Imitation Crab Meat May Be Worse Than Expected

A recent study found that imitation crab meat may be even worse than you think, with the FDA warning consumers about products containing it. The study also found that some “white tuna” products were made from pollock and other fish species.


Have you ever bought Chinese takeout or dined at a sushi restaurant? If you answered yes, there’s a high possibility you’ve eaten fake crab flesh at some time, whether you realized it or not.

Imitation crab has become a popular component in restaurants, grocery shops, and home kitchens because of its flexibility, simplicity of preparation, and cost-effectiveness.

Is imitation crab a vegetarian option?

Imitation crab flesh is neither vegan nor even vegetarian, contrary to common assumption. Even more unexpected, it often lacks crab meat entirely and instead includes more carbs and carbohydrates than protein.

What Is Crab Meat Imitated?

Imitation crab meat, also known as kanikama, is a common ingredient in dishes including California rolls, crab rangoons, and crab cakes.

So, what is imitation crab, exactly? Is fake crab meat made from real crab flesh?

Imitation crab’s main component is Kani surimi, a gel-like material produced by crushing several fish into a thick paste and adding starch, fillers, artificial flavoring, and food coloring to imitate the taste and texture and look of genuine crab.

In 1973, Sugiyo, a Japanese firm, developed and patented imitation crab for the first time. Within a year, other businesses started producing imitation crab in the famous crab stick shape, and the product began to gain momentum.

Sugiyo started working with a U.S.-based business a few years later, in 1976, to bring imitation crab to the United States and the rest of the globe.

Imitation crab meat is now extensively eaten worldwide and is used in a variety of recipes.

Surimi-based goods, such as imitation crab meat, are projected to utilize 2 million to 3 million tons of fish across the globe or approximately 2% to 3% of the total global fisheries supply.

Because of its bland taste, quantity, and ease of availability, pollock is the most frequent fish used to make imitation crab flesh. However, other species such as cod, mackerel, and barracuda are also sometimes used.

Many believe it to be the seafood counterpart of the hot dog, consisting of fish pieces and questionable ingredients mashed up into a cheap, highly processed convenience meal due to its low nutritional profile and a lengthy list of chemicals.

It is still a popular component in various cuisines because of its flexibility, cheap cost, and simplicity of preparation.

It has become a popular option for everyone, from food producers to restaurants and customers, since it is considerably less expensive than ordinary crab flesh.

Is It Beneficial to Your Health?

Although imitation crab nutrition is low in calories, it does include protein, carbs, and salt.

In a three-ounce serving of imitation crab flesh, you’ll find:

  • Calories Count: 81
  • Carbs: 13 grams
  • Protein content: 6 grams
  • Fat: 0.4 grams
  • Fiber: 0.4 grams
  • Magnesium: 37 milligrams (9 percent DV)
  • Vitamin B12: 0.5 micrograms (8 percent DV)
  • Vitamin B6: 0.1 milligrams (5 percent DV)

Many elements, such as protein, vitamin B12, and selenium, are substantially reduced in imitation crab compared to genuine crab. Crab also has a far broader nutritional profile than imitation crab meat.

A three-ounce portion of cooked queen crab, for example, comprises approximately:

  • Calorie Count: 98
  • Protein content: 20.2 grams
  • Fat: 1.3 grams
  • Vitamin B12: 8.8 micrograms (147 percent DV)
  • Selenium: 37.7 micrograms (54 percent DV)
  • Copper: 0.5 milligrams (26 percent DV)
  • Sodium: 587 milligrams (24 percent DV)
  • Zinc: 3.1 milligrams (20 percent DV)
  • Iron: 2.4 milligrams (14 percent DV)
  • Magnesium: 53.5 milligrams (13 percent DV)
  • Riboflavin: 0.2 milligrams (12 percent DV)
  • Niacin: 2.5 milligrams (12 percent DV)
  • Phosphorus: 109 milligrams (11 percent DV)
  • Vitamin C: 6.1 milligrams (10 percent DV)
  • Folate: 35.7 micrograms (9 percent DV)
  • Vitamin B6: 0.1 milligrams (7 percent DV)

Cooked crab also includes thiamine, vitamin A, pantothenic acid, calcium, potassium, and manganese, in addition to the nutrients mentioned above.

Potential Advantages

Consumers and food producers alike like imitation crab because it is inexpensive to buy and make.

It’s also more handy, simple to use, and readily accessible than fresh crab flesh at most major stores throughout the nation.

It’s also highly adaptable. It’s used in a variety of imitation crab meat recipes, including dips, cakes, and pasta dishes, in addition to salads, sushi rolls, and stuffed mushrooms.

If you look at the nutrition information for imitation crab, you’ll see that it has a few advantages over fresh crab flesh. Not only are there fewer calories in each serving of imitation crab, but it also has a reduced salt content.

It’s also usually prepared from crushed fish like pollock so that certain brands may be a safe substitute for crab meat for those allergic to shellfish.


So, is imitation crab good for you, or is it just a “fake food” with possibly hazardous side effects?

In terms of nutrition, imitation crab has fewer calories and salt than raw crab. It is, however, deficient in several essential elements, including protein, vitamin B12, and selenium.

Real crab flesh has a considerably more varied nutritional profile and includes a more significant number of essential vitamins and minerals per serving. Imitation crab is also high in hazardous dietary additives that may cause leaky gut syndrome and inflammation.

