There are several reasons why surimi – the imitation crab sticks wrapped in plastic packages are many people’s favorite appetizer. For one thing, they look like crab, even taste like crab, but, more importantly, they are more available and cheaper than crab.
However, this imitation food is far from the real thing in terms of content , nutritional value and health benefits.
What Is Imitation Crab Meat Made Of
Surimi” is “ground meat” in Japanese. Surimi sticks are made by combing white meat fish, such as Pollock (this gives the food thick consistency), and a range of other ingredients that improve its taste and make it resemble crab.
The list of ingredients for one brand of imitation crab includes the following:
Alaska Pollock, Water, Egg Whites, Wheat Starch, Sugar, Corn Starch, Sorbitol, King Crab Meat, Natural and Artificial Flavor, Extracts of Crab, Oyster, Scallop, Lobster and Fish (Salmon, Anchovy, Bonito, Cutlassfish), Refined Fish Oil (Adds a Trivial Amount of Fat) (Anchovy, Sardine), Rice Wine (Rice, Water, Koji, Yeast, Salt), Sea Salt, Modified Tapioca Starch, Carrageenan, Yam Flour, Hydrolyzed Soy, Corn, and Wheat Proteins, Potassium Chloride, Disodium Inosinate and Guanylate, Sodium Pyrophosphate, Carmine, Paprika.
Now, let’s take a look at some of the most questionable ingredients:
- Potassium Chloride
This substance is a salt substitute linked to cardiovascular distress, muscular weakness and paralysis, and gastrointestinal effects of nausea and vomiting when taken in large doses.
- Disodium Inosinate and Guanylate
These are flavor enhancers used together with monosodium glutamate (MSG). Manufacturers often use different forms of similar chemicals so they don’t have to list MSG on the label as many people try to avoid it.
- Sodium Pyrophosphate
This is a crystalline food additive used to maintain acidity level and bind the other ingredients. As cited on one food site: “Reports have shown that (tetra)sodium pyrophosphate is twice as toxic as table salt when ingested orally. It is a source of phosphorous as a nutrient. Because its production methods and side effects are relatively unknown, consumption should be avoided. Some individuals may experience stomach cramps and discomfort.”
Carmine is made from crushed cochineal beetles which are red. This substance is used to make surimi look red like crab on the outside. However, carmine has also been linked to allergies and a number of dietary issues.
- Other Ingredients
Other disputed ingredients in surimi include sorbitol, which is a form of sugar (it’s not specified on the label whether it’s naturally-occurring or synthetic—it could be either and is in addition to the Sugar also on the label); carrageenan, which is a seaweed extract that although a natural product, still causes inflammation and gastrointestinal problems; hydrolyzed soy or MSG, etc.
“Hydrolysis is a method of extraction that boils the soy protein in a vat of sulfuric acid. Manufacturers mix the resulting acidic substance with caustic soda to neutralize the acid content. While hydrolyzed soy protein contains most of the nutrients and health benefits of soy, when you consume this type of soy you also consume the unhealthy chemical byproducts of the manufacturing process… such as monosodium glutamate that can lead to health problems. According to “Excitotoxins: The Taste That Kills,” the Food and Drug Administration [FDA] requires food manufacturers to list MSG as an ingredient when used in the preparation of packaged food. However, FDA regulations do not require the same labeling when a food contains hydrolyzed soy protein, despite the fact that this type of soy contains large quantities of MSG. In fact, some food manufacturers use hydrolyzed soy protein as a flavor enhancer to work around the FDA’s MSG labeling requirement.”
- High Sodium Content
Surimi may be low in fat, but they are high in sodium —only 2 pieces contain 20% of the recommended daily value for sodium.
- Not Your Best Protein Source
Surimi is mostly fish, which means it provides a lot of protein, but, lentils have 3 times more protein by weight; cheese and tuna 5 times more. In other words, surimi packs lower nutritional value.