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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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March 12, 2008

Mystery Meat: Imitation Crab

By Worker Bee
47 Comments

While it is often said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, when it comes to imitation crab meat, that’s actually far from the case! But to understand why imitation crab is not the way to go, we must first understand exactly what it is…

To create imitation crab meat, manufacturers typically start with a base of Alaska Pollock (also known as Walleye Pollock, Whiting or Snow Cod). This fish is chosen primarily because it has a mild flavor that allows it to easily take on the flavor and texture of traditional crab meat, but also because it is readily available and is cheap to buy and process. To create the crab meat, manufacturers skin and de-bone the fish, mince it and then leach it of water to create a thick paste known as surimi. But we all know a fish paste isn’t going to cut it, so manufacturers add some combination of starch – usually wheat or tapioca – to stiffen up the mixture, sugars to preserve the surimi for storage and freezing, and egg whites to again stabilize the mixture and add gloss and shine. Vegetable oil can also be added to improve the texture of the mix.

To create the appropriate flavoring and coloring, manufacturers can either opt for natural flavorings – which are extracted from real crabs – or artificial flavorings. Popular artificial flavorings include carmine, caramel, paprika, and annatto extract – which, incidentally, can also help achieve the pink, orange and red hues found in real crab meat. In some cases, manufacturers will also add monosodium glutamate (MSG) to help enhance the flavor.

Finally, the mixture is steam cooked to create a flaky texture, vacuum packed to preserve the flavor and texture and shipped on out to the grocery stores.

What does a nutrition label have to say about imitation crab meat? Well, a 2 cup serving of real crab meat, for example, averages about 50 calories, 1 gram of fat, 7 grams of protein and less than 1 gram of carbohydrates. For imitation crab meat, calorie counts and fat grams are about the same, but because the fake stuff is mixed with sugars and starches, the carbohydrate content can go up significantly, with some varieties logging as much as 20 grams of carbohydrate – and an astronomical amount of sugar – per serving.

But is it bad for you? Well, not if you don’t care that some forms glow in the dark! According to this Food and Drug Administration (FDA) release examining the phenomenon, the glow is due to luminescent bacteria that occur naturally in seawater, fish, shellfish, and marine animals. But can it make you sick? Well, provided the manufacturer takes the steps necessary to ensure proper hygiene and appropriate food handling – and that the imitation crab has been thoroughly cooked during manufacturing – you should be ok. But to be fair, this could happen with the real deal too!

A second study in the Journal of Food Science, meanwhile, found that imitation crab meat can promote the growth of various bacterial pathogens if incorrectly stored either while leaving the plant or once in the home (although it should be noted that this is the case with many foods.).

The bottom line? Imitation crab, like almost any processed food item, is best avoided. Due to the various stabilizers, preservatives, sugar and added sodium, it’s best to save your pennies and opt for the real deal!

Sarey* Flickr Photo (CC)

Further Reading:

Shellfish: Healthy or Not?

A Cranky Crab Confesses: Yes, I Use Splenda!

Crabby Mushroom Recipe

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47 Comments on "Mystery Meat: Imitation Crab"

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Robert the Bruce
Robert the Bruce
8 years 6 months ago

I used to like the seafood and crab sandwich from subway until I found out what was actually in imitation crab meat. Preservatives, like the preservatives found in ketchup are extremely bad for you. So, regrettably I can no longer get the sub sandwich anymore. I really liked it too.

lee
lee
5 years 2 months ago

hey i just managed to imitate the seafood part of their sub. i cut up imitation crab meat with a smidgen of imitation of lobster stirred up with real mayonaise (failed with the salad dressing version). but the key was adding what I would on my sub (oil, vinegar, salt and pepper). for the oil it is 90% olive oil and 10% canola and the vinegar is red wine vinegar. I just looked up on how to copy the bread as well… i get to try that tomorrow lol

