For sure, most of us are familiar with these tightly packed red and white imitations presented in the seafood aisle of Asian grocery stores. They are known as imitation crab meat resembles crabs but far more than the real thing.
Imitation crab is a popular ingredient in express sushi rolls, but what is it? Is it worth purchasing?
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what is imitation crab made out of
Although it is not real crab meat, the keyword here is "imitation," meaning you're not getting the real crab.
It only seems like crab meat because of its color and flavor. It resembles authentic meat from crabs, and the affordable price makes it an attractive option.
Pollock is the most common type of fish that manufacturers use in making imitation crab meat. It is accessible, but it is less flavorful—the reason why it's perfect for replacing crab. Imitation crab producers also use barracuda, mackerel, and cod.
Imitation crab meat is made of surimi, a mashed-up fish that has been heavily processed and turned into a gel-like substance according to Oregon State University Seafood Lab.
To achieve the texture and taste in your California rolls, makers added artificial flavors, sugars, starches, and sometimes MSG (via SF Gate).
These additives reduce the nutritional value of imitation crab. If you need a gluten-free ingredient, imitation crab meat is not for you.
Can you freeze imitation crab?
Imitation crab meat contains fish meat and is commonly sold frozen, so it is always risky to thaw and refreeze it again.
It is fine to freeze once, but it cannot be allowed to thaw and be frozen again.
- You can store imitation crab meat, unopened, in its original container in your freezer.
- If you just bought it, open the package, take as much as you need and then freeze the rest.
- Get a sealable, freezer-safe bag and put the opened bag of imitation crab meat in it. Then, you can place it in your freezer.
Be sure to keep the crab meat sealed in a freezer-safe bag or a plastic food-grade container. Imitation crab meat tends to absorb other odors in your freezer. In turn, other foods in your freezer might absorb its odors.
Upsides and downsides of imitation crab meat
Here are some of the known advantages and disadvantages of imitation crab meat:
Manufacturers and consumers alike prefer imitation crab because it is cost-effective. Real crab meat may not be easy to come by and could even be expensive.
You can find it easily from many retailers, and it also has a lot of uses. Imitation crab meat can be a great addition to your pasta dishes, salads, sushi, and dips.
For health-conscious people, the imitation crab stick is a better choice than authentic meat from crabs. It has a lower calorie and sodium content.
Synthetic crab meat is also safe for people who are allergic to shellfish.
If you want more nutritional value on your food, get the real meat from crabs because imitation crab meat has low amounts of vitamin B12, selenium, and protein.
The additives in imitation crab meat can trigger allergies if you have particular food sensitivities. You should not eat this crab meat if you have a gluten allergy.
Manufacturers add vegetable oil, sugar, and starch to imitation crab meat. They end up having more carbohydrates than real meat from crabs.
Stay away from this food item if you are watching your carbohydrate intake.
How to thaw frozen imitation crab meat?
Take precautions when thawing imitation crab meat or stick as it contains fish products—hence exposing to a certain temperature conducive to bacterial growth.
Seafood is more sensitive to changes in temperature. Once it gets to room temperature or higher, it begins to go bad.
Thawing imitation crab meat depends on how quickly you need it.
- Remove the unopened bag of synthetic crab meat and let it thaw overnight in your freezer. Doing this way will allow the meat to thaw safely.
- You can take out the crab sticks from the freezer for a faster defrosting and then run it under some cold water to thaw it more quickly.
Remember that once you thaw the imitation crab meat, you cannot freeze it again.
When you take out poultry meat, beef, or pork from your freezer, you don't put them back in again. The same applies to imitation crab meat.
Once you thaw the crab meat, you expose it to harmful bacteria, which also deteriorates the quality.
When you freeze imitation crab meat, ice crystals accumulate and damage the cell walls of the meat. Re-freezing will result in mushy crab meat.
Other common ingredients
Deciding to refreeze the crab meat is a bit tricky, considering that this food has myriad ingredients to consider.
Many components in your imitation crab meat do not freeze well and should never be refrozen.
Corn, potato, or wheat are the starches that manufacturers use to make imitation crab meat freezable and firm. After you freeze the meat, the starch causes the artificial crab meat to sticky and soft.
