosher).
Surimi is a fully cooked fish protein often made from pollock fish, which is a type of codfish. Pollock fish is a type of codfish that is on the approved kosher fish list which was reprinted with the permission of the Orthodox Union. Since this fish protein comes from an approved kosher fish list, it falls under the kosher category for many people.
Dyna-Sea surimi shrimp includes the following ingredients that claim to follow kosher standards and regulations:
- Fish Protein (Alaskan Pollock),
- Potato Starch,
- Cane Sugar,
- Egg Whites,
- Contains 2% or Less of the Following: Salt, Calcium Carbonate, Kosher Flavor, Sodium Tripolyphosphate, Tetrasodium Pyrophosphate, Paprika Oleoresin Color Added.
It’s worth noting though that there is a product description attached to Dyna-Sea alternative shrimp that clearly states “Certified Kosher. H-E-B does not guarantee the accuracy of this Certification file as Supervising Agencies / Rabbis may change.”
Even though the verdict may still be out regarding kosher shrimp alternatives, they are a great option for vegetarians and those with shellfish or other seafood allergies.
Are Prawns Kosher?
Although they might look very similar, shrimp and prawns are actually not the same thing.
Shrimp and prawns are both crustaceans, but there are distinct differences:
- Shrimp are smaller
- Shrimp are found in saltwater whereas prawns are often found in fresh or brackish water
- Shrimp have claws on two of their legs
- Prawns have claws on three of their legs
- A prawn’a shell segments overlap from top to bottom (meaning the first segment overlaps the second segment which overlaps the third segment)
Regardless of their difference, since prawns are crustaceans, they still are NOT kosher because they do not have scales.
What Makes Seafood Kosher?
For a fish or other type of seafood to be considered kosher, the main rule is it must have fins and scales.
There is a long list of seafood that is NOT kosher because of this rule:
- Any sea mammals (whales, dolphins, etc.)
- Sea turtles
There are some fish and other kinds of seafood, though, that are a little tougher to discern regarding scales. In the world of scales, there are four types: ctenoid, cycloid, ganoid, and placoid. It is said that “bony tubercles and plate or thorn-like scales that can be removed only by removing part of the skin are not considered scales in this context.”
This means that fish such as eels, lumpfish, shark, rays, sturgeon, and swordfish, among others, even though they have fins and scales, do NOT meet the kosher standards.
So, what seafood is kosher?
According to information reprinted with the permission of the Orthodox Union, as long as the scales can be removed without damaging the skin of the fish, and the fish itself has been handled correctly, it can be labeled as kosher.
There is a very detailed kosher fish list that has over a hundred different types of fish with many included caveats:
- “Only the eggs of kosher fish, such as fish roe or caviar, are allowed, therefore supervision is necessary.”
- “Care must be taken when buying fresh, whole fish, fileted, or frozen, because of the possibility of substitution by non-kosher fish or of contamination by remnants of non-kosher fish from knives and cutting boards.”
- “Smoked fish is frequently soaked in brine and then smoked along with non-kosher fish.”
Fun Kosher Shrimp Recipes!
In 2022, those following a kosher diet have a whole host of substitutions and alternatives available to enjoy, like Shr!mp and Dyna-Sea brands.
Jamie Geller has created the “#1 kosher food and recipe website in the world.” Her site has thousands upon thousands of kosher-specific recipes and her team is producing new content ongoing.
She has Shabbat menus, video demonstrations, and a recipe of the day eNewsletters showing a huge variety of options and creativity to kosher dishes.
On her main website, delicious and kosher, Karen Abirexplains that –
“All recipes are Kosher, and mostly focused on whole foods and organic whenever possible. You will find a great variety of gluten-free, paleo, vegan, vegetarian, and clean eating options.”
To round out our topic of kosher shrimp, check out Karen’s “shrimp” on the barbie grilling the featured Dyna-Sea surimi shrimp we highlighted. This recipe is also dairy-free. Or you can just go with chicken.