Crabman
Crabman
8 years 6 months ago
Sure, it’s no organic grass fed beef. But imitation crab meat packs a wallop of protein for the relatively few calories it contains. And most fake crab meats range in the 7-12 grams of carbs rather than 20, which isn’t all that bad when comparing it to, oh, say, the typical protein shake, which range from 20-40 (Slimfast is somewhere in the high 30’s I believe). There are those who swear off processed foods and diet sodas, and all the more power to them, that’s the true healthy way to go. But I’d argue, blow-for-blow, imitation crabmeat is healthier than… Read more »
jem
jem
6 years 2 days ago
I’m taking a very ‘typical’ protein shake right now (100% optimum whey) and it’s only got 4grams of carbs per serving. I think you’re mistaking the TOTAL gram per serving of “”20-40″” for the carbs. very misleading. people take whey protein shakes to get faster EAA absorption for the working muscle (upregulate protein synthesis) I don’t see why it’s even irrelevant to compare carbs content of imitation crab with whey protein shakes. kinda hard for me to visualize people workingout hard at the gym while munching on imitation crabs. lol. (another irrevelant observation for the readers) slimfast is typically geared… Read more »
Huckleberry
8 years 6 months ago

I’ve never eaten imitation crab meat, and I’ve never trusted imitation meats, even when I was a vegetarian. To use artificial flavors, tricks, and substitutes to make something taste like a natural food is counter to what I believe about real, wholesome food. I think it also tricks people into thinking they’re getting the nutrition benefits of the real thing. I know a vegetarian who eats a ton of an imitation meat made of corn. Scary.

Food Is Love

Migraineur
8 years 6 months ago

Anyone who’s ever lived in Maryland knows that the real problem with imitation crab meat is that it tastes nothing whatsoever like crab! Fake crab is to real crab as veggie burgers are to ground sirloin. The real stuff is expensive, but I’d much rather have it two or three times a year than have the icky stuff once a week. And that was true even before I discovered LC.

Barbara
Barbara
8 years 6 months ago

I used to eat the imitation crab and lobster until I got really sick once, years ago. Then I read the package and I’ve never touched it since.

tatsujin
8 years 6 months ago

“Surimi” as it is affectionally known in Japan.
I’ve searched EVERYWHERE for a healthy option. I enjoy the taste of it, and like Crabman said, packs a good amount of protein, but unfortunately have not found any alternatives from the real processed stuff. The regular brands available here in the US have some very questionable ingredients.
Marc

Multi Sport 70.3
Multi Sport 70.3
3 years 11 months ago

Just as you wouldn’t expect to purchase a prime rib at hamburger prices, you won’t find premium surimi sold cheaply in one of the large grocers. However, web sites and specialty food stores may be your better alternative. This year will be a whole new ball game with over 30% increases in beef prices and strong poultry markets. Americans will be forced to look new places for safe protein and food companies will respond.

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[…] Mystery Meat: Imitation Crab […]

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[…] You mean that stuff at the Chinese buffet isn’t real crab? Mystery Meat: Imitation Crab – “manufacturers skin and de-bone the fish, mince it and then leach it of water to create a […]

Eduardo
Eduardo
8 years 5 months ago

I have just finished a fresh crab sandwich on fresh white crusty bread with real butter, whole egg mayonnaise and a pinch of salt & pepper – I rest my case…

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[…] Imitation Crab: What is That Stuff? […]

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[…] Imitation Crab: What is that Stuff? […]

cheryl
cheryl
8 years 3 months ago

I have been sick all day from eating a salad with IC in it. Then I checked this site out and now I see why I am sick. If it’s not Maryland crabs, then none for me

Bev
7 years 6 months ago

After living in the mid-west for so long away from “the real deal” crab meat, it was hard find and imitation crab meat was much cheaper for us poor folk. With this said, imitation crab meat is a blessing in disguise for a lot of people in such areas. Finding good imitation crab recipes can be the hot pursuit of the day.
Basically, good quality imitation crab meat is much like King crab in its texture and draws close to its sweet flavor.
Good article!

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7 years 3 months ago

[…] Mystery Meat: Imitation Crab – Mar. 12 […]

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[…] what we eat and how we eat. I think that stinks. Don't like it eat some artificial crab meat. http://www.marksdailyapple.com/imitation-crab/ Nothing to Apologize about. Someday gardens are trees maybe not needed. Just like in the movie […]

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[…] ?????? ???? ?????? ?????? ??? ????? ????? ???????? | ???? : Subway, ???? […]

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[…] not a good choice. Its just like any other processed food. Added sugars and calories that, I/we don't need or should get else where. __________________ […]

Alex
Alex
5 years 4 months ago
I love all the people that pretend that they eat healthy. Unless you grow your own tomatoes and potatoes in Argentina or something where there is zero polution you all are in the same boat as us “normal” people. Just eat proper portions, excersice and live “healthy” and you are good to go. There has been too much fake healthy hype recently, from organic to “natural” to low fat to low calorie. Its all BS. At this rate you might want to start plugging your nose with air filters and wear sunblock everywhere you go so you dont breath in… Read more »
Shannon
Shannon
4 years 2 months ago

Gee, thanks so much for all your insight. Mark only has a website and several books and makes a living from selling this lifestyle, and your one comment showed me the light. I have wasted two years of my life following his program, and Mark? How many years of his??? If only you had posted sooner, or maybe you have your own website and business that promotes YOUR lifestyle that keeps YOU healthy and in such great shape? OH… WAIT…. You DON’T. You’re just a TROLL. (Why are you here????)

