What Do The Numbers On Shrimp Labels Actually Mean?

According to the Institute of Food Technologists, shrimp is the most popular seafood consumed by Americans. Consumption of this savory seafood has been on the rise for years, beating out even salmon, canned tuna, and tilapia for the top spot (via National Fisheries Institute).

Given its versatility, shrimp's popularity makes sense. There may be no more memorable moment for shrimp in pop culture than Bubba's ongoing list of shrimp dishes in the award-winning film Forrest Gump (via Quirkbooks). Bubba's adoration of the seafood is clear but so is the fact that there are a plethora of ways to prepare it. Almost any home cook can easily whip up any number of simple shrimp recipes from shrimp salad to shrimp scampi. In the south, shrimp and grits are a go-to, or you can always do a Tex-Mex take with grilled shrimp tacos. Shrimp boils are another fun option.

Regardless of which way you want to approach preparing shrimp, one of the most important decisions precedes preparation — choosing your crustacean. While debates may range about fresh versus frozen, or what regions you want your shrimp to hail from, one of the top considerations surrounding which shrimp to choose should be how to pick the perfectly sized shrimp for your needs.

What does the shrimp count mean?

Rather than being measured like other varieties of seafood, shrimp are labeled by estimating the amount of shrimp in a pound. This is called "the count." According to Fine Cooking, if the number on the label is 21/25, for example, that means that you can count on about 21-25 shrimp being in that pound. If a "U" precedes the number, it stands for "under." So if you see a label that says U10, you can expect that there are under 10 shrimp in the pound. The lower the number, the larger the shrimp.

As the Striped Spatula notes, terms regarding the size of shrimp are not standardized so what some may refer to as "jumbo" others may label "extra-large." Paying attention to the count is crucial, but those labels do give some guidance. The Spruce Eats details servings per person, noting that nine to 11 shrimp is a proper serving if you're serving shrimp that are around medium-sized (around 36/40 count), while dishes using extra-large shrimp (around 26/30 count) or above should have about three to five shrimp.

Regardless of which shrimp you choose, remember to keep your shrimp shells while cooking so you can make your seafood do double duty for another meal.