What is Imitation Crab and How To Eat It

If you’ve ever found yourself asking the question ‘What is imitation crab?’ you’ve come to the right place!

Most likely, there’s a good chance you’ve had it when eating sushi rolls, visiting the grocery store salad bar, or in the crab salad at your local deli.

Absolutely, since I’m a seafood lover and enjoy making seafood recipes, it was high time I get more information.

What Is Imitation Crab? 

Imitation crab sticks
Imitation Crab

Turns out, imitation crab truly is seafood! 

Whew! I’m actually relieved to learn this.

One popular brand, Louis Kemp defines it as this: “it has been given a bad rap; it isn’t fake food at all. It includes portions of real crab meat complemented by a main ingredient – the one that makes it an affordable option to real crab – Wild Alaska Pollock.”

Specifically, it is made from surimi, with the main ingredient being fish.

Obviously, it isn’t the real thing – Maryland blue crabs straight from the Chesapeake Bay!

BUT, I have to say, it’s very tasty and definitely has it’s place in certain foods!

As a matter of fact, I love all the recipes on this list of Healthy Imitation Crab Recipes.

Also, I recently made this refreshing Ceviche recipe, and my super popular Imitation Crab Dip.

Imitation Crab Ceviche

Without a doubt, you don’t have to wait for special occasions to include it in your recipes.

As a matter of fact, it’s the perfect, affordable option because of it’s low cost – between $3 to $10 per pound.

Whereas, actual crab meat will set you back around $40 per pound.

What is Surimi

So, the next question is, what exactly is surimi?

Surimi in Japanese is ‘ground meat’ and is used in several different types of East Asian foods.

Simply stated, surimi is fish that is pulverized into a gelatinous fish paste with additional ingredients.

These ingredients include:

  • Starch
  • Egg Whites
  • Salt
  • Vegetable Oil
  • Humectants
  • Sorbitol
  • Sugar
  • Soy Protein
  • Seasonings
  • Monosodium Glutamate (MSG)
  • Artificial Flavors

Interestingly, there are several different types of surimi-based products.

However, the most popular surimi product, especially in the United States, is imitation crab meat.

Other names for it are krab, mock crab, seafood sticks, or ‘hot dog of the sea’.


The most common ingredient in surimi is Wild Alaskan Pollock –  the same type of fish in fish sticks, breaded fish, and sushi.

Cue in my favorite – California Rolls! Mmm!

However, other types of mild white fish can be used in surimi as well, such as:

  • Atlantic Cod
  • Pacific Whiting
  • Swordfish
  • Tilapia
  • Black Bass

Different Forms

Did you know that imitation crab comes in various shapes?

Right? I didn’t either!

I usually just go to the grocery store, spot it, snag a package and go about my merry way.

However, it’s really good to know the 3 different types.

1. Flakes

These are cut into diagonal bite-size pieces and are best in:

  • Dip
  • Spreads
  • Creamy Seafood Salad
  • Casserole
  • Chowder

2. Shredded

This is pre-shredded and best in:

  • Fish Tacos
  • Salad Toppings
  • Lettuce Wraps
  • Crab Cakes
  • Fish Cakes
  • Seafood Salad Sandwiches
Imitation crab salad submarine sandwich
Seafood Salad Sub

3. Sticks

These ‘leg style’ pieces are best when used in:

  • Appetizers
  • Sushi – California Rolls
  • Tortilla Wraps
  • Seafood Enchiladas
  • Crab Rangoons
Crab Rangoon

Overall, the favorite among the 3 types is crab sticks.

The reason for this is that they are less dense and closest to the texture of real crab meat.

On the contrary, imitation crab flakes are tougher and chewier and not as close to the real deal.

Good Brands

Based on reviews I’ve read, the following are the best brands for imitation crab products:

  • Osaki
  • Kanikama
  • Trans-Ocean – this is the brand I use, which I buy at my local Wegmans
  • Louis Kemp

How Long Does Imitation Crab Last

The shelf life for imitation crab, stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator is 5 to 7 days.

However, if you freeze it, it will last for up to 6 months.

How Does Imitation Crab Taste

So, I’m not going to mince my words when I answer this question.

First and foremost, imitation crab does not taste like the Maryland blue crabs that I grew up eating.

As a matter of fact, I truly feel that imitation crab tastes more like lobster than fresh crab meat.

Specifically, because the consistency is a little bit firmer and the taste is more lobster-like.

Also, it’s less sweet than blue crabs.

But it has a delicious, mild flavor and is a fantastic ingredient in so many recipes.

What is Imitation Crab and how to eat it
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