When most people think of surimi, the first thing that comes to mind is the crabstick – perhaps in a sandwich or in California sushi rolls. But there is so much more to admire about the surimi sector than this classic product format, including the progressive way it continues to pioneer with innovative product development and bold new flavours.
Thanks to technological advancements, consumer markets the world over are swimming with everything from surimi shrimp and lobster to eel and even surimi ham. And so strong has been the impact of the industry, that it also makes crucial contributions to the security of many fishing fleets and fisheries.
The surimi concept has existed in Japan for several centuries, but has only become globally prevalent in the last 40 years. Today it provides a growing band of loyal consumers in many major markets with familiar products at a fraction of the price of the actual seafoods that they are made to represent. Such has been the demand in the United States, for example, that the country produced more than 95,000 tonnes of surimi products last year alone.
Surimi is an extremely functional product. Nutritionally, it can be as high in protein as the manufacturer desires; but its real beauty comes in its flexibility – it can be formed into endless shapes and formats for steaming, grilling, boiling or frying, while taking on any flavour. At the same time, it has a much lower fat content than many other proteins and can be easily enhanced with additional omega-3 fatty acids. It is also low in cholesterol and calories.
Essentially, surimi is a gelatinous form of fish protein that’s formulated by heading, gutting and grinding the lean meat from white-fleshed fish. The resultant protein is then washed, any water is removed and it is frozen with cryoprotectant ingredients that stabilise its structure.
To make actual surimi, as consumers know it, this protein is mixed with various food ingredients such as egg white, potato or wheat starch and rapeseed oil to create a soft paste, which will be formed into the desired shape and then cooked. In manufacturing crab-flavoured surimi, for example, shellfish flavours are added to mimic those recognisable attributes. Usually, the surimi is then vacuum-packed and pasteurised.
Surimi is one of the safest and most ecologically friendly seafood products available on the market. This is largely due to the pasteurisation process and because the fish varieties that are used in its production, such as Alaska pollock and Pacific whiting, are among the best-managed and most abundant fisheries on the planet. The surimi industry also utilises species that would otherwise have little or no commercial value in terms of human consumption. Indeed, it is now estimated that around 2% of the world’s fish catch is processed into one form of surimi or another.