Imitation crab meat is flavored fish, mixed in along with other ingredients such as starch to help keep its shape. Crabmeat is often sold frozen, helping it to stay fresher for longer.
So can you freeze imitation crab? Crabmeat, while often sold frozen, should not be refrozen. If you buy your crab meat fresh, you should avoid freezing it. It is highly likely that the crab meat has been frozen somewhere along the manufacturing chain, and refreezing it is not safe.
Keep reading to learn what you should do instead of freezing imitation crab meat.
What Is Imitation Crab Meat?
Imitation crab meat, as the name suggests, does not contain any crab.
The main ingredient of imitation crab meat is a gel-like substance called Kani surimi, which is the result of grinding down different types of fish into a thick paste when starch is then added along with artificial flavoring, and food coloring, which all help to mimic the taste, appearance, and texture of the real crab.
The most common fish used to make imitation crab meat is Pollock. It is very readily available and has a lack of flavor, making it the perfect candidate to mimic crab. Other fish can be used, such as mackerel, cod, and barracuda.
Due to imitation crab meat containing fish, it cannot be refrozen. It is fine to freeze once, but as it is most commonly sold frozen, it cannot be allowed to thaw and then be frozen again.
It would be difficult to find fresh imitation crab meat which hasn’t been frozen, but if you do manage to find some, you should place it in the freezer immediately when you get home.
If you are lucky enough to get home in time before the frozen imitation crab meat you bought from the store has thawed, you can place it in the freezer. Be sure to check the imitation crab meat still has ice crystals, which would mean it is safe to place back into the freezer.
It is fine to place the imitation crab meat into the freezer in its original packaging if it is unopened. If you want to use some of the crab meat and freeze the rest, open the packaging and remove as much you want to use.
You can then either place the rest of the imitation crab meat into a sealable plastic container or place the opened packaging into a freezer friendly bag. This can then be placed into the freezer.
Make sure to keep the crab meat sealed tightly in a plastic container, or sealed properly in a freezer bag, as it might absorb other odors from food in the freezer, or it might spread some of its own odor to other foods in the freezer.
Benefits and Downsides of Imitation Crab Meat
Imitation crab meat, like other produced food items, has its benefits and its downsides.
Imitation crab meat is a very popular choice among consumers and manufacturers alike as it is cheap to both purchase and produce.
In comparison to real crab meat, it is more convenient and easy to use and can be found readily at most retailers around the world. Imitation crab meat is also really versatile with how it can be used, it can be placed in salads, sushi, used in dips, cakes and pasta dishes.
When it comes to nutritional value, imitation crab meat is lower in sodium and calories compared to real crab meat. Certain brands of imitation crab meat, made from fish such as Pollock, are safe to eat for those with a shellfish allergy.
While imitation crab meat is lower in calories and sodium than real crab meat, it is also lower in protein, selenium and vitamin B12. Real crab meat contains more diverse nutrition and more important vitamins and minerals.
Imitation crab meat might also contain harmful food additives that can trigger certain conditions. It might also be a source of potential allergens such as gluten, which could cause problems for those who are sensitive to gluten.
Manufacturers also add sugar, starch and vegetable oil into imitation crab meat, to help it keep its shape. Because of these additives, imitation crab meat contains more carbs than real crab meat.
Thawing Imitation Crab Meat
As imitation crab meat contains fish products, you need to be careful with how you thaw it, to not expose it to temperatures that might be conducive to bacterial growth, which could then, in turn, lead to food poisoning.
To thaw imitation crab meat, you should remove it from the freezer and leave it in the fridge overnight to thaw safely. If you need a quicker defrosting method, you can run the imitation crab meat under cold water to speed up the thawing process.
Once thawed, you cannot refreeze the imitation crab meat.
Not only does refreezing run the risk of the imitation crab meat containing more harmful bacteria, but the freezing process can also ruin the quality of the food.
When the freezing process happens, ice crystals form in the food, and these ice crystals break down the cell walls of the imitation crab meat, which could cause it to turn soft and mushy when refrozen.
Common Ingredients In Imitation Crab Meat
Due to imitation crab meat containing multiple ingredients, it does make it trickier when determining whether it is fine to refreeze or not.
In this case, many of the ingredients contained in imitation crab meat do not do well when frozen, and should definitely not be refrozen.
Water – Water is used to get the right texture in imitation crab meat and helps to keep product costs down. The excess of water in imitation crab meat forms excessive ice crystals which can destroy the quality of the product if frozen too much.
Starch – Potato, wheat or corn are used to firm up imitation crab meat and make it freezable. However, after excessive freezing, the starch can cause the imitation crab meat to become soft and sticky.
Protein – Egg white is a common protein used in imitation crab meat, but others such as soy might be used. Egg white also does not fare well when frozen again, and contribute to both the decline in quality of the food and the increased risk of bacterial growth.
Sugar – The sugar in imitation crab meat helps it freeze and thaw well, and adds a little bit of sweetness.
Vegetable oil – Oil helps to keep texture, color and shelf life of the imitation crab meat, but tends to harden when frozen, which in turn can deteriorate the texture of the meat.
Once these ingredients are added together with some preservatives and other additives, the mixture is then cooked and shaped into the desired shape. The imitation crab meat is then pasteurized and vacuum-sealed to kill harmful bacteria.
Can you get sick from imitation crab meat?
Just like with any other food product, you can become sick from eating imitation crab meat.
The imitation crab meat needs to be consumed before the use-by date and needs to be stored correctly at the right temperature to prevent bacterial growth.
The danger zone for bacterial growth is between 40 and 140 degrees Fahrenheit, so keeping the imitation crab meat refrigerated or frozen below this temperature will prevent bacteria from growing.
If the imitation crab meat is not kept at a safe temperature and bacteria are allowed to grow, there is an increased risk of food poisoning.
Do you need to cook imitation crab meat?
Imitation crab meat is already fully cooked, so there is no need to cook it a second time. However, most imitation crab meat is sold frozen, and nobody wants to chew on frozen chunks of imitation crab.
It is mostly used in cooked meals, if not sushi, and is generally warmed up with the meal. Its flavor and texture are always best when heated gently.
Does imitation crab meat taste like crab?
The ingredients and additives included in imitation crab meat not only replicates the taste of real crab meat well but also the flaky, meaty texture of the real crab. While there is no real crab contained in imitation crab meat, it is pretty close to the real thing.
Freezing Imitation Crab Meat
Imitation crab meat can be frozen, but as it is mainly sold frozen already, it should not be refrozen unless it is still frozen by the time you get home from the grocery store.
If the imitation crab meat has begun to thaw and has lost its ice crystals, it should not be refrozen. This runs the risk of ruining the texture and taste of the imitation crab meat, and also for bacterial growth that can lead to food poisoning.
Cheap, easily accessible and as close to the real thing as possible, imitation crab meat is a popular product, but should be treated as you would any other perishable seafood product.
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