With veganism continuously rising over the past years, we can see plant-based alternatives to meat-based products in every grocery store. It’s not surprising to see as many vegan meat products as actual real meat at bigger supermarkets. So, when people see a product labeled as imitation crab, it can seem fair to assume that it’s another plant-based alternative on the market. I made that mistake when first going vegan.
However, imitation crab is not vegan – we should not let the name fool us. While it is not a real crab, as the name implies, it is still very animal-based. Instead of using actual crab meat, other fish by-products have been used to create fake crab. Read on to find out how it’s made and why vegans should steer clear of it.
What is imitation crab?
As you can guess from the name, imitation crab is not real crab meat. The main ingredient for this fake crab is surimi – a paste made from fish and fish by-products. Surimi mixed together with a few other components, you’re left with crab-like meat.
You can generally identify a fake crab simply by its looks. However, using grounded fish instead of real crab is a much cheaper way to produce ‘’crab meat’’, making it a widely spread alternative.
Fake crab is widely used in different dishes, especially in Asian cuisine. I’m sure you’ve had it in your California rolls, salads, and poke bowls.
Fake crab - what is it made from?
So, now that we know that imitation crab is not really crab at all, we have to ask what it is then. The surimi we mentioned is usually just one of the many ingredients in the fake meat. Let’s look through everything found in these imitation crab products, such as crab cakes or crab sticks.
- Surimi – Surimi is actually a word originating from Japan and means ground meat. Surimi used for fake crab is usually made from mild white fish such as pollack or cod. Also, other fish by-products that can’t be sold are commonly used. The fish parts are ground up to create a paste.
- Starch – Starch is derived from different plant-based sources such as wheat, corn, or tapioca and is commonly used in foods as a thickening agent. And as surimi, which comes in a paste form, is the main ingredient in fake crab, there is a need for something to hold it together.
- Egg whites – Not always, but still commonly used in imitation crab. This could potentially help with the structure, just like starch.
- Sugar – I wouldn’t have guessed that sugar would be found in fake crab meat, but it turns out to be one of the main ingredients. This explains the slight note of sweetness found in the product.
- Artificial flavoring – And we can’t forget about artificial flavorings that are needed to give that artificial crab a real crab taste. The flavoring often comes from real fish. Additionally, red food dye is commonly used – another non-vegan component.
Is imitation crab vegan?
After seeing all the ingredients that go into imitation crab, it doesn’t take a genius to tell that it is the opposite of vegan. While it isn’t a real crab, it is still made of fish. And even most of the other components aren’t vegan-friendly. Not only is imitation crab meat non-vegan, but it is also unsuitable for our vegetarian friends. This product needs a more fitting name!
Vegan alternatives to crab
- Tofu – Tofu is a good old classic for us vegans – with the correct seasoning, you can turn it into anything you desire. When you’re planning to use tofu for making crab meat, choose a soft/medium one to achieve that right texture.
- Hearts of Palm – This is the closest vegan alternative I’ve found for crab meat – especially great for crab cakes. Thanks to its mild flavor, it’s commonly used as a vegan seafood alternative. Shredding the hearts helps to achieve that crab meat-like texture.
- Jackfruit – Jackfruit is another veggie commonly used to imitate anything meat-based in vegan cuisine. Just like hearts of palms and artichoke hearts, it has a mild taste that can be easily manipulated.
- Vegan fish – Don’t feel like using vegetables to replicate the beloved crab meat? You can always try to find vegan fish alternatives from your local grocery store.
Frequently Asked Questions
Many bigger supermarkets sell plenty of different plant-based seafood alternatives, including vegan crab cakes and crab sticks.
While imitation crab is made from white fish and fish by-products, it can still contain shellfish in small amounts.
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