What is Kanikama: Your Complete Explanation

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Also known as imitation crab and crab sticks, Kanikama is a popular item at various sushi restaurants and supermarkets throughout the U.S. It is also a frequent ingredient of California sushi rolls and crab rangoons.

Although its moniker contains the word “crab”, Kanikama does not include any crab flesh yet offers the most authentic crab experience ever! This “hot dog of the sea” is an excellent choice for those who want to try something new!

If you are curious about this Japanese mainstay with over fifty years of history behind it, this article is a must-read! You will get all the information about Kanikama in one writing, including its ingredients, taste, nutritional values, origin, and much more!

What Is Kanikama Exactly?

What Is Kanikama
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There is a high chance you have consumed Kanikama before without realizing it. Kanikama is the short form of “Kani-Kamaboko” which means “crab fish cakes” in Japanese.

Often shortened as Kani, Kanimaka is made of Surimi (or white fish paste). The most common fist used to produce Surimi is Alaskan pollock, supplied from the North Pacific Ocean.

It is deboned, ground into a paste before being seasoned, coated with red food coloring, and shaped into stick forms. It typically includes no crab, with the exception of a trace quantity of crab extract that is sometimes added for flavor.

Besides the long rectangular and red-sided shape, you may also get Kanikama in shredded, flaked, and cubed forms. It is a cost-effective crab substitute that upscale restaurants use in their sushi rolls and nigiri sushi.

Similar to Kanimaka, Kamaboko is also a popular item prepared from Surimi. Yet, Kamaboko is often shaped like a loaf of bread before being sliced. Its outside is pink and white, referring to good fortune in Japan.

What Does Kanikama Taste Like?

People design Kanikama to closely resemble cooked crab’s taste while maintaining minimal fat and cholesterol content. Specifically, it possesses a mild and somewhat sweet flavor.

If you are new to the sushi world, you will find it difficult to distinguish between Kanikama tastes and that of the more costly genuine crab.

However, despite its widespread usage in restaurants across the globe, Kanikama does not replicate the light pinkish hue and rich, delicate taste of authentic crab flesh.

What Is Kanikama Made Of?

As mentioned above, Kanikama’s primary component is Surimi, a fish paste that typically accounts for up to 50% of the product’s weight. The paste includes various white fish fillets, such as Alaskan pollock, whiting, and bream.

What Is Kanikama Made Of
Credit: @goldenmarketbuzios

Other key ingredients of Kanikama include:

  • Starch: Starch from potato, wheat, and maize helps stiffen up and freeze Kanikama. Yet, too much starch will result in too soft and sticky crab sticks.
  • Water: Kanikama contains water to form the proper texture. It is the second most prevalent element in producing Kanikama.
  • Vegetable oil: People often include vegetable oils (from sunflowers, soybean, …) to enhance Kanikama’s shelf life and texture.
  • Egg white or soy: This ingredient gives Kanikama a protein boost and refines its texture, color, and glossiness.
  • Sugar and sorbitol: Besides contributing a tad of sweetness, sugar and sorbitol help Kanikama hold up to thawing and freezing.
  • Salt: Salt is indispensable in providing the minced fish with a solid gel and infuses taste to Kanikama. You can use either potassium chloride or sodium chloride.

After mixing these components above, people add certain binding ingredients, preservatives, and additives to the combination to obtain the proper color, taste, and stability. These additives include:

  • Gum: It helps adhere all components together and stabilize Kanikama. The mostly used gums include Xanthan gum and Carrageenan.
  • Red food coloring: Carmine (cochineal extract with bright red color). Paprika, beet juice extract, and tomato lycopene are the top uses for coloring Kanikama red, preventing its initial pale appearance.
  • MSG: Monosodium Glutamate functions as the flavor enhancer for Kanikama.
  • Other flavorings and preservatives: Crab extract, Mirin (fermented rice wine), sodium benzoate, and other phosphate-based ingredients are added to Kanikama to extend its shelf life and further improve its taste.

Understanding what makes up Kanikama, you may wonder about its nutritional value and safety. Let’s discover this information in the following section!

Kanikama’s Nutritional Value

In terms of nutritional value, every food has its pros and cons. Kanikama is no exception. So, let’s uncover the benefits and drawbacks when consuming this Japanese staple.

Kanikama’s Beneficial Nutrients

Despite the synthetic flavor resembling that of crab flesh, Kanikama sushi is incredibly low in fat, cholesterol, and calories. A 3-ounce portion of Kanikama contains less than 1 gram of fat, 17 milligrams of cholesterol, and 81 calories (mostly from added carbs).

Thus, Kanikama is a healthy and tasty addition to your low-cholesterol, low-fat diet if you attempt to lose a few pounds. It also contains vitamins and omega-3 fats, giving various health advantages and lessening cardiovascular disease risk.

Additionally, phosphorus is abundant in Kanikama’s content. With 240 milligrams of phosphorus in a 3-ounce serving, Kanikama provides enough content to enhance your body’s bones, teeth, kidneys, and muscles.

