Here's a couple of interesting videos showing how fake crab sticks—what haters call "hotdogs of the sea"—are made. The main ingredient is surimi, a seafood paste made from white fish such as Alaskan pollock that's blended with sweeteners, preservatives, and binders. The paste is then piped into molds to create the crab stick shape, and a layer of orange food dye—sometimes made from an insect-based coloring called carmine—is applied to the exterior to resemble the color of crabs.
In Chapter One, "Historical Review of Surimi Technology and Market," of the edited volume Surimi and Surimi Seafood (2014), edited by Jae W. Park, Park and colleagues provide an interesting history of surimi—which dates back a thousand years—and the various versions of seafood made from surimi, including the hotdogs of the sea. Here's an excerpt:
Crabstick, which is called kanikama (crab-flavored stick), was invented in a flake type by Mr. Sugino of Sugio Co. in 1973 and in a stick type by Mr. Osaki of Osaki Suisan in 1975. The invention of crabstick had a significant impact on the global surimi and surimi seafood industry. Considering surimi was primary for Japan and Japanese for 960 years, crabstick became a cornerstone to connect Japan with South Korea, the United States, Europe, South America, SE Asia, and China.
While imitation crab may approximate the look, taste, and feel of real crab, Southern Living details the differences in nutrition between the two:
Nutritionally, these are two very different products. Real crab meat has almost three times the protein of imitation crab. (A three-ounce serving of crab has 16 grams of protein versus only 6 grams in imitation crab). Additionally, imitation crab has more sugar and less sodium than real crab, according to the USDA Food Data Central. (For instance: Imitation Alaska king crab contains 450 mg sodium, while real Alaska king crab contains 910 mg sodium per 3-ounce serving.) Compared to imitation crab made from surimi, real crab also contains more beneficial nutrients such as vitamin B12, Omega-3 fatty acids, and zinc. People with gluten sensitivities should avoid the faux fish product as it is often processed with starch and other gluten-based thickeners.
Previously: One sushi and sashimi cookbook to rule them all.