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.
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.
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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.