You may not have heard of surimi before, but you may know it by its more popular name: “imitation” seafood. calling it that is really misleading. If a comedian imitates Robert De Niro, he’s not really De Niro, no matter how perfectly he says “Are you talking to me?” but surimi isn’t imitation seafood, it’s real seafood! It’s typically made from Alaskan pollock or Pacific whiting, according to studies by the Oregon State University Seafood Laboratory. the fish goes through a complicated manufacturing process and turns into a gel. depending on how that gel is processed, it can be used as a substitute for various types of shellfish, including lobster and crab.
surimi seafood was first created by Japanese chefs hundreds of years ago, who saved extra fish they couldn’t use by salting it and grinding it into a gel. this is not a new phenomenon either: the Japanese have considered it a delicacy for 900 years. In the 1960s, a Japanese chemist discovered how to preserve surimi with sugar, giving it a long shelf life, officially starting an entire surimi industry. It’s not just a Japanese industry today – there are also many fisheries (such as where farmed fish are raised) on the Oregon coast. they make about 200,000 tons of surimi a year, according to dr. jae park, food scientist at osu.
Its popularity is likely tied, in part, to the fact that it’s cheaper than other types of seafood you might be told; fooducate estimates that surimi costs around 20-30 cents an ounce. lobster meat costs about $3.12 per ounce based on current market prices. it’s basically the cubic zirconia of the shellfish game.
Seafood surimi is in more dishes than you think. It is one of the main ingredients in Subway’s underwater seafood sensation. you will get the feeling that it is mostly not crab! According to SeafoodSource, the sandwich is 10% king crab meat and 90% surimi made from Alaskan pollock. some non-chain restaurants are also introducing surimi shellfish to their dishes by hiding it in “lobster” rolls. a place where you won’t oddly find surimi shellfish masquerading as a lobster roll? McDonald’s! we know you’re going to need a moment to absorb that. we can wait.
and if you’ve ever had a california roll, you probably know that the “crab” in there isn’t really crab, but is often called “crab”. and the crab is 100% seafood with surimi. while it’s easy to raise cattle for hamburgers… farm-raised crabs? Not that much. “There really isn’t much in the way of aquaculture crab,” says Paul Greenberg, author of American Catch, “so faking the crab is easier than raising it.” greenberg also sent this hilarious clip about a fake crab to curb your enthusiasm, which makes this story 1000% more fun to read.
Not everyone agrees that surimi is healthy, but dr. park says that surimi has many health benefits. It is high in omega-3, which aids in weight loss and helps fight inflammation. when the fish is made into surimi, it loses the omega-3s naturally found in the pollock, but the omega-3 oil from the pollock is added to the crab stick before it goes into the sushi. he also says that it is a low-fat food and depending on the brand of surimi you eat, it could be high in protein.
dr. Carl Safina, president of the Safina Center and a conservationist, isn’t all that enthusiastic about surimi. “If we could know for sure whether Alaskan pollock [a fish considered well-managed and sustainable] is what surimi is made of in all cases, it would be easier to comment,” he says. “I personally avoid it. Most seafood isn’t highly processed, but surimi is an exception.” he adds that processed foods are potentially harmful to your body.