Crabs are among the most delicious and nutritious kinds of seafood. They have a unique exotic taste and considered a premium meal in most restaurants, hence the high price tag. So, when someone came up with the idea of creating a cheaper alternative that tastes almost like real crabs, consumers were ecstatic. Behold, crab sticks were born. Also known as imitation crab, crab cake, or surimi (in Japanese), these ‘reddish’ fleshy sticks are featured on nearly every menu in sushi joints. Below, we take a closer look at the ingredients used to make surimi and why you should stop eating them.
What Are Crabs Sticks Made of?
Crabs sticks are chewy and savory, an impressive imitation of the real thing. But, the process behind crab sticks might somehow put you off. In the real sense, there is little to no trace of crabs in surimi. Instead, crabsticks are made of Pollock (a common species of whitefish) which is pulverized into a gelatinous paste and mashed together with meat glue, wheat starch, egg whites, oils, sweeteners, salt, and food dye to give them the seafood look.
High Sodium Content
While crab sticks are low in fat, they contain a high content of sodium. A serving of two fake surimi pieces is loaded with about 500mg of sodium which makes up about 20 percent of the daily recommended sodium intake. This means eating overconsumption of crabsticks may be detrimental to your health.
Excessive sodium leads to fluid retention by your body to aid in diluting the sodium. As a result, your blood volume increases, hence putting a lot of pressure on your heart. This increases the chances of blood pressure, stroke, stomach cancer, and osteoporosis.
The savory taste you feel in crab cakes is due to potassium chloride. Potassium, by itself, is known to have the opposite effects of sodium in our bodies. That is, it helps relax blood vessels and remove the sodium, thereby decreasing blood pressure. Potassium chloride is a salt substitute which prevents low levels of potassium. However, if taken in heavy doses, this mineral could cause severe throat irritation, vomiting, and stomach pain. Additionally, it causes nausea, diarrhea, lethargy, bloating, and black stools.
If you haven’t heard about Carmine, it’s the red dye food industries uses in most foods or drinks to give it that delicious reddish look. And get this: They are made from dead bugs! Female cochineal, to be exact. So, those strawberry flavored drinks, yogurt, and your favorite crab sticks contain the red pigment extracted from bugs. While bugs might seem gross for most Americans, they are actually a common snack in some countries.
Some of the side effects of carmine include severe asthma, coughing, and rhinitis.
Monosodium Glutamate (MSG) and Hydrolyzed Soy
Soy’s goodness in our meals ensures a steady supply of plant proteins. However, surimi may contain MSG although it’s not indicated. MSG enhances the flavor in dishes just like yeast extracts on beer.
Research by the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology (FASEB) identified mild symptoms caused by consumption of MSG. However, no serious health risks are associated with the ingredient. The symptoms include:
- Chest pain
- Tingling or burning sensation
Disodium Inosinate and Guanylate
These are also alternative food enhancers that manufacturers use instead of MSG. Most packed food products contain this additive and the potential side effects include:
- Numbness and tightness around the mouth and chest
- Burning sensation around the mouth area
- Sweating and swelling
- Skin breakout
If you’re intolerant to any of these additives, including MSG, you’re highly advised to check the contents of every packed food you before consuming it.
Also a food additive, this colorless substance is used in many canned foods including chicken nuggets, canned tuna, and imitation crab to name a few. It’s mainly composed of salt whose toxicity is said to be twice that of table salt if ingested directly.
Sodium Pyrophosphate’s side effects are similar to those mentioned above.
Are Crab Sticks Healthy?
Arguably, some people agree that crab sticks are healthy. Others disagree because, like any other processed foods, they contain high levels of sodium and artificial additives.
According to The Japan Times, 50 percent of the ingredients in crab imitations come from whitefish while the other 50 comes from flavors, seasoning, and coloring to give the products the crab-like shape, texture, and taste.
On the bright side, surimi has its advantages. According to the Japan External Trade Organization (JETRO), crabsticks maybe the cheaper imitations of real crabs, but they help preserve sea life by protecting crabs. On top of that, surimi sticks don’t have that potent fish smell which is a big turn off for most people.
All in all, there is no proof tying weight loss to crabsticks. But, they are delicious, highly addictive, and a pleasure to chew on.
All images via Pixabay