We’ve all seen it on budget-friendly sushi menus and at grocery stores across America: imitation crab. Sometimes called “crab stick” or simply “krab,” this ambiguous food item doesn’t even try to disguise that it isn’t the real thing. It’s right in the name; this food product is an imitation. But if it’s not crab — then what is imitation crab? And should we really even be eating something that is so blatantly artificial?
Imitation crab is a Japanese invention, first produced in the early 1970s and introduced internationally a few years later. It’s actually comprised almost entirely of fish (typically Alaskan pollock), mixed with egg white, wheat, or another binding ingredient, salt, and crab flavoring that’s usually artificial but sometimes crab-derived. A layer of red food coloring is added to the outside and voila: imitation crab stick. So, while imitation crab meat isn’t crab, it also is not vegetarian- or vegan-friendly. That also means that imitation crab is not gluten-free, since it contains wheat as a binder.
Imitation crab is most often formed into string cheese-sized strips with meat-like fibers (“leg style”) but it can also be found shredded, flaked, and cubed.
So, yes, it’s safe to eat. While it’s obviously a processed food, there’s really nothing to be afraid of. In fact, imitation crab can be quite delicious. While it’s most commonly seen in California rolls, imitation crab is great for adding extra flavor to macaroni and cheese, with some mayonnaise, butter, and lemon juice on a roll, and with linguine for a quick and easy dinner. In fact, imitation crab cakes is one of The Daily Meal’s most popular recipes.
So why does imitation crab exist? Well, real crab meat is delicious, sweet, flaky, and just ever-so-salty. But it’s expensive. On Amazon, canned crab meat is $1.16 per ounce. Meanwhile, imitation crab is just 32 cents an ounce. That’s a massive amount of savings! If you want more ways to cut down on your grocery bill, consider these money-saving tips.