Cathy
Cathy
5 years 3 months ago

my dad eats the glow-in-the dark, processed, crab flavored ground and processed pollock on a daily basis for about 2 years now and tonight he is sicker than sick can be and can’t figure out why….i tried to tell him this stuff is bad for him…and I’m convinced it’s why he is so very ill tonight….vomiting and diarrhea… and plenty of pain…not nice at all!!!! Stay clear of this crap crab stuff folks!!! I think I might be in for an ER visit with my dad tonight.

Hoosier
Hoosier
5 years 2 months ago

If your dad has eaten it for two years without problem, then he’s probably sick from something else.

Toronto
5 years 2 months ago

Well, reading this article totally makes me want to throw out the crab meat I just bought…

ABK
ABK
5 years 5 days ago

Did anyone check out where the food coloring “carmine” comes from? In the article above:

Popular artificial flavorings include carmine, caramel, paprika, and annatto extract – which, incidentally, can also help achieve the pink, orange and red hues found in real crab meat.

Wikepeadia says …

Carmine is the red pigment of cormonic acid that’s made from …the scales of boiled dried insects called cochineal.

It’s also used to make rouge and other cosmetics. It’s in red colored foods and drinks, including cheap curries. And it can cause severe allergic reactions.

Erin
Erin
4 years 11 months ago
Imitation crab or surimi is minced fish. Yes, fillers are added to give it texture; usually eggs. It’s called read your food labels: just like any other food, imitation crab can have excessive fillers and preservatives. To the commenter above, I hope you swear off all other foods that contain carmine (red dye) otherwise you’re only spreading your ignorance. Also from Wikipedia: Carmine is used as a food dye in many different products such as juices, ice cream, yogurt, and candy, and as a dye in cosmetic products such as eyeshadow and lipstick. Although principally a red dye, it is… Read more »
Ralph Idema
4 years 9 months ago

Good info.

If I want Pollock, I’ll just eat pollock without the processing!

Ralph, Ottawa Canada, (613) 276-3812

Linda
Linda
4 years 9 months ago

Anything that has the words “artificial” in the product name should be steered clear of. Eat the real deal and stop being lazy and cheap, folks. All processed foods are unhealthy – period.

kay
kay
3 years 6 months ago
“stop being lazy and cheap” you must be one of those clueless rich people who thinks your way is the only way. I work 40+ hours per week, and I can only afford $20-$30/week on food. Most people are in this or a similar boat. I can either buy the factory farmed, processed/mass produced foods and meet my nutritional requirements, or I can take your sage advice and also turn off my electricity and heat. Most people who eat the canned crap available wish it was so easy to just up and “stop being so cheap,” but the reality is… Read more »
Gary
Gary
4 years 9 months ago
I eat Seafood Subways all the time and aside from a higher calorie content because of the added mayo, I am not concerned. As someone else said above, unless you grow your own food you are eating wheat-starch, corn syrup, MSG and other artificial ingredients in basically anything you can buy in a Supermarket. I DO grow some of my own food and buy locally produced eggs from someone with her own hens just outside town so I know where they come from. I enjoy Subway, but I will NOT buy Tuna (for obvious sustainability reasons), beef (hormones), chicken (inhumane… Read more »
Mike
Mike
4 years 7 months ago

I buy my imitation crab at Fresh & Easy. It contains NO ARTIFICIAL flavors or preservatives! It’s basically pollock with some egg whites and starch. Nutritionally, the bang for your buck is out of this world. Schwing!

mako
mako
4 years 6 months ago

Imitation crab can be like Jinah crab claws comped to Stone crab claws.Mine too is simply pollack,eggwhites and starch.I have had some pretty expensive ,premium branded crab meat fro a can and it was awful!