It may also be a concealed source of allergies such as gluten. Gluten may produce stomach discomfort, diarrhea, bloating, and tiredness in gluten sensitivity or have celiac disease. In addition, even modest quantities of gluten may induce increased intestinal permeability, or leaky gut, over time in gluten-sensitive people.

Other less-than-ideal components, such as sugar, starch, and vegetable oils, are thrown in to help the finished product keep its form. Because of these additional components, imitation crab has a lot more carbohydrates than real crab flesh, with approximately the same number of carbs per serving as a piece of white bread. Overeating it may cause blood sugar to rise and then fall rapidly because it lacks fiber to delay sugar absorption in the circulation.

Certain manufacturers also use monosodium glutamate (MSG) to enhance the taste of imitation crab flesh. MSG is a food additive intended to improve the flavor of savory meals. It’s often found in Asian cuisines as well as many processed goods.

Many individuals, however, are sensitive to MSG and experience symptoms such as headaches, muscular tightness, weakness, and numbness/tingling after eating it. That’s why it’s often regarded as one of the worst substances available.

If you can prevent it, eliminating this highly processed component and all of the additives it includes from your diet may be very helpful to your health.

To enjoy your favorite dishes without the fish paste and additives, substitute imitation crab with a good protein source or one of the nutritional alternatives mentioned below.

How is the imitation crab prepared?

Many people are astonished to discover that this popular food is already cooked and does not need a burner.

If you decide to eat it hot, there are various ways to prepare imitation crab sticks. It’s usually boiled, sautéed, or fried before being used in imitation crab dishes, including cakes, tarts, chowders, and stews.

You can also create an imitation crab dip by blending it with seasonings and cream cheese, or you can slice it up and add it raw to an imitation crab salad.

You’re ready to give up the fake crab, but you’re not quite prepared to give up the California rolls and crab cakes yet. Fortunately, you can replace imitation crab in your favorite dishes with various nutrient-dense, whole food alternatives.


Imitation crab is usually prepared with a foundation of cooked pollock fish, so it’s no surprise that substituting genuine crab in certain dishes may be a healthier option.

Pollock has a neutral flavor that readily absorbs any spices you use, and it’s high in protein, vitamin B12, selenium, and other essential minerals.

Palmetto hearts

Hearts of palm have a crisp texture and mild flavor that may easily imitate crab flesh with a bit of spice. They also have a low-calorie count but are high in fiber, manganese, and iron. Make crab-free cakes, chowders, stews, and salads with this delicious vegetable.


This enormous tree fruit is the ideal vegan meat substitute because of its remarkable capacity to take on almost any taste. Fresh and canned jackfruit are both available and may be used in several vegetarian recipes. Vitamin C, potassium, magnesium, and manganese are all abundant in a serving of jackfruit. It may be substituted for crab in dishes like crab cakes, crab rangoons, or an imitation crab salad.

Hearts of artichoke

Artichoke hearts are a great (and healthy) crab substitute since they are soft, juicy, and delicate. They’re rich in fiber and may help you stay regular by improving your digestive health. Artichoke hearts are a delicious alternative for crab in dips, cakes, and tarts and are available fresh, tinned, or marinated.

Lion’s mane 

The lion’s mane mushroom, which is said to have strong qualities that may help protect the brain, heart, and liver, can have a significant impact on your health.

This medicinal fungus not only boasts a lengthy list of remarkable health advantages, but it also tastes and feels like crab flesh. Sauté or steam it, then use it instead of imitation crab in crab cakes, soups, or pasta dishes to boost the nutritional value of your meal.

Side Effects and Risks

Despite its health risks, eating a crab rangoon or crab cake prepared with fake crab flesh on occasion is usually harmless, but it is not advised as a regular component of your diet. Some individuals, on the other hand, should avoid this component entirely.

Because imitation crab meat is produced from fish, it is not appropriate for vegans or vegetarians. Celiac illness or gluten sensitivity should avoid imitation crab since it includes starch, producing severe side effects. If you’re allergic to MSG, check the label to ensure it’s not in the brand you’re buying. On the ingredient list, look for terms like monosodium glutamate, glutamic acid, or glutamate, which suggest that MSG has been added.

Some products may also include tiny quantities of actual crab to enhance the taste. If you’re allergic to shellfish, be sure to read the label to avoid an adverse response. Surimi is often low in mercury. Thus imitation crab for pregnancy is probably safe in moderation.

However, since imitation crab has a significant quantity of chemicals, limiting your consumption and consulting your doctor before eating if you’re pregnant is recommended.

Last Thoughts

  • What is the process of making imitation crab? And what exactly is fake crab meat? Surimi is a crushed fish paste used to make imitation crab, often known as “fake crab flesh.”
  • Other imitation crab components include flour, fillers, artificial flavors, and food colorings, in addition to surimi.
  • It’s popular because it’s a handy, cost-effective, and flexible substitute for real crab, and it can be used in almost any dish without changing the taste substantially.
  • So, how harmful is fake crab flesh to your health? Imitation crab is highly processed and may include food additives such as MSG, which may cause unpleasant reactions in specific individuals.
  • The nutrition profile of imitation crab flesh is similar to that of real crab, although it lacks many vitamins and minerals in fresh crab.
  • Pollock fish, hearts of palm, jackfruit, artichoke hearts, and lion’s mane mushroom are just a few nutritious, whole food items that may easily be substituted with imitation crab to improve.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can imitation crab make you sick?

A: It is possible that imitation crab can make you sick.

Is imitation crab meat a healthy choice?

A: It is not a healthy choice.

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