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What Is a Kani Salad?

A Kani Salad is a refreshing Japanese dish featuring sweet imitation crab meat, crisp cucumber, and tangy mayo dressing. Often garnished with tobiko for a pop of color and texture, it's a delightful blend of flavors that dance on the palate. Ready to discover how this simple salad can elevate your mealtime experience? Join us as we explore its culinary charm.
Glyn Sinclair
Glyn Sinclair

Kani salad is a Japanese salad that is primarily composed of imitation crab sticks. The “crab” is actually made up of white fish that is condensed into sticks and is quite a bit cheaper that actual crab meat. Kani salad is served in most Japanese restaurants with other ingredient such as cucumber, mango and panko, which is a crispy bread crumbs, and tends to be a bit spicy. The panko is typically sprinkled as a garnish just prior to serving so that it does not become too soggy. The dish is usually served cold.

Preparing and cooking kani salad generally takes about 30 minutes. Some of the other ingredients for the dressing include chili sauce, carrots, ginger, rice vinegar and mayonnaise. Sugar, salt and paprika may also be added. Once the dressing ingredients have been thoroughly mixed together, the imitation crab is placed in a bowl with peeled cucumber. The dressing is then poured over the crab and cucumber and mixed together.

Kani salad is made with imitation crab meat.
Kani salad is made with imitation crab meat.

Once the kani salad is ready it is sometimes served over a bed of lettuce and the panko is sprinkled over the top. The imitation crab sticks, or surimi, are composed of white fish such as Alaska pollock or cod that has been finely ground and then cured and molded to resemble crab legs. Sometimes egg whites are added for flavoring. Food coloring is also added to give the imitation crab legs a reddish hue to complete the imitation. Once the imitation crab is complete, it can have almost the same texture, smell and taste of the real thing.

There are many different types of salad that include imitation crab. It tends to have less cholesterol but is are also processed. This refers to natural food that has been processed to last longer or look more visually attractive to buyers.

Cucumber is often included in kani salad.
Cucumber is often included in kani salad.

Surimi is a popular food in Asia and can be used to duplicate the taste and look of lobster and many other types of shellfish as well. In European countries imitation crab sticks are known as crab or fish sticks, whereas in the United States it is known as imitation or mock crab. Two to three percent of the world’s fish catches are given over to the manufacturing of surimi with North America and Japan as the chief consumers and producers of the product. Many other countries across the world are beginning to produce and consume surimi for kani salad as well.

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Discussion Comments


@DylanB – My favorite restaurant lets you choose between spicy and non-spicy kani salad. I suppose a lot of their customers can't take the heat!

I always get the non-spicy version. It has plenty of flavor from the ginger and rice wine, so it really doesn't need to be hot.

Mine doesn't have bread crumbs on it. Maybe the crumbs are made to be spicy, so they leave them off.


Is all kani salad spicy, or do different restaurants have various versions of it? I would like to try it, but I can't handle spicy food. I love the taste of crab, though.


I don't like fish or any seafood, so kani salad is disgusting to me. It looks so slithery and slimy!

I always opt for the garden salad at the Japanese place instead. It has an excellent ginger dressing, but it doesn't contain any seafood. It's just tomato, cucumber, lettuce, and dressing.

I imagine that the same sort of dressing is used on the kani salad that my friend always orders. She says it is the best salad she's ever tried, but I know I would hate it.


Wow! I always thought that kani salad was made of real crab meat. I've been eating it for years without knowing the difference.

The strips of crab are colored red, pink, and white, so they look real. They taste real, too.

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    • Kani salad is made with imitation crab meat.
      By: Shariff Che'Lah
      Kani salad is made with imitation crab meat.
    • Cucumber is often included in kani salad.
      By: food pictures studio
      Cucumber is often included in kani salad.