Friday, March 4, 2011

Is Surimi Clean?

Today, this question was posed to me by a co-worker: "Is surimi clean?"

If you are unfamiliar, surimi is fake crab or lobster meat. You've probably seen it on salad bars but never knew it has a name other than "fake crab meat."

This question made me stop and think. I didn't have an ingredient list in front of me, so I told her I'd have to do more research and get back to her. Surimi is essentially fish meat that has been processed to resemble and taste like crab.

 From the Louis Kemp website:"Typically Alaska Pollock &/or Pacific Whiting fillets are finely minced and then blended with other ingredients such as starch, salt, natural crab meat and egg white. This process yields a paste that is formed, flavored, cooked and cut into the various shapes and styles you find available in the refrigerated case at your local grocery store."

Hmmm, sounds "fishy", no? Processed. Processed to taste like something else. 2 hallmarks of unclean food. But...

There are 2 main companies in the US that sell surimi: Louis Kemp and Transocean.

 Louis Kemp lump surimi:
INGREDIENTS: Alaska Pollock, water, wheat starch, egg whites, sorbitol ( an artificial sweetner ), sugar, potato starch, contains 2% or less of: snow crabmeat, modified corn starch, mirin (sake, sugar, salt, water, yeast extract), salt, artificial crab flavor, potassium chloride, soy lecithin ( keeps the ingredients "together" ),  sodium phosphates, carmine ( that is the red colorant on the ends ), paprika oleoresin,

Hmmm - 1/2 c serving has 340 mg of salt.

Transocean is similar, except they use tapioca starch to bind their product instead of potato starch. Their product has 450 mg of salt in every 1/2 c. it clean? It is just on this side of clean. And I mean...just.  It is a product I would only eat once a month or so as a change of pace. The artificial crab flavorant, the artificial color, and starches are probably best classified as unclean. It is a product that those of us who are carefully watching sodium intake would best avoid. But....

In the interest of being clear, I'm declaring a new category: Border foods. Foods that are probably best avoided by the ardent clean eater, or eaten sparingly by the clean eater who occasionally dabbles on the other side of the clean line. Surimi is a border food. It is clean. Kindof. It is low fat, low calorie. It is essentially just fish. However, it's messed around with enough, and enough extra ingredients are added that firmly classify surimi as a Border Food. Proceed with caution, if you decide surimi is ok for you. And for heaven's sake, drink a lot of water when you eat it!