Imitation crab is a common food that features in some recipes for items like crab sticks. Despite its name, imitation crab contains no crab, apart from when it contains a small amount of crab extract for flavor.

Imitation crab consists of surimi. Surimi is minced fish flesh combined with several other ingredients.

This article explores what imitation crab is, its ingredients, additives, the benefits and drawbacks of eating imitation crab, how it compares to real crab meat, and its uses.

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Imitation crab is a crab substitute that appears in a variety of different forms.

The main ingredient in imitation crab is surimi. This is the flesh of fish that is deboned and washed to remove any fat or unwanted pieces. Manufacturers then blend this flesh into a paste before combining it with other ingredients.

People often refer to imitation crab, which originated in Japan, as “crab-flavored,” “surimi,” or “krab.” In Japan, people sometimes refer to imitation crab as “kamaboko.”

Generally, imitation crab contains no actual crab meat. It does, however, sometimes contain a small piece of crab extract to add crab flavor.

Real crab has a far higher nutritional value than imitation crab.


Real crab meat gets the majority of its calories from protein.

Protein is an important part of a person’s diet, as it helps build and repair cells and tissues. It is also important in growth and development for children and teenagers.

One 85 gram (g) serving of raw Alaska king crab contains the following nutrients:

  • Calories: 71.4
  • Protein: 15.6 g
  • Fat: 0.51 g
  • Carbohydrate: 0 g
  • Fiber: 0 g

While crab meat gets most of its calories from protein, imitation crab gets the majority of its calories from carbohydrates.

One 85 g serving of imitation crab contains the following nutrients:

  • Calories: 80.8
  • Protein: 6.48 g
  • Fat: 0.391 g
  • Carbohydrate: 12.8 g
  • Fiber: 0.425 g


While sodium is important for the body, too much is unhealthy. Generally, people in America eat too much sodium. Therefore, it is important that a person tries not to eat too much in their diet.

While real crab has higher levels of healthy vitamins and minerals than imitation crab, it does also have a higher amount of sodium.

3 ounces of real crab meat contains 911 milligrams (mg) of sodium. The same amount of imitation crab meat contains 715 mg of sodium.


Omega-3 fatty acids have a number of health benefits including:

  • reducing a person’s risk of heart disease
  • relieving the symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis
  • helping fetal growth and development during pregnancy

Real crab meat contains high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, making it a good item to include in a person’s diet.

Imitation crab meat does not contain high levels of omega-3s fatty acids. However, some imitation crab manufacturers add omega-3 fatty acids to their products because of the health benefits that omega-3s offer.

Imitation crab’s contents vary from product to product. A person should check the packaging when purchasing imitation crab to see if it has added omega-3 fatty acids, and also check the levels of other minerals, such as sodium, which often vary.

Other vitamins and minerals

Crab meat is a source of several minerals including calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, sodium, and zinc.

There are very few vitamins present in imitation crab. For example, 3 ounces (oz) or 85 g of imitation crab only contains 0.484 micrograms (mcg) of vitamin B12.

However, imitation crab does have some mineral content, with 240 mg of phosphorus and 19 mcg of selenium per serving.

Imitation crab meat’s contents vary from product to product.

The main substance in imitation crab is minced fish flesh, or surimi.

Manufacturers most often use pollock, a type of white fish, in the production of surimi. However, they may include other types of white fish.

Other common ingredients in imitation crab include:

  • Water: Water helps give the product the correct texture.
  • Starch: Starch helps firm the surimi and also makes the product freezable. Common starches include potato, wheat, or corn.
  • Egg white: Egg whites make imitation crab glossy, while also improving its texture and color. It also adds protein to the product, which is healthy. Alternatively, sometimes soy is present in imitation crab instead of egg whites.
  • Salt: Salt (sodium chloride) adds flavor to the product and also allows it to form into a sturdy structure. In some instances, potassium chloride replaces salt in imitation crab.
  • Sugar: Sugar adds sweetness and aids the freezing and thawing process.

People often use additives in the production of food products for a variety of reasons. They can contribute to the flavor, color, or stability of a product, and can give it a longer shelf life.

However, some people have associated certain additives with a variety of health concerns, meaning people may want to avoid them.

Imitation crab’s ingredients vary from product to product. However, common additives include:

  • gums, such as xhanthan gum and carrageenan
  • colorants, including carmine, paprika, beet juice extract, and lycopene
  • monosodium glutamate (MSG) and disodium inosinate
  • crab extract or artificial crab flavorings
  • preservatives, including sodium benzoate and phosphates

Imitation crab can be more affordable than regular crab. It may also be more convenient, as it requires less preparation.

Imitation crab in the form of crab sticks is convenient, as it is snack-sized and ready to eat on the go.

Imitation crab may last longer than fresh crab, if a person stores it properly according to the manufacturer’s instructions.

While some additives can be harmful, a person may wish to purchase additive-free imitation crab.

Imitation crab has a number of drawbacks when compared to regular crab.

Health concerns

Imitation crab is often full of additives, as previously noted. Researchers have associated these additives with a number of health concerns.

For example, MSG can cause headaches. Some research has also linked MSG to a number of health issues, including obesity, metabolic disorders, neurotoxic effects, and detrimental effects on the reproductive organs.

However, a 2019 review of 76 scientific papers, concluded that many previous studies seemed to be methodologically flawed, and that “many of the reported negative health effects of MSG have little relevance for chronic human exposure to low doses.”

Phosphate-based additives also may increase a person’s risk of developing kidney damage.

Environmental impact

Another drawback to imitation crab is the environmental impact.

Overfishing has impacted some of the pollock that commonly features in imitation crab. This fishing can endanger animals that feed on pollock as well as damaging the habitats of other sea creatures.

It is worth noting that a number of surimi manufacturers use other types of white fish, such as cod or whiting. Some other manufacturers use chicken.

Food safety and allergies

Some surimi-based food manufacturers may mislabel their products. This can lead to food safety and allergy risks.

Imitation crab is most commonly found in crab sticks. However, there are a number of other uses for the product in dishes in place of real crab. These include:

  • crab salad
  • crab cakes
  • crab-based pasta dishes
  • chowders
  • quiche
  • stir fries
  • casseroles
  • dips and spreads
  • some types of sushi, such as California rolls

Imitation crab is a common ingredient that features in a number of recipes.

The main ingredient in imitation crab is surimi. This is a combination of minced fish flesh and other ingredients.

Other common ingredients in imitation crab are water, starch, egg whites, and various additives.

Imitation crab may be more affordable than regular crab, and can also offer a quick, convenient, snack-size alternative to crab.

However, it also usually contains a variety of additives, such as MSG and phosphorous, which may have harmful side effects for some people.

The production of surimi may cause environmental problems such as overfishing and habitat destruction.

There is also evidence that some manufacturers may mislabel imitation crab products. This may pose allergy and food safety risks.