Kanikama’s Nutritional Drawbacks

Kanikama is relatively high in sodium, which is its main nutritional flaw. The sodium content of a 3-ounce Kanikama portion is 715 milligrams, nearly half the maximum limit for salt consumption per day.

When consuming a high-sale diet, you run the risk of renal disease, stroke, and hypertension rises.

Kanikama’s History And Origin

As Kanikama becomes a worldwide culinary phenomenon, you must be intrigued about the origin of this clever innovation. This section will give you the answer.

Kanikama’s history dates back to 1974, when Sugiyo Co., Ltd created the food under flake form and patented it. The following year, Osaki Suisan Co., Ltd in Kusatsu (a beach town near Hiroshima) introduced the first-ever Kanikama sticks to the market.

Katsuichi Osaki, the son of the company’s founder, invented Kanikama sticks by dying his Kamoboko red and cutting them into strips to resemble crab legs.

At first, Kanikama hit the market as nothing more than a Kamaboko with coloring and flavoring additives added. Then, in the 1980s, minced-fish Kanikama with crab-like taste and texture was introduced to the domestic market.

The product hit its pinnacle production in 1986 with large exportation to the U.S. Since then, the U.S. has become the world’s greatest producer of Kanikama and even sells it to Japan, the original country.

Tips When Dealing With Kanikama

There are many myths surrounding Kanikama. Let’s debunk them with the following tips to help you cook and store Kanikama more effectively.

Kanikama’s Cooking Tips

Since excessive heating will ruin Kanikama’s flavor and texture, it is important not to cook it further before consumption.

Thus, you can eat Kanikama at room temperature, chilled with dipping sauces, or create a tasty sandwich filling by combining it with low-fat mayonnaise and fresh herbs. It is possible to include Kanikama roll in sushi, especially California sushi and nigiri sushi.

Despite tasting best when not further cooked, Kanikama is applicable in prepared recipes and cooked meals. Yet, only add it to cooked meals in the last few minutes so that it is barely heated only.

Kanikama’s Storage Tips

You can safely freeze Kanikama without worrying about altering its flavor or texture. In truth, crab sticks are designed to withstand cold temperatures for over six months. So, if you purchase Kanikamia in sealed bags, place them in the refrigerator immediately.

Unsealed packages should be consumed within three days. If it smells wrong in any way, discard it immediately.

Preparing Kanikama At Home

Many individuals will be hesitant to consume mass-produced Kanikama since they do not know what is inside the product. If you share this concern, here is a fast and straightforward technique for making your own homemade Kanikama.

Step 1: Process Your Selected White Fish Species

The first step is to select the suitable white fish species for your Kanikama. Then, remove their bones and outer skin. You can purchase fish with skin and bones already removed to fasten the procedure.

After that, neutralize the fish’s stench. To do this, rinse the fish over cold water until the unpleasant odor is eliminated. The water stream also helps remove any remaining skin from the fish’s body.

Step 2: Create A Uniform Fish Paste And Cook It

Full grind the processed fish flesh in the previous step until you achieve a smooth and uniform paste. Then, add flavorings (such as crab meat) to the paste before cooking it.

Step 3: Shape The Cooked Fish Paste

After cooking the paste properly, let it cool down. Then, you may mold it into various shapes and color its exterior to make it more crab-like. If you do not consume it right away, store it properly with my above tips.

FAQs About Kanikama

This section presents you with other inquiries about Kanikama. Hopefully, the answers here will be beneficial to your understanding!

What is Kani mean in sushi?

In the sushi world and Japanese language, Kani means “crab”, referring to the main ingredient in Kani sushi.

Is Kanikama gluten-free?

No, Kanikama is not gluten-free due to the inclusion of wheat starch.

Is Kanikama consumable for pregnant women?

It is advisable to consult your gynecologist before consuming Kanikama in, for example, a California sushi roll. While the fish in Kanikama is low in mercury, it is still rich in salt, which may be detrimental to pregnant women’s health.

Should you heat Kanikama?

No, you should not heat Kanikama while cooking. The food is edible directly from the packaging. However, since there is no assurance that it is not contaminated, you can reheat Kanikama a bit before consumption.

Is there a vegan alternative for Kanikama?

Yes, there is! If you are a vegan, you can try jackfruit to substitute Kanikama, which contains a significant quantity of shellfish. Other options include smoky tofu, marinated mushrooms, and savory seitan.

What is Kani sashimi?

Unlike Kanikama, which contains no crab, Kani sashimi is a generic name used in sushi restaurants to describe dishes with real crab. Dungeness crab, snow crab, and king crab are the three most popular types in Kani sushi.

Is Kani sushi cooked?

Yes, Kani sushi is cooked. Typically, chefs utilize real crab flesh to make Kani sushi.

Let’s Try Kanikama!

Regarding Kanikama, there are two key takeaways: it contains no crab and is more affordable than real crab! As long as it is properly preserved, it is safe and relatively nutritious to consume!

Knowing Kanikama benefits those with a tight diet and a tight wallet. If you are preparing a meal for a special occasion but lack the cash for genuine crab, let’s give Kanikama a try! You won’t regret it!

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