Shrimp, when cooked, turn this lovely shade of pink. I swear that pink hue has a direct connection to my taste buds.  I see that color and I want to pop one of those succulent little morsels into my mouth and savor their deliciousness. They look pinkalicious as my grand-daughter would say. Yet a few minutes earlier those same shrimp were a pale gray-blue and did nothing to fuel my taste buds. Hmm, that got me thinking. What makes shrimp turn pink when cooked?

IMG_0062Shrimp, lobsters, and crabs are crustaceans. This means they have an external skeleton, an exoskeleton.  In short, they have a hard shell.  In their water environment these creatures exhibit a blue-green, or a blue-gray color. This color is from the protein complex of the outer shell, which dominates the creature’s individual color. Within this protein covering lies a hidden pigment called astaxanthin. The protein covering camouflages this hidden pigment. Astaxanthin is a member of the carotene family. You have heard of carotene. Carrots and other fruits and vegetables contain carotene, which gives them their orange/red color.

These protein chains are not heat stable. The protein wrappings uncoil as soon as crustaceans are heated. The result is the red-orange astaxathin molecules are released. These pigments related to carotenes (orange-red) are heat stable. So now the astaxonthins can now display their unique color that we equate with delicious!

Who knew? Not me! Now we do!

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