Imitation crab is simply a cheaper fish that is made to taste, look, smell and feel like crab.
It’s contents is mainly made up of a fish slurry called surimi. The fish used is normally Alaskan Pollock because it is cheap and abundant. The shiny texture comes from egg whites and the red coloring on the mainly white body of the fake crab comes from a food dye called Carmine.
Here’s a little tidbit of useless information I bet you didn’t know…
Carmine is a popular red pigment food dye that is found in many of the products in your grocery store including; candy, popsicles, kool-aid and other juices, cereal, yogurt as well as make-up products. If it’s got a red pigment then Carmine is probably one of the ingredients. But what is Carmine anyhow? Well…boiled bugs! Yup! Carmine comes from boiled dried insects called Cochineal. You’re welcome!
Okay back to crab talk.
“Where does imitation crab get it’s crab flavoring from?” asks someone who has a keen interest in fake crab.
The answer is not so simple because not all of imitation crab are created equally.
In the manufacturing plant Pollock is cleaned, de-boned and skinned. It is then blended into a thick paste where most of the water is removed. This is called surimi (a Japanese term for fish slurry). Some starch, in the form of tapioca or wheat, is added to hold the texture. Sugars are added to preserve the meat and egg whites are added for texture and appeal.
Pollock has a mild flavoring which makes it easy to transform the flavoring into a crab-like taste.
A higher grade of crab sticks will be flavored with crab flavorings coming from real crabs. While lesser crab sticks will be flavored with artificial flavorings such as paprika, annatto (found in real crabs), carmine and caramel.
When it’s all blended together it gets steamed to create the crab-like chunky flakes then vacuum packed and shipped to a store near you.
To find the top grade (but still really cheap) fake crab look in your local Japanese grocery store. I have one relatively close to my house called Fujiya. This is where you will find the same crab that is used in your california rolls and the right mayonnaise to mix into it.
For those interested in the nutritional content, real crab has 0 carbohydrates where the fake stuff can have as many as 20 grams.
- Imitation crab