What is imitation crab?
Imitation crab, also known as crab sticks or krab, is a type of seafood made from starch and minced fish flesh known as surimi, sugar, salt, egg whites, and crab flavoring. It is usually manufactured to taste and resemble spider or snow crab meat.
Imitation crab was invented in the early 70s by Sugiyo Co. of Japan and is commonly used in seafood salads, sushi rolls, crab rangoons, and crab cakes.
Let's take a look into how imitation crab is made, whether it is healthy, its benefits and downsides, and how it compares to real crab.
How is imitation crab made?
The process of making imitation crab is simple. White fish is minced to form a paste known as surimi. Manufacturers then add binding ingredients (like starch, wheat, and egg whites), crab flavoring, sugar, vegetable oil, and salt to the paste.
The paste is then heated and pressed into rods that resemble crab leg meat, then orange and red food coloring is applied to the rods to mimic the color of cooked crab.
At this point, the meat is usually pasteurized and vacuum-sealed so it can be eaten without further preparation while also hindering harmful bacteria.
Some manufacturers use additives in their imitation crab products. These include preservatives like sodium benzoate and phosphate-based additives to improve shelf-life; glutamates like monosodium glutamate to serve as flavor enhancers; and gums like xanthan gum and carrageenan, which stabilize the product and help the ingredients stick together.
Although these additives are deemed safe by the FDA, some have been linked to health concerns. For instance, carrageenan has been associated with inflammation and intestinal damage in test-tube and animal studies, while monosodium glutamate is known to cause headaches in some individuals.
Additionally, phosphate additives may increase the risk of heart disease and cause kidney damage.
Does imitation crab have any nutrients?
In comparison with imitation crab, real crab has a significantly higher nutritional value.
They are also two very different foods. The majority of calories from real crab meat come from proteins, while most calories for imitation crab come from carbs.
Proteins are essential in a diet as they help repair and build tissues and cells. They are also crucial in the development and growth of teenagers and children.
Additionally, real crab meat is generally higher in omega-3 fatty acids and also has vitamins and minerals, which include selenium, zinc, potassium, phosphorous, magnesium, iron, calcium, and vitamin B12.
In general, real crab is healthier. However, imitation crab has less sodium than real crab meat.
Are there any benefits of imitation crab?
While real crab meat is more nutritious, there are potential upsides to using imitation crab in recipes.
For starters, imitation crab is a versatile dish that can be added to dips, soups, and salads or eaten as a snack on its own. It can also be served directly without further preparation because it’s vacuum-sealed and pasteurized. Imitation crab is also very affordable in comparison to real crab.
If healthiness is a concern, some imitation crab meat products are made without GMO ingredients and are gluten-free. Some are even sustainably sourced.
The most significant benefit is shelf life. Imitation crab lasts longer than real crab meat if it is stored according to the manufacturer’s instructions.
What are the drawbacks of imitation crab?
While imitation crab is more cost-effective, its additives may prevent some individuals from purchasing the products.
Some imitation crab products don’t include sufficient allergen identification, posing a danger to individuals with allergies. It is almost impossible to know the actual ingredients used in imitation crab products without special testing.
Imitation crab is also often unsustainable. Surimi paste is made from fish like hake, Atlantic cod, and Alaska Pollock, which is usually the main ingredient. Overfishing threats to the Pollock population may cause disturbances to the food chain. Overfishing also endangers animals like Steller sea lions which eat Pollock. Surumi manufacturers can opt to use non-fish meats like pork, beef, or deboned chicken, and white-fleshed seafood like squid, Pacific whiting, and cod in substitute of Pollock. Surimi production also generates high water waste volumes, harming fish and contaminating oceans if left untreated.
In conclusion, imitation crab is highly processed. While it is more affordable than real crab meat, it is also laced with various additives and not as nutritious. However, if you’re planning to make a dish for a special occasion but don’t want to put a dent in your finances by buying real crab meat, imitation crab is a simple-to-use alternative.
If your goal is to stay healthy, keep in mind that you should consume nutritious and minimally processed proteins like lean beef, chicken, and cod. These are also affordable options for your everyday meals.