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Understanding Imitation Crab: A Vegan Dietitian’s Guide for Plant-Based Enthusiasts

imitation-crab-vegan
6 min reading time

Is imitation crab vegetarian?

You might have seen imitation crab listed as an ingredient in sushi rolls, seafood salads, and crab cakes among other places. If you are embracing plant-based nutrition, you may be wondering: is imitation crab vegan?


Unfortunately, the answer is no – imitation crab is not vegetarian or vegan. As vegan dietitians who are passionate about helping people navigate their plant-based journey, we will unravel the truth about imitation crab. This article will explore the origins of imitation crab and debunk some common misconceptions.  

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What is imitation crab?

As its name implies, imitation crab is a food product that mimics the appearance and taste of crab but does not contain crab. In addition to its cost-effectiveness, there are several reasons why imitation crab is used.

 

You might have seen it as an ingredient of a sushi roll or a dish at a seafood restaurant. But what is imitation crab, really? Read along as we explore what imitation crab is made from.

 

What is imitation crab made of? 

Imitation crab is made by grinding up fish into a paste (surimi) and mixing it with other ingredients. Specific flavourings can be added to develop the crab flavour.  Before cooking, it is usually moulded in a shape that resembles crab legs or chunks.

 

Ingredients 

  • Pulverized white fish (surimi), often made from Alaskan Pollock
  • Starch
  • Egg whites
  • Sugar
  • Salt
  • Other additives/flavourings

 

Why use imitation crab instead of real crab? 

Unlike products like Beyond Meat, which is a plant-based meat alternative, the use of imitation crab is not vegan-focused. There are several reasons why some restaurants and food manufacturers use imitation crab instead of real crab, including:

  • Cost-effectiveness
  • Availability
  • Stability and shelf life
  • Consistency

 

Although imitation crab can be a cost-effective and convenient alternative to crab, some people still prefer the taste and texture of authentic crab. The choice between imitation and authentic crab involves budget considerations as well as dietary and culinary preferences.

 

Can you eat imitation crab raw? 

As registered dietitians, we highly advise against eating imitation crab raw. It is not intended to be eaten raw in the same way sushi-grade tuna or salmon might be. Eating imitation crab raw can give you food poisoning.

 

Rather, imitation crab should be cooked thoroughly to eliminate harmful bacteria. If you are unsure about how to cook your imitation crab, check the package for recommended preparation methods.

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Can vegans eat seafood? 

No, vegans don’t eat seafood. Veganism refers to a plant-based lifestyle. A vegan diet excludes all forms of animal products, including meat, poultry, dairy, eggs, fish, and seafood. By this definition, eating seafood does not align with a vegan diet. 

 

As seafood is an important source of nutrients, knowing how to get these nutrients becomes crucial for vegans. 

What are the important nutrients in seafood? 

Nutrients in Seafood

Examples of Plant-Based Food Sources

Protein + Iron

  • Legumes (beans, soybeans, lentils, chickpeas)
  • Soy-based products (tofu, tempeh) 
  • Nuts
  • Seeds

Omega-3 Fatty Acids (DHA & EPA)

  • Algae-based omega-3 supplements

Vitamin B12 + Vitamin D

  • Fortified foods (plant-based milks, nutritional yeast, breakfast cereals)
  • Vitamin B12 supplement
  • Vitamin D supplement (lanolin-free)

Selenium

  • Brazil nuts
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Whole wheat bread
  • Brown rice

Zinc

  • Legumes (beans, lentils)
  • Whole grains (quinoa, brown rice, oats)
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Fortified foods (breakfast cereals) 

Calcium

*Not all seafood is calcium-rich.

  • Plant-based milks
  • Legumes (beans, peas, lentils, soybeans)
  • Nuts
  • Seeds
  • Green vegetables

 

Can pescatarians eat crab?

In contrast to veganism, a pescatarian diet refers to a diet that excludes meat sourced from land animals. This dietary practice incorporates fish and seafood into what otherwise would be a vegetarian diet.  Crab (including imitation crab) can therefore be enjoyed by pescatarians. 

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Is imitation crab vegan or vegetarian?  

Unfortunately, imitation crab is not vegan or vegetarian. Despite not being an authentic form of crab, it is still made from fish and egg products. Coming across a vegetarian or vegan-friendly imitation crab is very rare and only happens in a few circumstances. For instance, when it is specifically found in a vegan restaurant. 

 

Nevertheless, we always recommend double-checking the ingredients to make sure they align with your dietary preferences. If an ingredient list is not available, ask a chef or contact the food manufacturing company. It is always better to be safe than sorry!

 

Are California rolls vegan or vegetarian? 

Unfortunately, California rolls are generally not vegan or vegetarian. California Rolls often contain imitation crab, which is made from fish and egg products. 

Although restaurants typically use imitation crab when making California rolls, it is possible to make a vegan alternative at home! You might also be able to find a vegetarian and vegan-friendly California Roll at restaurants that cater specifically to vegans.

 

Can you make vegan imitation crab? 

Are you getting bored of your sushi options being limited to mostly avocado, cucumber or vegetable tempura rolls? Fortunately, it is possible to make a plant-based alternative for imitation crab! 

 

Vegan and vegetarian substitutes for imitation crab are typically made using:

  • Tofu
  • Mushrooms
  • Hearts of palm
  • Artichoke hearts 
  • Shredded jackfruit

 

Trying new plant-based recipes is a great way to introduce variety and improve your vegan diet. Spice up your next sushi night with a vegan imitation crab recipe. You can find plenty of different plant-based imitation crab recipes online. As vegan dietitians, we encourage you to have fun experimenting with new plant-based recipes. Remember – with practice makes perfect!

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Final thoughts – the vegan-friendliness of imitation crab

 

For those embracing a plant-based diet, whether it be vegan or vegetarian, imitation crab is likely not a suitable choice for you! Imitation crab is typically made from surimi (fish paste), egg products, and possibly other non-plant-based ingredients. Sadly, this means that the popular California sushi roll is likely a no-go for vegans and vegetarians. Imitation crab is, however, considered pescatarian.

 

Fortunately, you can make a vegan alternative at home using tofu, mushrooms, hearts of palm, artichoke hearts, and shredded jackfruit! As vegan dietitians, we encourage you to explore the endless realm of plant-based opportunities!

 

Would you like some assistance with your plant-based journey? Contact us to discover how our registered dietitians can support you in meeting your nutrition goals.