As the name suggests, imitation crab isn’t actually crab meat. Interestingly, however, you’ve probably eaten more imitation crab than you might think.
Imitation crab is offered as a cheaper substitute for expensive crab meat, and appears in crab cakes, salads, sushi, and more.
It’s no secret that imitation crab is a processed food item, in the same way that a hot dog isn’t purely sausage (You might want to check out What Is Chorizo here). So, if you’re eating something that tastes like crab but technically isn’t, what is imitation crab made of?
Here is everything you need to know about imitation crab!
What Is Imitation Crab Made Of?
The main ingredient of imitation crab is surimi – a fish paste made of pulverized fish flesh.
This fish flesh is first deboned, then washed to remove unwanted fat and gross parts, and then it is minced into a paste-like consistency.
Surimi is most commonly used to mimic crab, but it’s also popularly used to mimic the texture of grilled Japanese eel, shellfish, and even lobster (If you like lobsters, you might also like to read an article about crawfish).
It is a popular food in East Asia, with the earliest production occurring in 1115 in Japan.
The surimi paste is then stuck together with binding agents, including vegetable oil, starch, egg white, and sometimes even sugar.
Once stuck together into a crab-like consistency, it is then heated and pressed into specific shapes depending on the food item.
In most cases, imitation crab is cut into narrow slices and sold as crab sticks or seafood sticks.
The reason why imitation crab uses surimi as its key ingredient is not only because surimi mimics the texture and color of crab, but also because it’s readily available and cheap to purchase.
It is estimated that crab or lobster meat costs around $3 per ounce, whereas surimi is only 20-30 cents per ounce. So, it’s ultimately the more cost-effective option.
To follow government regulations, imitation crab products must specify that the crab-like meat isn’t real crab.
This is why imitation crab food items are called “crab-flavored seafood”, “surimi seafood”, or “seafood sticks”, so as to avoid breaking false advertising rules.
Some restaurants even label it as “krab” meat to show that it’s fake!
Does Imitation Crab Contain Crab Meat?
No, imitation crab does not contain any crab meat. This might be hard to believe, given how believable imitation crab is in terms of color and texture.
Despite its uncanny resemblance, the surimi in imitation crab does not consist of any trace of crab meat.
However, there is a slight exception to this rule. Some foods labeled as imitation crab will have traces of crab extract to further mimic the flavor of real crab meat.
While the sweetness and saltiness of crab meat is not too hard to replicate (especially when using sugar as a bonding agent for the surimi), sometimes the crab extract helps the flavor.
What Is Surimi?
Let’s take a look at the key ingredient that makes up imitation crab – surimi.
Surimi is a paste made of pulverized fish. The fish used to make surimi is typically pollock, because pollock is fairly mild in odor, color, and taste, and can therefore be altered to mimic crab meat when bonded together with other flavors.
Pacific whiting is another popular fish used to make surimi.
While some might turn their nose up at the idea of consuming surimi, it might actually be the answer to combatting the climate crisis.
As the seas are warming and fewer fish are being caught, it might be time to turn to foods like surimi to mimic our favorite fish, such as crab.
Despite being primarily used for imitating crab and seafood, it’s important to note that surimi isn’t actually imitating seafood, because it is made of fish!
It’s just a different type of fish that imitates another kind of fish, such as crab or lobster.
Is Imitation Crab Good For You?
Imitation crab isn’t exactly bad for you, but it’s definitely not as nutritious as fresh crab meat.
Fresh crab meat is high in calcium, zinc, potassium, phosphorus, vitamin B12, and folate, making it one of the healthiest forms of fish.
If we take a look at the nutritional value of imitation crab in comparison to real crab meat, the calories in imitation crab are built up from added carbs rather than natural calories derived from proteins.
As a result, real crab meat is the better option for those who want to lose weight on a low-carb diet.
This isn’t to say surimi isn’t nutritious. Surimi is made of pollock, after all, which is low in saturated fat and a great source of lean protein.
However, due to the process of deboning and stripping pollock to turn it into surimi, some of the nutrients are stripped away.
Sometimes, imitation crab has added nutrients listed on the packaging to try and emulate the nutritional benefits of real crab meat.
However, even though some imitation crab might have added omega-3, this doesn’t mean it has the same level of essential fatty acids as real crab meat.
It’s also important to remember that imitation crab contains processed foods. While surimi is the main component, the other ingredients include salt, vegetable oil, sugar, starch (often wheat, tapioca, or potato), and water.
These ingredients are essential for emulating the texture of real crab meat, but such processed foods aren’t as nutritious as the real thing.
Which Is Better: Imitation Crab Or Real Crab?
So, if you’re not sure which is better, let’s take a look at the key differences between imitation crab and real crab.
While imitation crab isn’t real crab, it’s an affordable, versatile, and highly believable emulation of the real fish. Its affordability is the reason why restaurants use it so frequently. Plus, you can buy it in virtually any form.
What imitation crab lacks, however, is the nutritional value that real crab meat flourishes in. So, if you want the healthiest option, then real crab meat is the way to go.
So, there you have it! While imitation crab isn’t actually crab meat, it’s still a seafood option designed to emulate crab.