What Is Imitation Crab Meat Actually Made Of?
Considering it’s got the word “imitation” in it, you really shouldn’t be too shocked to find that imitation crab is far from the real thing. And yeah, that tightly packed red-and-white stuff you’ll find displayed in the seafood section of the grocery store may resemble crab, but it’s obviously not really made of crab at all.
Here’s the question, though: what is imitation crab meat made of? And more importantly, is it worth your money?
Weirdly enough, while you won’t find any crab meat in imitation crab, you will find seafood — because imitation crab is made up of a paste called surimi, which is basically processed, mashed-up fish. Usually, it’s actually a combination of fish such as Alaskan pollock or Pacific whiting fish that have been put through a complicated manufacturing process and turned into a gel-like substance. Obviously, seafood paste doesn’t exactly sound all that delicious, so in order to create the right taste and texture, manufacturers add in starches, sugars, artificial flavorings, and sometimes MSG. However, all these additives significantly decrease the nutritional value of imitation crab, and they can even include gluten, so it’s best to stay away if you’re sensitive to that.
It’s probably no surprise that restaurants love this stuff, because imitation crab serves as a low-cost alternative to the real thing. And that’s where it first came from, too: Surimi was actually first created by Japanese chefs who were looking for a way to use their leftover fish. That creation eventually became the foundation of imitation crab and, since then, its popularity has only grown. But despite being good for restaurants on a budget, imitation crab meat comes with some fairly hefty drawbacks.
For starters, real crab meat is just downright healthier than imitation crab, as it has more Omega-3 fats, less sugar, and more protein, and vitamins such as B12 and zinc. When you dine on imitation crab meat, however, you will at least ingest less sodium than if you have a plate of the real thing in front of you, so that’s a small bonus.
Lower nutrients and higher sugar content aside, it’s easy to see why imitation crab has become so popular. Nobody’s going to argue that crab cakes aren’t usually a little pricey in restaurants, and the imitation stuff works as a decent, quick option when you add it to a salad or serve it with dip. However, some ocean environmentalists say that this bargain seafood product has actually become a little too popular.
In order to keep up with the demand and make enough imitation crab to go around, large amounts of pollock must be harvested, and this has some concerned about the potential for overfishing. Making sure the fish used for imitation crab has that appealing crabby appearance also involves a lot of water to improve its color and the texture of the meat. This can lead to wastewater pollution if improperly discharged into the ocean.
Of course, nobody’s going to tell you not to enjoy a little imitation crab in your sushi or seafood salad. As long as you’re okay with the fact that you’re probably not consuming any crab at all, go for it — especially if you don’t mind that it’s not all that healthy either.
If you do opt for imitation crab meat over the real stuff, however, just make sure you’re storing it properly — because while it does contain preservatives that help extend its shelf life, it still needs to be treated much the same way as normal fish. Most importantly, once it’s been opened or thawed out, you’ll have only around three to five days before it spoils completely. And don’t worry… you’ll know when that has happened.
In the end, if you’re looking for crab that’s real and authentic, you ought to know that the only crab you should be ordering is the one that comes straight from the sea — not spit out of a grinder at a manufacturing plant.
Watch the video find out what imitation crab meat is actually made of!
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