Kanikama is the Japanese name for imitation crab, which is processed fish meat, and sometimes called crab sticks or ocean sticks. It’s a popular ingredient commonly found in California sushi rolls, crab cakes, and crab rangoons.
Although Kanikama is called crack sticks and tastes like real crab, it doesn’t contain any crab flesh. You’ve probably eaten kanikama – even if you didn’t realize it. It’s the sticks of fake crab meat that are often used in the popular California roll.
What Is Kanikama (Imitation Crab)?
Also called imitation crab, kanikama is used as a crab substitute and made from surimi, which is a fish paste. The fish is first deboned and minced to make a paste, then it’s flavored, colored and reformed into flakes, sticks or other shapes.
Kanikama usually contains no crab, except a tiny amount of crab extract to create the flavor. Pollock is the most popular fish that’s used to make surimi. The history goes back to 1974 when a Japanese company Sugiyo first produced and patented imitation crab meat.
How Is Kanikama Made?
The main ingredient in Kanikama is surimi, a paste-like substance made from fish. Pollock is the most popular fish used to make surimi. The fish is filleted, minced, colored, and then mixed with other ingredients such as starch, sugar, egg whites, and crab flavorings to create a dough-like substance. This dough is then formed into the desired sticks or other shapes, and then cooked. The result is a tender, flaky meat that resembles crab.
What Does Kanikama Taste Like?
Kanikama is formulated to have a similar flavor and texture to real cooked crab. It’s mild with slightly sweet flavor and low in fat.
Both kanikama and real crab have the same level of calories, about 80-82 calories in one serving (3oz). However, 61% of kanikama calories come from carbs, where 85% of king crab calories come from protein, making real crab a better option for a low-carb or keto diet.
Compared to real crab, kanikama also has lower nutrients such as protein, omega-3 fats, vitamin, zinc and selenium. Although imitation crab is low in fat, sodium, and cholesterol, it’s viewed as a less healthy option than the real crab.
Types Of Imitation Crab
Kanikama or imitation crab is precooked, and you can use it straight from the package. There are several types based on the shape:
- Crab sticks – the most common shape. It’s a “crab leg style” kanikama which looks like sticks or sausages. The outside edges are tinted red to resemble crab. Imitation crab sticks are usually used in California sushi roll or sandwich wraps.
- Shredded – usually used in crab cakes, salad or fish tacos.
- Flake-style or chunks – are used in stir fries, chowders, quesadillas or pizza topping.
Ways To Use Kanikama
There are so many delicious ways to use Kanikama. . Here are some ideas:
- Sushi rolls: Kanikama is a popular ingredient in sushi rolls, especially California rolls. It adds a sweet and savory flavor to the roll and pairs well with avocado and cucumber.
- Salads: Kanikama can be used as a protein source in salads. It tastes great with leafy greens and a citrusy dressing.
- Crab cakes: While not a substitute for real crab meat, Kanikama can be used in crab cakes for a more affordable option. It provides a similar texture and flavor to real crab.
- Pasta dishes: Kanikama can be added to pasta dishes, such as linguine with white clam sauce, for added protein and flavor.
Tips For Cooking With Kanikama
Kanikama tastes best when it’s not further cooked, as heating it too much destroys the taste and texture.
One of the most popular uses is as the filling in California sushi rolls (see the photo below). It can also be used in nigiri sushi. However, it can still be used as an ingredient in cooked dishes and I recommend adding it in the final stage to minimize the cooking process.
How To Store It?
Vacuum-sealed kanikama that’s pasteurized can last for up to 2 months in the refrigerator. Once opened, you need to use it within 3 days. You can also store it in the freezer and it can last for up to 6 months.
How Long Does Kanikama Last In The Fridge?
Kanikama can last about one week in the fridge. Make sure to check the expiration date on the package before consuming and to store it properly in an airtight container.
What is Kanikama made of?