Jackie
Jackie
4 years 6 months ago

I’ve eaten real crab at some of the best restaurants prepared in different ways and I prefer imitation crab; it just tastes better. Real crab tastes gross; imitation crab dipped in thousand island is amazing. I’ve had real crab steamed, with butter, Asian style etc. I still prefer imitation crab.

Shannon
Shannon
4 years 2 months ago
Hi! I have been Primal for about 2 years and for biblical reasons have chosen to not eat pork or shellfish. Now, I love the taste of pork, which I satisfy with turkey bacon on the rare occasion. However, I have found that when I need crab meat if I sub with canned salmon (or even tuna on a budget) then i season it right and no one can tell the difference. In fact, I find that you can make anything taste how you want if you only take a few minutes and season things properly – but then, I… Read more »
Martha
Martha
3 years 11 months ago
It boggles my mind why people only take a certain part of the bible and run with it without reading the entire thing and looking at the whole picture… unbelievable but if you think that is the way to your salvation, more power to you… Leviticus chapter 11 lists the dietary restrictions God gave to the nation of Israel. The dietary laws included prohibitions against eating pork, shrimp, shellfish and many types of seafood, most insects, scavenger birds, and various other animals. The dietary rules were never intended to apply to anyone other than the Israelites. The purpose of the… Read more »
Nik
Nik
2 years 3 days ago

I agree, but what boggles my mind is that this chapter clearly says that he is not to call a man unclean. It has absolutely nothing to do with the foods in the vision and Peter makes this clear when he defines what the vision means. Gotta follow the same process that you insist others do.

Moxi
Moxi
4 years 2 months ago

Can I freeze it after I bring it home from the store?

carrie
carrie
4 years 1 month ago

it doesn’t freeze well..the texture is off when you unthaw. I had to toss it out.

SunBeam
SunBeam
4 years 27 days ago
I absolutely agree with Crabman. In addition to his points, some facts to remember: 1) Crab producers got legislation passed FORCING surimi / kamaboko products to be called “Imitation” or “Artificial” to achieve the very fear exmplified by many. 2) There are a multitude of animal-based products that have names far friendlier and are far FAR worse for you. Hot dogs would be called “Imitation Meat”. Sausage would be “Artificial Pork/Beef”. Chicken nuggets titled “Fake Bird”. So don’t let the title bend you out of shape. 3) Ever heard of a ‘recipe’? Well, that’s pretty much what ‘analog seafood products’… Read more »
Alice Jarosz
Alice Jarosz
3 years 9 months ago
Annato extract used in artificial favouring combats “Bad” Cholesterol “Richard E. Tapert, D.O., author of “Stop Worrying About Cholesterol!” touts the tocotrienols in annatto seeds and leaves for their ability to lower the liver’s production of low-density lipoprotein — the so-called bad cholesterol — without also inhibiting the organ’s output of Coenzyme Q10. This, says Tapert, is far superior to the performance of statins, which also lower cholesterol but at the same time drastically reduce production of CoQ10, a powerful antioxidant. As an added benefit, the tocotrienols in annatto have potent anti-inflammatory properties, which help to reduce platelet clumping, vasoconstriction… Read more »
Ron
Ron
3 years 8 months ago
This was the worst article I have ever read… well not literally but it was really bad. The internet is full of this baseless nonsense. Not one fact tells you that there is any reason to stay away from imitation crab. It is someone that has a gut feeling about a product , finds a couple of almost facts(like if it isn’t fully cooked) and write a story about it. You get the same baseless articles about cleansing and organic food. Come on hippies stop thinking with your gut and actually do some research. Stop trying to prove your gut… Read more »
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[…] that stuff is actually pretty rank. If you’ve a tolerant gag reflex, you can read about it here. It’s a scare story worthy of […]

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[…] like crab. it’s higher in calories and some have been shown to glow in the dark. (check out Mystery Meat to learn […]

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[…] up some seafood and while I was there I decided to give some real-deal crab a try, rather than the starchy-MSG-and-sugar laden immitation […]

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[…] Mystery Meat: Imitation Crab | Mark’s Daily Apple – To create imitation crab meat, … been serving up real crab and imitation crabs via at least 4000+ california rolls and … Stick that imitation crab meat in your … […]

Fran
Fran
6 months 6 days ago

Here we are, five years after the Fukushima nuclear disaster and except for locally (river/lake/pond) caught fish, no more for me! Christmas Eve dinner was always Crab Louie made with Alaskan King Crab, but no more. We love shell fish, cod, monk fish, sea bass — you name it.

Problem: We don’t want to glow in the dark!

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