This is possibly the cheapest ingredient in making any food. In manufacturing imitation crab meat, water keeps the production process low cost and maintains the correct texture.
The water in the artificial crab meat crystallizes, destroying the meat's quality when you freeze it excessively.
Most manufacturers resort to egg whites for protein others prefer soy. Egg whites do not freeze well, which contributes to the decline of quality while increasing bacterial risk.
4 Vegetable oil
Shelf life is vital in imitation crab meat and adding vegetable oil extends the shelf life of the product while maintaining the texture and color.
The downside, oil, tends to solidify when frozen, resulting in the meat's texture deterioration.
This is the one ingredient in imitation crab meat that helps in freezing and thawing. Aside from that, sugar also gives a hint of sweetness to the meat.
When manufacturers combine these ingredients with other additives and preservatives, they cook and then shape everything into portions that resemble crab meat.
The finished products are then pasteurized to kill the bad bacteria and vacuum-sealed to keep everything safe.
What is the difference between lump crab meat and imitation crab meat?
Surimi—a minced-fish paste—is the main ingredient in imitation crab meat loaded with fishy elements such as fish flakes. It is also based on some aspects like mayonnaise to achieve a texture similar to crab meat.
Another byproduct made of imitation crab is the crab stick. This means, your sushi rolls are made of imitation-style crab.
The common fishes use for making imitation crab are cod, mackerel, pollock, and cod. Many restaurants have real crab meat on their menu if you are looking for real meat from crabs.
The real lump crab merely is like that - real and authentic meat from the crab.
Most people consider how different fresh crab meat is from canned crab meat. They are also curious about learning the right way to choose crab meat.
The difference between fresh and canned crab meat is not clear at all. Perhaps the taste is not that far apart because restaurants use canned crab meat for their recipes.
The meats are both real, but fresh crab meat has better taste and quality. Before you order a crab dish at a restaurant, ask if they are using fresh or crab meat.
Crabmeat in a can is already cooked.
It may be convenient to use, but fresh crab meat is always the better choice. Home cooks who want to make crab dishes quickly use canned crab meat.
They also use it if they don't want to make mistakes in preparing fresh crab meat.
Imitation crab is like most surimi or artificial shellfish—low in sodium. One serving of imitation crab (3 ounces) has 1,050 mg of sodium. The packaging determines its shelf life in the fridge.
Generally, vacuum-sealed, pasteurized products can last in the refrigerator for about a couple of months. Once you open them, you should use them in just three days. Try to think of them as fresh crab meat once you open the packaging.
Loose imitation crab will last good in your fridge for three to five days. When you freeze it, use it in six months. You will know that imitation crab meat has gone bad already if it smells bad, sour, and slimy. The sugar added to imitation crab can help preserve it a bit. Read the label and check how much sugar your imitation crab contains.
Yes, you can, but only if the imitation crab meat is not stored correctly and prepared adequately. Remember that you should store all food products the right way to prevent bacteria from growing in them.
Bacterial growth spikes in temperatures from 40° to 140° F; that is why it’s essential to keep your imitation crab meat frozen or refrigerated. If you store artificial crab meat at the wrong temperatures, you will encourage harmful pathogens to thrive. You will only end up with food poisoning.
Note that artificial crab is cooked thoroughly. You don’t have to cook it again. Although you frozen crab meat, all you need to do is thaw it properly and heat it gently. If it gets too hot or heats it too long or quickly, the meat’s quality deteriorates.
Imitation crab is not crab. It’s a little blander than crab because it is made of fish paste. Mild-flavored fish like haddock, whiting, or even a blend of various fish species is used to make it. You get a hint of real crab flavor and texture because of the right combination of additives and ingredients.
If you are on a keto diet, imitation crab is a good food choice. This type of crab meat is made of wheat and the flesh of white fish. Even if there are additional starches, you will only get 20 grams of carbohydrates in one serving.
Imitation crab meat is not a separate food group (yet), but it can help take the place of genuine crab that may trigger food sensitivities.
Even if it is mild, it imparts the crab flavor you need in sushi rolls, sandwiches, and other dishes. Just learn how to store and prepare your crab meat the right way.
Through the things you have just learned, the lingering question, “Can you freeze crab meat?” is not that big a mystery to you anymore.