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What is in imitation seafood?

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Have you ever wondered what imitation crab meat is made from?  Does it actually contain any seafood?  And why is imitation crab meat also called surimi seafood?  While the die-hard foodie may never use (or at least admit to using) imitation crab meat, for many it's a versatile, economical, nutritious, boneless, shell-less, and delicious seafood choice.  These days economical may well be the most important aspect of imitation crab meat.  Which leads us back to the question of what is it?

Surimi is the Japanese term for the bland fish protein paste that is the starting material for imitation seafood.  In the United States, Alaskan Pollock is usually used to make surimi. The fish is deboned, minced, rinsed, and turned into a paste. The surimi is mixed with salt and sugar to help form protein gels and protect it while frozen for later use when it's combined with all the other ingredients you see on the labels of surimi seafood.  These ingredients can include snow crab meat, egg whites, wheat starch, flavorings, and sodium.  Each brand and variety of imitation seafood has different nutrient compositions so be sure to read the labels of whatever product you choose.   On average, you will see about 90-100 calories, 20-30 mg cholesterol, 150-600 mg of sodium, 9 grams of carbohydrate, and 10-15 grams of protein per serving. 

Imitation crab meat has been around for quite a few years and has now been joined by many other surimi-based products in the marketplace including abalone, shrimp, and scallops providing an assortment of more economical choices for seafood entrées.

Surimi products are fully cooked and can be used directly in any recipes that call for cooked seafood (salads, sandwiches, dips, etc.).  If you tried it once and were unsure of the flavor, try another brand, they tend to have different flavors and textures.

To get you started, below are two recipes that call for cooking the surimi seafood with other ingredients, both are great crowd pleasers….

And one last thing – here are some hints on what should you look for when buying imitation/surimi seafood products:

  • Surimi seafood products should be moist and have a fresh appearance without traces of browning or discoloration.
  • Surimi crab meat, lobster meat, shrimp, scallops and other seafood products should have a fresh and mild odor.

Crab Omelet

  • 1 cup zucchini, quartered and sliced thin
  • 1/3 cup green pepper, finely chopped
  • 1 cup fresh mushrooms, sliced thin
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 pound Maryland backfin crabmeat, cartilage removed or imitation crab
  • 6 large eggs or egg substitute
  • 1/4 teaspoon pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon Italian seasoning
  • 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
  • 1/2 cup mild cheddar cheese, grated paprika for sprinkling
In a large skillet, saute zucchini, green pepper, and mushrooms in oil until slightly soft.  Distribute vegetables evenly over the skillet surface.  Sprinkle crab evenly over vegetables.  Heat thoroughly over medium low 2 minutes.  In a medium bowl, beat eggs with electric mixer or whisk until blended.  Stir in spices.  Pour egg mixture evenly over crabmeat.  Sprinkle with parsley, cheese, and paprika.  Cover with a lid and cook over low heat until bottom is lightly golden and cheese is melted.

Makes 4 servings.

Crab and Zucchini Casserole

  • 2 medium zucchini, sliced
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1/2 cup butter or margarine
  • 1/8 teaspoon pepper
  • 1 teaspoon basil
  • 1 pound crab meat or imitation crab meat
  • 1-1/2 cups shredded Swiss cheese
  • 1 cup bread crumbs
  • 3 medium tomatoes
Sauté zucchini, onion, and garlic in butter about 5 minutes until tender.  Add seasonings, crab meat, Swiss cheese, and bread crumbs.  Chop tomatoes, removing seeds.  Add tomatoes to mixture and toss lightly.  Place in a lightly greased glass casserole dish and bake in a 375 F oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until heated through and cheese melts.

Makes 4-6 servings.

About the Fishmonger

Doris Hicks, Seafood Technology Specialist, This email address is being protected from spam bots, you need Javascript enabled to view it

Image As seafood specialist, for the University of Delaware Sea Grant Marine Advisory Service, Hicks works with both the seafood industry and consumers to develop educational programs about the proper way to handle, store, and prepare finfish and shellfish.  In addition to these outreach efforts, Hicks serves as a seafood safety instructor, providing training programs to seafood processors throughout the region. She also has conducted research with University of Delaware colleagues to explore new technologies for pasteurizing seafood.  Hicks received her bachelor's degree in food science from Rutgers University and her master's degree in food science and human nutrition from the University of Delaware.

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