Find out what imitation crab is, it’s uses, and if it’s safe for a gluten-free diet. Plus which brands are gluten-free and which aren’t.
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If you have found yourself ordering sushi at a restaurant and saw the ingredient “imitation crab” on the menu, were you confused as to what the ingredient actually contained? Me too.
Imitation crab tells you what it’s trying to be, but doesn’t actually tell you what it is. Which is why when you’re following a gluten-free diet, it’s had to know whether to trust this ingredient or not. We can acknowledge that you, imitation crab, would like to be crab. But we don’t know who you actually are, so we can understand you better.
In this post, we’re digging into the topic of imitation crab, learning what it actually is, what it’s used for, and what ingredients go into this mystery impersonator. Find out if imitation crab is gluten-free, plus what brands you can trust on your gluten-free diet – and those that you can’t.
Don’t get crabby, we’re getting to the answers now!
What is imitation crab?
Imitation crab is a type of processed fish that according to Healthline “has been deboned, washed to remove fat and unwanted bits, then minced into a paste. This paste is blended with other ingredients before being heated and pressed into shapes that mimic crab meat.”
This ingredient generally contains no real crab meat at all, but crab extract or crab flavoring is added to this ingredient to mimic what crab tastes like. Imitation crab is then used as a more inexpensive ingredient that is easier to keep fresh for sushi and other dishes that call for crab or crab-flavored ingredients.
What is imitation crab used for?
Imitation crab, also called surimi, is often used in sushi rolls, fish sticks, other breaded fish products, crab salad, crab cakes, and crab cakes.
It’s used as an alternative to fresh crab when restaurants or home cooks want to save money on the real thing. It’s also used when someone is concerned about sea life and overfishing, as imitation crab utilizes some of the leftover parts of fish to create this food product.
Finally, imitation crab is lower in sodium than real crab, though it’s generally considered less healthy than real crab meat.
Read on: Is sushi gluten-free?
What is imitation crab made of?
Imitation crab is jokingly called the “hot dog of the sea” and for good reason. This food is made of a lot of leftover fish that food manufacturers do not use.
This fish is processed, then other ingredients like wheat starch, potato starch, or corn starch are added, along with egg white protein or soy protein. Other flavorings and ingredients like sugar, vegetable oil, and salt are added before the food is cooked and processed into the final product.
What is gluten?
Gluten is a protein found in most wheat products, and acts as the “glue” that helps to hold wheat, barley, kamut, spelt, farro, durum, bulgur, rye, and semolina together to maintain their shape.
You can find gluten in whole grains, but also in many processed foods as well. Many processed foods have hidden gluten in them in the form of gluten or wheat derivatives. These are also in the form of flavorings, binders to keep ingredients together, or other additives.
Is imitation crab gluten-free?
Most imitation crab is not considered gluten-free, because many brands use wheat starch as a binding ingredient. While you’re at restaurants, it’s hard to know what the kitchen uses in all their dishes, at home it’s easier to differentiate.
If you use imitation crab in your home cooking, you’ll be able to discern if there is gluten in the product by reviewing ingredients lists and shopping for a brand you know is certified gluten-free.
Imitation crab brands that are NOT gluten-free
Some brands make it clear that they contain gluten. You can find this out by reviewing the ingredients lists on packaging for terms like “wheat starch” or “wheat flour.” Gluten may also be under other names, so review those ingredients lists thoroughly.
One of my little secrets is that I carry around a copy of my GFDF Take Along Cards so that I always have a point of reference when I can sneak a peek at the ingredient list of a food.
These brands of imitation crab contain gluten, so you’ll likely want to steer clear of them if you’re trying to stick with a gluten-free diet.
- Louis and Kemp
- Sea Best
- Sea Queen
- Pacific Mate
- Sea Shells
- Hilos Amano Kanikama
- Signature Kitchens Seafood Imitation Crab
Gluten-free imitation crab brands
There are plenty of imitation crab brands on the market, but only one is certified gluten-free. If you follow a gluten-free diet and plan to include this ingredient in your diet, choose the Trans-Ocean brand.
A certified gluten-free product indicates that the manufacturer has followed specific detailed steps to prevent cross contamination with gluten. It also means that the products with a certified gluten-free label have been tested by a third-party to validate that this product meets the requirements of less than 20ppm of gluten.
Trans-Ocean uses a dedicated gluten-free facility and has a certified gluten-free label on all their products. There are the imitation crab products you can find from this brand:
- Crab Classic Flake
- Crab Classic Chunk
- Crab Classic Leg
- Crab Classic Shred
- Crab Supreme
A few other brands that list their imitation crab products as gluten-free, but they are not certified gluten-free are Kanimi Seafarer Treasures, Kroger, and Classic Creations from Walmart. A gluten-free label indicates that the brand or company has tested their own products and confirm there is less than 20ppm of gluten in the product.
As with any packaged and processed food, use your best judgement as it relates to what you know about how your body processes gluten and even the possibility of trace amounts when making choices as to which product you should buy.
If you’re interested in some other common Japanese ingredients and how they fit into a gluten-free diet, you might want to check out some of these posts.
- Is eel sauce gluten-free?
- Is mirin gluten-free?
- Is teriyaki sauce gluten-free?
- Is tamari gluten-free?
- Is tempura gluten-free?
- Is rice gluten-free?
- Is wasabi gluten-free?
If you’ve been wondering if imitation crab will work for your gluten-free diet, know that this ingredient is most commonly not a good choice. If you’re at a sushi restaurant, steer clear of options with imitation crab as it’s almost impossible to know what ingredients are being used in the kitchen and if those have the potential for cross contamination.
If you like to use imitation crab at home, opt for using the Trans-Ocean brand as they are certified gluten-free and manufacture their imitation crab in a dedicated gluten-free facility. Choose from a few different options for all your favorite recipes.