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What Are Crab Sticks?

By G. Wiesen
Updated May 16, 2024
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Crab sticks are pieces of imitation crab meat that have been pressed together into the shape of a stick, and often dyed to have a red color similar to a crab’s shell. This type of meat is often more affordable for use in seafood salads and similar dishes, and since it is cooked during its processing it can be eaten without further preparation. The type of meat used in the sticks can vary among locations and companies, though it is typically minced fish meat. Crab sticks are quite popular for use in a number of different cuisines, including the foods of various Asian nations and the US.

These sticks are often used in seafood salads, as they are precooked and can quickly be removed from packaging and cut into cubes or shredded to provide crab flavoring to a salad. Some types of sushi, such as California rolls, are also typically made using imitation crab meat, often from crab sticks. California rolls typically consist of imitation crab meat, cucumbers, and avocado or mango that is rolled with rice on the outside and often sprinkled with sesame seeds.

This product is often marketed as “krab sticks,” due to legal regulations that have forced companies to no longer use the word “crab” on packaging that do not contain actual crab meat. In general, these sticks are made using fish meat, often a white fish with meat that is mild in flavor and can easily adopt artificial or natural crab flavors added to it. Most products made and sold in the US, for example, use white pollock from Alaska that is minced, often indicated by the Japanese word surimi, which means “minced fish.”

The surimi is then typically processed with the addition of other ingredients, such as binding agents like egg whites, and then shaped to make the meat hold together in a rounded or rectangular stick shape. Crab flavoring is often added to this mixture, and this can include artificial flavors or natural flavor from crab stock. Once the crab sticks are assembled and flavored, they are often dipped into a dye bath to stain the outside red or orange to resemble the shell of a crab. During this process, the crab sticks are cooked, which means that though they must be stored in the refrigerator, they do not need any further preparation before being eaten.

DelightedCooking is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Discussion Comments
By whiteplane — On Feb 14, 2012

My friend makes amazing fried crab sticks using frozen crab sticks that she buys at the store. She just breads them lightly and fries them up in a skillet. They are so rich and juicy and the sweetness of the crab comes out front and center.

I think that she got her crab stick recipe from the company that makes the batter she uses. A lot of times the recipes on the sides of boxes are no good but this one breaks the trend.

By gravois — On Feb 13, 2012

I have tasted a number of delicious imitation crab recipes over the years and I don't think there is anything wrong with some canned crab or a crab stick. Artificial crab meat is one of the better meat substitutes and it tends to retain all the best parts of the crabs flavor.

Personally, I love to eat crab salad. Love to eat it like I could eat it every day. But fresh crab is so expensive and such a pain in the neck to prepare that it only makes sense to use imitation crab sticks.

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