Shrimp is the most popular seafood in the United States, accounting for 25% of our seafood consumption, so a lot of people are likely to miss the taste of it after going vegan!
Unfortunately, shrimp are a triple whammy of non-vegan food: in addition to the fact that they are living creatures, various habitats are destroyed and groundwater polluted in order to farm them, and slave labor is often used in the process.
Fortunately, there is no shortage of options for folks who want to eat shrimp dishes without involving any real shrimp. Read on to learn about five shrimp substitutes for vegans!
Vegan Shrimp at Stores and Restaurants
These days, it’s hard to turn around in a grocery store or restaurant without running into some version of a veggie burger, but plant-based seafood substitutes can be much more elusive.
In fact, in 2019, vegan “seafood” accounted for only 1% of vegan “meat” sales. This is partly due to there being a smaller audience, since there are folks who avoid meat or animal products except seafood (pescatarians and “seagans”), and meat-eaters don’t have the same health concerns about fish as they do about a hamburger.
Another factor is the trouble that plant-based companies have in replicating seafood with the same flavor, texture, and nutritional profile that people expect from conventional seafood.
However, there has been a growing demand for vegan seafood recently, and there are now more than a few shrimp substitutes available at restaurants and in grocery stores (with more on the way soon). Here are some of the ones we find most intriguing:
Sophie’s Kitchen was way ahead of the competition on this one, as they have been producing vegan seafood since 2011, including shrimp! Their breaded shrimp are made from: water, rice flakes, canola oil, potato starch, konjac powder, pea starch, fenugreek, organic agave nectar, sea salt, alginate, paprika, white pepper, turmeric, and calcium hydroxide.
This vegan shrimp is available in stores like Sprouts and Walmart, and it’s also sold on Amazon, making it perhaps one of the easiest vegan seafood brands to find.
BeLeaf is a 4-year-old company that makes a variety of vegan meat substitutes, including vegan shrimp. Their shrimp are made from: konjac powder, vegetable gum, vegetable root starch, paprika, brown sugar, sea salt, and plant-based seasoning.
We know that brown sugar can be an iffy ingredient for vegans, as some companies use bone char to process the sugar, but it seems unlikely that BeLeaf would use sugar from such a source. Since they describe themselves as being committed to the development of vegan products with no animal ingredients, it’s pretty safe to assume that they know what to avoid.
BeLeaf shrimp can be found in some stores (check their website to see if one is near you) or ordered online, and it’s also a brand commonly used by vegan restaurants in their seafood dishes.
New Wave (featured on Seaspiracy)
New Wave Foods is a brand-new vegan seafood company that launched at the beginning of this year. The main ingredient of their vegan shrimp is seaweed, which gives it the flavor and texture of real shrimp. New Wave is a very environmentally conscious company, and they state that all of their seaweed is sustainably farmed.
The only other ingredient is “natural flavors”, which they specify contains only plant-based items.
Since the majority of conventional shrimp is eaten in restaurants, that’s the market that New Wave is aiming to replace. This means that you can’t find them in stores, but we should start seeing them in restaurants with plant-based options during this year.
BlueNalu deserves at least an honorable mention here, even if the question of whether they should be allowed as part of a vegan diet is up for debate. The startup company had $60 million raised as of this January for their pilot production facility, and their products will start to become available later in the year.
They aim to lead the world in cell-based seafood production, which involves growing real meat using a small number of cells taken from live animals. Although they have not announced products beyond the first two they intend to release, it sounds like shrimp will be on the list somewhere down the line.
Obviously, this seafood will be made from real animal cells, which goes against the simplest definition of veganism. But, since BlueNalu combats many of the issues that vegans have with animal products (and seafood in particular), some vegans may find that they feel comfortable with eating it anyway.
After all, no animals are slaughtered or kept in inhumane farms for this lab-grown meat. BlueNalu also forgoes the damage caused to ocean habitats and creatures by commercial fishing and trawling, and they will not be implementing the questionable labor practices (or sometimes outright slavery) that conventional shrimp farms often do.
Really, the similarities between conventional shrimp and lab-grown shrimp begin and end with the cells, so there is an argument to be made that the lab-grown variety is ethically compatible with veganism. You have a bit of time to figure out how you feel about it while the company prepares to launch retail and foodservice products.
If finding a location where you can get vegan seafood is still too much of a hassle for now, there is always the option to make it at home! There are dozens of recipes available for this, so we bet you’ll be able to find something that works for you.
Most of the recipes use either king oyster mushrooms or sweet potatoes as a base and involve shaping, breading, and frying the “shrimp”. Many of them also give recipes for full dishes that fit the homemade shrimp well, like tacos or scampi.
Due to the growing popularity of veganism, as well as ethical and environmental concerns arising in the mainstream, there is more of a demand for vegan seafood alternatives than ever before.
There are companies all over the world developing lab-grown seafood, including shrimp, which addresses some of these concerns, and there are many others producing fully plant-based, vegan-friendly shrimp alternatives. This year is shaping up to be a big milestone for the availability of plant-based shrimp in stores and in restaurants, so keep an eye out for them!
And of course, with a little more time and effort, you can make and enjoy your own vegan shrimp with just a few ingredients in the comfort of your own kitchen.
However you feel about the seafood products mentioned here, or any products that we didn’t have time to talk about, veganism should never be an obstacle between you and whatever delicious shrimp dishes you’re craving — there is a solution for everyone!