What IQF Stands For And Why You Should Look For It In Seafood

Whether you're making some basic fish tacos on a Tuesday or a special shrimp scampi for Saturday night, adding seafood to your routine as a staple lean protein is a no-brainer. For example, you can usually get shrimp for a great price, and it's packed with nutrients, low in saturated fat, and great for an easy weeknight shrimp recipe. Your only dilemma, then, is deciding what kind of shrimp to choose: frozen shrimp in the bag or raw shrimp on display under the glass case.

Surprisingly, buying frozen is your best bet. While that may sound counterintuitive for those who abide by the fresh-is-best mantra, the American Shrimp Processors Association (ASPA) reassures consumers that for shrimp, frozen is fresh thanks to a modern fast-freeze and packaging method called the Individually Quick Frozen (IQF) technique. With IQF, shellfish like shrimp is frozen almost as quickly as it's caught. This type of quick freeze is a great way to seal in those fresh just-out-of-the-water elements in your seafood right up until you thaw it for cooking.

Commercially, IQF is accomplished by blast freezing, which, within minutes, freezes the product down to the individual pieces within each package. The idea is to freeze the seafood before any organic ripening at the biochemical level can even start.

What to look for when choosing frozen seafood

Now that you know to opt for frozen shellfish over fresh, keep a few tips in mind as you head over to the freezer section. First of all, consider if you want to buy wild or farmed seafood, which will be labeled on the package. In shrimp's case, for instance, some consumers feel strongly that, because of mismanaged aquaculture standards, you should never eat farm-raised shrimp, even if wild may cost more.

You may also want to look for IQF products with the shells intact (a fact that should also be labeled on the package), as these have an extra layer of protection. Even though IQF seafood is easy to spot since pieces will be disconnected and individually frozen, look for the "IQF" moniker somewhere on the bag.

One more factor to look out for in your IQF seafood is ingredients. A frozen shrimp label should simply say shrimp. Watch out for any added salt or tripolyphosphate, which is a chemical used to make your shellfish look glossy.