The main ingredient in kanikama is the fish paste surimi, which is often made from inexpensive whitefish (such as Alaskan pollock) with fillers and flavorings like starch, sugar, egg whites, and crab flavoring. Red food coloring is also used to mimic the look of real crab.
In the US, you can find kanikama in the refrigerated or frozen section at local Japanese or Asian grocery stores. Alternatively, you can order them online from amazon.
Is kanikama raw or cooked?
Kanikama is the fish mixture formed into shapes, and then cooked by steam, which also pasteurizes them. It’s sold fully cooked, and can be served as is or used in sushi.
What fish is used in kanikama?
It’s made from a paste of minced inexpensive white fish such as pollock, bream, and whiting.
Is kanikama bad for you?
Kanikama is a highly processed food which is less nutritious with some questionable additives. As the imitation crab is much cheaper, it’s an alternative when you don’t have budget for real crab when you’re making a meal for a special occasion. However, it’s best to minimize your intake of processed food as it’s hard to know exactly what binding ingredients are used.
Is kanikama gluten-free?
No. As wheat starch is often used in the paste, kanikama is not gluten-free.
Is Kanikama real crab?
No, Kanikama is not a real crab. It is made from surimi, a paste-like substance made from fish. Another name for Kanikama is imitation crab meat.
Is Kanikama surimi?
Yes, Kanikama is made from surimi.
Is Kanikama healthy to eat?
Kanikama is a low-calorie and low-fat alternative to real crab meat. It’s a good source of protein and contains some vitamins and minerals. However, it’s also high in sodium and often contains added sugars and preservatives, so it’s best to consume it in moderation.
How many calories are in Kanikama?
One serving of Kanikama(3-4 pieces), contains around 70-80 calories. This can vary depending on the brand and the specific type of Kanikama.
Some Popular Recipes Using Kanikama
- Surimi Salad
- California Roll
- Crab Sticks Cabbage Wraps
- Kanikama Sushi
- Imitation Crab Salad
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- What is Imitation Crab and Popular Crab Stick Recipes
- Popular Cooked Sushi
- Spicy Crab Roll (Spicy Kani Roll Sushi)
- Alaska Roll Sushi
Kanikama Sushi (Nigiri)
For Sushi Rice
- 1 cup sushi rice short grain sushi rice
- 1 cup water
- 1 ½ tablespoons optional sushi vinegar or mixing 1 tablespoon rice vinegar, 1/2 tablespoon sugar, and 1/2 teaspoon salt
For Kanikama Sushi
- 8 kanikama sticks
- 1 sheet nori seaweed
- Cook sushi rice: Wash the rice and add it to the rice cooker together with water. Once cooked, transfer to a large bowl and let it cool down slightly. When it’s still very warm, stir in the sushi vinegar (or the mixture of rice vinegar, sugar, and salt).
- Shape the rice: Take 3/4 handful cooked rice and shape it to a long oval form (about 1 ½ inches). Squeeze the rice gently and flatten the bottom. (You can dip your hands in vinegar water to prevent sticking.)
- Cut the kanikama sticks: Cut each stick into smaller pieces (about 2 inches).
- Make the nigiri: Place the kanikama piece on the rice, and then press it firmly to stick onto the rice. You can use one hand to hold the nigiri sushi, and use the hand hand to press. (Optional: you can use a small portion of wasabi to “glue” the crab stick to the rice for a more steady nigiri sushi.)
- Cut the seaweed into 1/4- inch strips and wrap each strip around the width of the nigiri to secure the crab stick to the rice.
- Place the assembled nigiri on the plate. Serve and enjoy!
Nellie Tracy says
Such a great recipe. Love being able to make California rolls at home with this!
Denay DeGuzman says
My daughter assembled this easy, delicious sushi-roll recipe! Our whole family enjoyed it. It was so darn good. This recipe’s a keeper!
Hi Denay, great to hear that your family enjoyed it. Thanks!
Any sauce idea for this? or kikoman soy sauce is enough? Thanks!
Hi Claire, it’s often served with soy sauce and wasabi. I also like spicy mayo sauce.