Crab stick, which also goes by the name imitation crab or surimi, has been a contentious topic in recent times. Crab sticks are commonly found in seafood restaurants, and chances are you’ve eaten them without even knowing. They are usually offered as a substitute for crab meat, which can be costly. In this post, we share everything you need to know about crab sticks, including their nutritional value and potential health benefits, as well as side effects.
What Is Imitation Crab?
Crab sticks are made from surimi, a paste containing the ground flesh of white fish. Known as kanikama in Japan, the manufacturing process takes fish flesh that has been deboned, washed thoroughly to remove smells, unwanted fat, and parts, and then minced into a paste.
The paste is then blended with other ingredients, including wheat starch, water, egg whites, sugars, salt, vegetable oil, hydrolyzed soy, and meat glue. Flavors are then added to give it the surimi flavor. It’s then covered in artificial colors and dyes, which explains the red or orange color to make it look like it came from a crustacean.
The final product (known as kamaboko in Japan) is then vacuum sealed and pasteurized, and you can eat it straight from the package.
Where Did Crab Stick Originate From?
Imitation crab has been around for more than a hundred years. It was invented by Katsuichi Osaki, the son of the founder of Osaki Suisan, a company in Hiroshima City. He came up with the idea after he noticed that leftover fish meat soaked in crab juice tasted like real crab.
The product was later fine-tuned to what it is today. It later found its way to the Western markets, specifically the United States, where it became quite popular. The product is usually marketed as “krab sticks” due to legal regulations that have forced companies to stop using the word “Crab” on their packaging.
Nutritional Value of Imitation Crab
What starts out as ordinary fish (with high-protein and low-fat content) is mixed with multiple ingredients to become a high-carb, low protein food. Real crab has a high nutritional value compared to imitation crab.
Here’s a breakdown of crab stick nutrition facts:
- Carbohydrates: Crab sticks are predominantly carbs, consisting of sugars. The rest of the carbohydrates are made up of starch and dietary fiber. A 100g serving of crabstick, for example, supplies 15g of carbohydrates. Of this, 8.25g is starch, 6.25g is sugars, and 0.5g is dietary fiber.
- Protein: The protein content in crab sticks mainly comes from the egg white. But, there are other protein sources like soy, which also boost the color and texture.
- Salt: Sodium chloride is added to the minced fish to help it form a sturdy gel and improve flavor.
- Starch: Several ingredients are used to make the surimi firm, including potato, corn, wheat, and tapioca starch.
- Vegetable oil: Vegetable oils like soybean and sunflower can be used to improve texture and shelf life.
These ingredients are combined, and then preservatives and other additives are added. The surimi is then pressed into desired shapes and then vacuumed and pasteurized to kill potentially harmful bacteria.
Are There Potential Upsides of Crab Sticks?
Like we mentioned, real crab meat can be expensive. One of the reasons why crab stocks became so popular is their low cost. They are relatively cheap, usually going for about a third of the cost of real crab.
Imitation crab is convenient and usually packaged in grab-and-go, snack-sized portions with optional dipping sauces. It’s also versatile and can be added to various dishes without further preparation.
Some people may find them unhealthy, given the method of preparation, the ingredients used, as well as, the additives. However, just like there are various versions of other food types, crab sticks too can have healthier options.
For example, some brands use natural ingredients like sea salt, oat fiber, cane sugar, and natural flavors. Other brands use gluten-free ingredients and don’t add genetically modified (GMO) ingredients.
Potential Side Effects of Crab Sticks
Imitation crab is a highly processed food, which makes it quite unhealthy. Other than that, there are some notable downsides of crab sticks:
- Negative environmental impact. Pollock is commonly used to make surimi due to its mild color and odor. This can have a negative environmental impact due to the sheer number of pollock that have to be fished to manufacture surimi. Overfishing has been an issue for decades, and some of the methods used damage the natural habitat for sea life. That said, other types of white-fleshed seafood are now being used to make surimi. This includes squid, cod, and Pacific whiting.
- Mislabeling. It’s not uncommon for manufacturers to fail to list seafood ingredients accurately, increasing the potential of health risks and allergies. That’s why you should carefully read the label when purchasing packaged food items.
All in all, crab sticks continue to be popular in many parts of the world despite being a highly processed food. It remains a cheap alternative to real crab, especially if your budget doesn’t allow it.