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Why Does My Shrimp Taste Like Bleach? Why This Happens and What To Do About It

Why Does My Shrimp Taste Like Bleach? Why This Happens and What To Do About It

What’s more heartbreaking than finding out the shrimp you’ve been eyeing is expired? Short answer: nothing. It can be absolutely brutal to find that your food has expired, especially what you thought was fresh seafood. If you’ve found out the hard way by taking a bite, you may have encountered shrimp with a very strong taste, like chlorine or bleach. Which begs the question: Why does my shrimp taste like bleach?

This happens because the shrimp has expired. It is no longer safe to eat and should be discarded. We explain below why this happens, where the taste and smell come from, and what you should do about it.

We cover the following items in this post:

Why Do Some Shrimp Taste Like Bleach?

A person peeling shrimp. Why does my shrimp taste like bleach?

Shrimp can sometimes taste like bleach or smell like ammonia due to the fact they have expired and are no longer safe for consumption.

Bad shrimp can also taste rancid and has been compared to tasting like rotten eggs. The shrimp will smell and taste a little metallic. Smelling the shrimp and gaining awareness of this before tasting it can help you prevent food poisoning or gastric distress.

Shrimp should have a slightly salty and sweet flavor. The texture should be firm, but also soft and a bit chewy.

Additionally, if you eat bad shrimp you could be putting yourself at risk for various types of shellfish diseases which I can promise you, none of which are easy on the body. In times of doubt with seafood, opt for pizza!

Why Does My Shrimp Have a Chemical Taste?

Regardless of where you’re buying shrimp, it has likely been treated with chemicals to assist in its preservation.

Sodium tripolyphosphate and sodium bisulfite are two of the most common treatments for shrimp:

  • Sodium tripolyphosphate (STPP) is used to add water weight to seafood, like shrimp and scallops. It also improves the texture of seafood and is commonly used in the preparation and preservation of other popular foods.
  • Sodium bisulfite aims to prevent shrimp from melanosis, which results in shrimp with black spots. Although this isn’t dangerous for human consumption in its early stages, it doesn’t look appetizing and is removed to ensure buyers aren’t wary of the shrimp available at markets.

Some people don’t mind melanosis though, as its absence often proves fewer chemicals have been added to the shrimp. It just comes down to recognizing that the perfect image of shrimp is maintained by using this chemical, and without it, your shrimp is more like a banana. Still edible even when it has some spots!

Additionally, you can look to remove chemicals from shrimp by soaking them in cold water prior to cooking.

The Shrimp Smells Like Bleach Too

A pile of cooked shrimp. Why does my shrimp taste like bleach?

As our sense of smell makes up about 80% of our sense of taste, it’s no surprise that the smell is just as strong as the taste.

The hope is you’ve smelled it before you’ve tasted it, but either way – it’s not great.

Some people do use a small portion of chlorine when preparing raw shrimp to prevent the spread of bacteria. The FDA actually states that one tablespoon of unscented, liquid chlorine bleach mixed in a gallon of water is a satisfactory practice in safely handling shrimp when used as a sanitizer.

The shrimp may have a slight bleach smell due to the overuse of bleach in maintaining a sanitary kitchen. However, if the scent is strong, the shrimp has definitely gone bad.

Why Does Shrimp Smell Like Bleach?

This is due to the fact that the shrimp have likely gone bad, leading to this strong odor.

When seafood is killed and brought above sea level, bacteria and enzymes convert into trimethylamine (TMA), which gives seafood that fishy odor. This happens because the bacteria in the fish’s body essentially convert to new chemicals which are derived from ammonia.

The same occurrence happens in shrimp. Over time, the shrimp, as bacteria continue to grow, will start to smell more like ammonia as it moves past its shelf life.

Is Bleach or Chlorine Involved in Cleaning or Preserving Shrimp?

A person rinsing shrimp. Why does my shrimp taste like bleach?

Sometimes shrimp handlers will use chlorinated water when dealing with peeling or general handling to ensure the environment prevents the growth and spread of bacteria. As noted above, there should be a very small amount of chlorine bleach used.

Once home, washing shrimp in a chlorine bleach-based solution shouldn’t be necessary as the shrimp we buy from markets has already been treated.

It’s worth noting: Prior to purchasing shrimp, the suppliers who farm or caught the shrimp need to follow strict FDA guidelines to ensure their food is compliant and safe for consumption. According to the FDA, 94% of seafood consumed in the US is imported, and there is a ton of scrutiny on shrimp as its the most popular seafood in the US.

How Do You Get Rid of The Chemical Taste In Shrimp?

If you have shrimp that tastes like chemicals, don’t try to remove the taste. Just throw them away.

If the shrimp have a very minor chlorine smell and there are no other indicators of spoilage (e.g., slimy shrimp, many black spots), then you can soak the shrimp in milk for between thirty minutes to an hour prior to cooking. 

After that, drain them, rinse them off with water, and pat them dry.

What Should I Do With This Shrimp?

Toss it. Even if you feel there is a slight chance it might still be okay, ask yourself: is it worth it?

Shrimp can be very pricy at times, and it can feel wasteful. But is that meal going to be worth the risk of potential food poisoning and pain for a day or two?

If you’ve found this is a common issue with fresh shrimp, move on to frozen shrimp! We only eat frozen shrimp at my house, and it always tastes just as good as the fresh shrimp sold at markets.

Final Thoughts: Why Shrimp Tastes Like Bleach

Shrimp is one of the best, most versatile dishes when it’s prepared right and preserved well. But when it’s not, it can really hurt you.

If you’re ever 50/50 on your shrimp, my advice is not to eat it. It’s not worth it, and we have too many emergency options at our fingertips these days. Let Uber Eats or DoorDash save the day, and find better shrimp next time.