A Fooducate community member, Sofia, recently emailed us with this question:
What is it about “Surimi” (or crab sticks), I often see women who are on protein diet eating surimis, I see them in my sushis, I see them in every supermaket but I really wonder if they are ok to eat? Are they healthy because they look quite artificial to me…?! I try to avoid them (no idea why btw)… but I have to confess that they’re quite tasty.
So please, I would be very thankful if you could enlighten me! In order to next time I eat (or avoid) them, simply know why…
We’ll be glad to elucidate.
What you need to know:
1. Surimi is a Japanese word that literally means “ground meat”.
2. To make surimi, the lean meat from white fleshed fish such as pollock is pulverized into a thick paste. The gelatinous paste can then be combined with various additives to become fake crab, fake lobster, and whatnot.
3. The assortment of additives may include other fish products, but it is usually egg whites, oils, salt, starches, and spices.
4. Here is the ingredient list for a fake crab product called Trans Ocean Crab Classic:
Alaska Pollock, Water, Egg Whites, Wheat Starch, Sugar, Corn Starch, Sorbitol, Contains 2% or Less of the Following: 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.
You can see that it is a highly processed food product, with MSG and an assortment of starches and gums to create the expected texture.
5. Food manufacturers love Surimi because it enables them to take cheap fish and upgrade it to a taste and mouthfeel of the most expensive fish meats – crab and lobster.
6. Approximately 2% of the world’s fish catch is processed into some sort of surimi paste.
7. Nutritionally, surimi is low in fat, but usually very high in sodium. In the product example above, a serving of 2 fake legs contains 480mg of sodium (20% of the daily max)
8. Surimi does have some protein due to the fish and egg content. But nothing to write home about. The above product has 6 grams of protein for a 3 ounce serving. Tuna has 30 grams. Lentils have 20. Cheese has 30 grams.
9. Surimi is cheap – you’ll pay 20-30 cents per ounce. Canned salmon or tuna are usually 50-60 cents per ounce. Real crab and lobster are much more expensive.