If you’ve recently gone gluten-free, you might be wondering if you can still eat your favorite snacks. Even though you assume most fish is gluten-free, that really might not be the case. Is imitation crab gluten-free?
Unfortunately, most brands use wheat starch to fry their imitation crab meat. Therefore, most imitation crab is not gluten-free. There are a growing number of companies which are using wheat starch alternatives in frying their imitation crab meat.
So what is imitation crab anyway? Is there anything else in it you should be worried about? I’ll explain this and more in my article. In addition, I’ll share some gluten-free brands and alternatives.
What Is Imitation Crab Meat?
Imitation crab is really made from deboned fish flesh, usually pollock. To shape it into the many shapes of imitation crab, factories usually grind this fish into a paste, called surumi. After shaping it, they usually cook it through frying.
This is where the wheat usually comes in. Generally, manufacturers use some kind of starch to fry the surumi. In gluten-free versions, you’ll see potato starch, corn starch, or pea starch. Most brands still use wheat starch for frying.
Factories also add artificial coloring, usually red, to make the result look more like crab. They also put in artificial flavorings and glutamates.
Read More >> Is Sushi Gluten-Free?
Is Imitation Crab a Healthy Food?
Not really. Even though it has lower calories than real crab, there’s still a lot of additives and sodium in imitation crab meat.
Research suggests regular consumption of artificial additives can result in skin disorders, breathing issues, nervous system problems, and digestive issues.
The higher amount of salt and sugars in imitation crab can cause higher cholesterol and increase your risk of heart disease.
Does Imitation Crab Meat Contain Other Allergens?
Yes. Even though there’s usually no crab in imitation crab, there might still be crab extract in the flavoring. Those with an allergy to shellfish should still avoid imitation crab. If you’re allergic to other fish, avoid imitation crab meat, too.
Other food allergens in imitation crab include:
In addition, imitation crab meat usually has a lot of additives in it. These include artificial colors, flavors, preservatives, and glutamates. If you’re allergic to any of these ingredients, it’s best to avoid imitation crab meat.
Can I Buy Gluten-Free Imitation Crab Meat?
Yes! Thankfully, there are some seafood brands devoted to making allergen-free fish. Here are a few brands which produce gluten-free imitation crab.
Although there is still egg white in TransOcean’s imitation crab, they use pea starch to fry it. This eliminates the possibilty of wheat, corn, or potato in the meat. TransOcean also uses certified gluten-free facilities. You can be sure their imitation crab meat has no factory cross-contamination.
As of right now, Kanimi’s Seafarer Treasures are their only gluten-free product. While they’re not certified, you will see gluten-free on the packaging. Use your own discretion, and consider your level of sensitivity, if choosing Kanimi.
Walmart’s Classic Creations
The Walmart brand still uses cornstarch, so definitely avoid this one if you have an allergy to corn. However, there is no wheat in their ingredients list.
Meijer Store Brand
You can still find potato starch in Meijer’s imitation crab, but no wheat starch. Meijer’s store brand does have a gluten-free stamp on its packaging, even though it’s not certified.
Fremont Fish Market
While Aldi’s store brand imitation crab meat isn’t certified gluten-free, you won’t find any gluten listed in its ingredients. Those with a severe gluten allergy should probably still avoid this brand. However, for mild intolerance, Fremont Fish Market seems like a great budget alternative.
Brands of Imitation Crab Meat to Avoid
Basically, any imitation crab meat that doesn’t say it’s gluten-free, or has wheat anywhere in the ingredients list, is not the right one for you. Here are a few brands which are definitely not gluten-free:
- Hilos Amano Kanikama
- Louis Kemp
- Sea Best
- Sea Queen
- Signature Kitchens
Read More >> Is Tempura Gluten-Free?
Are There Imitation Crab Meat Alternatives?
Since it’s a processed food, you should really only eat imitation crab meat every once in a while. However, there are some easily accessible alternatives.
Most imitation crab meat has pollock as its main fish ingredient. If you really like the flavor of pollock, you can easily buy fillets of it instead of imitation crab. You can also incorporate pollock into all sorts of recipes. It’s especially good in a homemade fish fry.
Instead of imitation crab, you can also buy real crab. Even though it’s more expensive, it’s more likely than the imitation stuff to be gluten-free. It’s also easier to incorporate into recipes.
Many find hearts of palm to be a pretty close replacement for imitation crab meat sticks. It’s also easy to find hearts of palm that are all-natural and gluten-free.
If you’re looking for a plant-based alternative to crab, Good Catch now sells entirely vegan crab cakes in the frozen foods aisle. Not all of their products are gluten-free, however.
Can I Trust Crab at Restaurants?
You should probably ask whether the crab at your favorite restaurant is real or imitation before ordering it. This is especially important if you’re going gluten-free.
Real crab is expensive. The price can also depend on where you live, since not every place has access to an ocean. Restaurants and grocery stores often use imitation crab in sushi, salads, and other foods. This can lower the price of what they make.
While there are certain brands of imitation crab which are gluten-free, most are not. This is because of the wheat starch most companies use in the frying process. Even without the wheat, imitation crab meat can still set off other allergies.
It’s especially important to check the ingredients list of every food item if you’re reducing your wheat and gluten intake. Even if a product says it’s gluten-free on the packaging, it might still have cross-contamination.
Ask before eating crab at a restaurant if it’s real or imitation.