On Sunday evening, Ed and I ordered sushi for dinner. One of our favorite rolls is the spider roll, which is filled with soft shell crab. Ed introduced me to soft shell crab (pictured below) a couple years ago when they had them fresh at our local butcher’s shop. We bought two, threw them on the grill, and ate them for dinner – you can eat the entire thing, including the shell, and it was delicious! I’m a Midwestern girl so my seafood exposure was pretty minimal until I met Ed and was introduced to things like soft shell crab and Maine lobster. Anyway, back to the spider roll… I noticed it was also filled with some imitation crab, which I didn’t like. Imitation crab is also (and, most commonly) found in a California roll. Any food with the name “imitation” in it raises a red flag, so I decided to do some research.
According to Wikipedia, imitation crab is made from pulverized white fish flesh that is shaped and cured such that it looks like a crab leg. It does not contain any real crab meat – the primary fish used is Alaskan pollock from the North Pacific, but cod is also used. Egg whites or other binding ingredients are often mixed in with the white fish, and then artificial or crab-derived flavorings are applied to make it taste more like real crab. The texture is rubbery, and it tastes slightly salty.
But the worst part is the red outer-layer. I’m sure you’ve noticed that imitation crab has a bright red surface. Well, this is actually food coloring! Sometimes I wonder why so much effort is put into making something “imitation”. Why not just call it “Alaskan pollock sushi” and skip the food coloring and artificial crab flavoring?
Imitation crab meat is highly processed, and since it’s cooked during the curing process, it is never raw. Aside from being used in sushi, soups and salads, imitation crab is used as fish bait. From a nutritional standpoint, it has less protein and potassium than real crab meat, and also a lot more sodium. However, some people eat imitation crab in place of real crab because it is lower in cholesterol. One serving of imitation crab has about 80 calories, less than 1 gram of fat, 30% of your daily sodium intake, and about 6 grams of protein. Real crab has about 80 calories per serving, 1.5 grams of fat, 10% of your daily sodium intake, and about 17 grams of protein. Imitation crab contains about 20 mg of cholesterol, while real crab has about 45 mg.
Sushi can be very healthy and nutritious, but I recommend staying away from the imitation crab. It’s not the worst food in the world, but it is highly processed and contains artificial colors and flavors. The rest of sushi is actually made up of whole foods, and is especially beneficial when ordered with brown rice instead of white rice. The fish contains many healthy omega-3s, and there are usually some veggies or avocado included as well. One thing to be aware of is that some sushi restaurants use mayonnaise in their rolls to make them more flavorful and easier to stick together. I’ve found that the nicer the restaurant, the less likely it is that they’ve used mayonnaise. Also, try to order a seaweed salad with your sushi. Tomorrow I'll blog about the benefits of seaweed in the diet.