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What is Surimi?

Celeste Heiter
Celeste Heiter

Surimi is an edible paste made from processed meat or seafood. The most common example is imitation crabmeat, which is made from mild white fish such as cod or pollack. The process is also used to make beef, pork and poultry products. Surimi products are used as low-fat meat alternatives or as economical sources of protein. They are often artificially flavored, molded and colored to resemble other meats and seafood.

The process of making surimi originated in Southeast Asia and was further developed in Japan in the 16th century. The Japanese word “surimi” means “ground meat.” In Chinese, it is called “yú jiāng,” which means “fish puree.” Today, the largest producers of surimi are the United States, Japan and Thailand. Surimi is also manufactured in China, Vietnam and Malaysia.

Imitation crabmeat is the most common example of surimi.
Imitation crabmeat is the most common example of surimi.

To make surimi, the meat or fish is cleaned, deboned and minced into a fine paste. Excess water is removed, and the paste is flash-frozen. The paste is then partially thawed and ground together with flavoring agents such as sugar, monosodium glutamate (MSG) and natural or artificial flavors. Other ingredients, such as starch, vegetable oil and egg whites, may be added for texture and with sorbitol as a preservative.

After being molded into various shapes and colored to resemble the meat or seafood it imitates, it is then pasteurized in a steamer. This prevents the growth of bacteria and prolongs shelf life. Finally, the product is vacuum-packed and labeled for shipping.

In Japan, there are hundreds of surimi-based products on the market. In addition to imitation crabmeat, fish products include pink-and-white fish cakes known as kamoboko, fish squares known as hanpen and tube-shaped products called chikuwa. Sardines are used to make fish balls called tsumire. Chicken surimi is shaped into balls called tsukune, which are skewered and grilled with teriyaki sauce.

Surimi is used in many international cuisines. In China, beef or pork surimi is shaped into meatballs for soups, and pork surimi is also used to make Chinese dumpling wrappers called yèn pí. In Vietnam, pork or beef balls may be used as an ingredient for the soup known as phở, and in other Southeast Asian countries, various surimi products are served boiled, steamed or fried. In the US, the process is used to make frozen fish sticks and salmon patties. It may also be used to manufacture healthy, alternative turkey products such as bacon, sausages and burgers.

Discussion Comments


@Hawthorne - Processing food like this has kind of evolved out of necessity. There's an abundance of mild fish like pollock and cod, and materials like crab meat are much rarer, so people used what they had. Coloring and shaping it to look like crab is a fun addition, I think.

Surimi and chicken nuggets are both made of pureed, very processed meat because it wouldn't be sanitary to mass produce and handle that much meat, either. Making chicken nuggets in your kitchen is very different from making billions of chicken nuggets to bag and freeze and ship all over the country.

Part of the processing involves thoroughly washing and sanitizing the meat before it ends up going to some consumer's mouth, so in a way, pureeing and shaping meat helps make it safer. The same goes for precooking it.

Last but not least, all of this processing tends to wash the flavor and to some degree the nutritional contents out of the meat, so the additives are mostly adding back the vitamins that were there to begin with and also adding flavoring.

Any other additives, like spices, they add to improve the flavor. They've already mashed up and pureed the meat -- why not add a few things while they are mixing, if it will make the finished food product tastier?


Does anybody else find food that is this processed a bit creepy? I mean, it tastes good, and it looks really pretty and brightly colored, but it's so altered!

Look at the average piece of surimi food you could buy in the store. By the time it reaches you, it has been chopped up and washed and mashed and minced. It has had tons of different extra ingredients added to it, including MSG and spices and maybe broth to make it taste like a different meat than it is.

It has been shaped and precooked and cooked again. It has been dyed, sometimes to look like other food that it isn't. I know there are die hard surimi fans out there who don't care, but to me it's kind of hard to eat.

By the time it gets to you, it seems more like it's a piece of somebody's arts and crafts project that you're eating than an actual food. It's not fish -- it's a fish "product".

I read that chicken nuggets are made in the same way in the United States.


Surimi is also the base material for naruto ramen topping.

Though you may have heard the word "naruto" in reference to a popular anime television and manga series starring a ninja of the same name, the actual word "naruto" refers to a topping for ramen noodles.

Naruto the ninja character is named after the ramen noodle ingredient, and it is referenced many times that Naruto loves to eat ramen.

Enough about ninjas. The naruto in ramen is a distinctive "fish log". It is made by making a big flat layer of white surimi, then topping it with a thin layer of bright pink surimi -- likely the same way that imitation crab meat has a red coating on the outside.

Then the naruto is rolled up into a log and the outside is machine-formed to have points on it like a star only more numerous. The Naruto logs are sold like this; when you buy one it is wrapped up in clear plastic.

To use the naruto log, you slice it into thin rounds and pile them on top of finished bowls of ramen in groups of one to three. Yummy and very cute!


The best surimi can be found in authentic Japanese restaurants - the ones where most of the menu isn't in English. A group of us went to one on a semi-dare, but came out pleasantly surprised by how good the chicken and pork surimi was.


Very interesting - I never would've guessed that fish sticks and imitation crab are made with the same process.

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    • Imitation crabmeat is the most common example of surimi.
      By: Natika
      Imitation crabmeat is the most common example of surimi.