The name “imitation crab” isn’t super appetizing. However, it tastes much better than it sounds and serves as a great crab meat replacement when needed. Imitation crab can be used as the main ingredient in so many great dishes, like California rolls, crab rangoon, crab dip, crab salad, various pasta dishes, and many more. But, if you want to use this ingredient at home, you likely also need to know how to store it. This begs the question: Can you freeze imitation crab?
Yes, you can. And you should freeze it if you don’t plan on using it the same day you bought it. There are some nuances, which we’ve explained in this article, but it is a great idea to freeze your imitation crab if you’re not using it in the short term.
Imitation crab, also known as surimi, crab sticks, and seafood sticks, is a very popular backfill for authentic crab meat. It’s cheaper, more accessible, and stores better than real crab meat.
People can be a little unsure how to best handle it due to the “imitation” in its name, but it can be treated like any other seafood, especially as it’s primarily made up of white fish.
We cover the following items in this post:
- What Is Imitation Crab Meat Made Of?
- Can I Freeze Imitation Crab Meat?
- How To Store Your Imitation Crab
- What Happens If You Freeze Imitation Crab Meat?
- How To Thaw Imitation Crab
- How Long Can Cooked Imitation Crab Stay Out At Room Temperature?
- The Impact of Additives and Preservatives on Imitation Crab Quality
- Final Thoughts: Is Imitation Crab Meat Freezer-Safe?
What Is Imitation Crab Meat Made Of?
As its name suggests, imitation crab meat doesn’t contain any crab. Although, it’s as close to the “real thing” as you can get without eating real crab meat. As you can guess, the nutritional value of imitation crab meat is quite different from fresh crab meat.
Instead, its primary ingredient is surimi – which is a thick paste made of minced fish mixed with starch (to maintain shape), artificial flavoring, food coloring, and preservatives. The food coloring, which is red or orange, gives the artificial crab the shellfish look we all expect when purchasing imitation crab.
In many cases, surimi contains a mixture of different types of fish. The most common fish used in surimi is pollock but has also been known to contain mackerel, cod, and even barracuda. Pollock is the most popular choice because of its relatively bland natural flavor, which makes it easier to imitate crab with artificial flavoring.
Other common ingredients include vegetable oil, sugar, egg whites, starches like wheat or corn, and water. The combination of these ingredients helps to provide a similar taste to crab, even though no real crab is used. Imitation crab also has selenium, phosphorus, and Vitamin B12.
Interestingly, carbohydrates provide most of the total calories in imitation crab, whereas protein provides most of the total calories for real crab meat. Those on low-carb diets should take this into consideration.
- Those with shellfish allergies should avoid imitation crab meat due to the risk of cross-contamination depending on where the crab meat was made.
- Those with Celiac diseases or gluten intolerances should avoid imitation crab as it is not gluten-free.
Can I Freeze Imitation Crab Meat?
Like other seafood products, yes, you can freeze imitation crab meat. Especially if you don’t plan on cooking the meat right after purchasing it.
Imitation crab is often sold in the frozen section of the store, so it’s not uncommon to put it in the freezer when you get home.
However, there are some mixed feelings about whether you can refreeze imitation crab. We say it is safe to do, as long as the previously thawed meat hasn’t been left out at room temperature for more than 2 hours.
Additionally, if you’ve only thawed it once, it should be okay to be frozen once more. If it’s been frozen and thawed multiple times over, it’s best to toss it and buy a new one.
You have to follow your gut though, and remind yourself this isn’t a process that should be repeated due to loss of food quality and increased risk of bacteria growth due to continued freezing and thawing.
How To Store Your Imitation Crab
If stored in an airtight bag, imitation crab can last more than a year in the freezer but maintains its best taste and quality for up to 10 months.
In fact, imitation crab meat maintains its quality longer than actual crab, which only lasts in peak condition for 2 – 3 months when frozen.
Make sure to either freeze the imitation crab meat in its original packaging, an airtight container, or a freezer bag to avoid its odor from spreading to the other items in your freezer. This also helps to protect the imitation crab from absorbing the odor of other foods.
What Happens If You Freeze Imitation Crab Meat?
You will help extend its shelf life!
Imitation crab meat will maintain its flavor and freshness even when frozen for long periods of time, often more than a year when packaged and stored correctly. The USDA states that you can freeze almost any food, and that food stored at 0 degrees Fahrenheit will continue to be safe. (Be sure to check the expiration date prior to freezing the imitation crab meat to ensure it hasn’t already expired.)
- If you buy refrigerated instead of frozen, there is some debate over whether it is safe to put in the freezer, as there is always the risk of the imitation crab having been frozen and thawed somewhere along the supply chain.
- If you buy imitation crab meat frozen, place it in your freezer immediately if you don’t plan on thawing and cooking it right away. This will ensure that the meat is safe for consumption once you decide to prepare it.
If you are unsure whether your frozen imitation crab meat is still good, check it for any dry spots or discoloration. If so, these are signs of freezer burn which may lead to you wanting to dispose of it.
How To Thaw Imitation Crab
As imitation crab meat contains fish, you must be careful in thawing it to avoid food poisoning. There are a few ways you can thaw frozen imitation crab, and we’ve listed them below, starting with the method we recommend most.
1. Refrigerate The Imitation Crab
To thaw the surimi, remove it from the freezer and place it in the refrigerator for about 8 hours. This is the safest way to defrost imitation crab meat and other seafood. We refer to this as the refrigeration method and we recommend this process above all others.
2. Run The Imitation Crab Under Cold Water
If you need a faster thawing method, you can run the meat under cold water or fill the sink with cold water and place the imitation crab meat (vacuum-sealed in an airtight bag to avoid cross-contamination) in the water. This method takes about 1 hour for 2 lbs. of meat.
3. Microwave The Imitation Crab
There is no method faster than this. But, the microwave method can also lead to uneven distribution of heat, therefore leading to pieces defrosting at different intervals. The uneven heat distribution can affect the taste and texture of the meat.
A Few Additional Tips On Thawing Imitation Crab
- Never leave imitation crab meat out at room temperature to thaw. This is a good way to foster bacteria growth and the risk of foodborne illness.
- Once thawed, don’t refreeze imitation crab meat multiple times, as this will render it unsafe for consumption. In fact, experts discourage refreezing any type of seafood. And while imitation crab meat doesn’t contain any actual crab, it does contain white fish.
How Long Can Cooked Imitation Crab Stay Out At Room Temperature?
All seafood, regardless of if it’s cooked or frozen, shouldn’t be left out for more than 2 hours.
Just like real cooked crab meat, surimi only remains safe at room temperature for 2 hours, after which it becomes a hotbed for rapid bacteria growth.
Unfortunately, seafood is notorious for having a shorter shelf life at room temperature than other foods.
It’s not worth the risk of eating imitation crab that has been left out longer than 2 hours, as the increased risk of food poisoning can really cause you pain and discomfort.
The Impact of Additives and Preservatives on Imitation Crab Quality
Some additives and preservatives are necessary to create imitation crab. The most common additives are xanthan gum, carmine, paprika, beet juice extract, MSG, and lycopene.
As far as preservatives go, sodium is the most common. Imitation crab has higher levels of sodium than real crab meat.
These additives and preservatives help with the flavor of the meat, and its color, and assist in sustaining a long shelf life.
Final Thoughts: Is Imitation Crab Meat Freezer-Safe?
You can freeze imitation crab, and you should freeze it if you don’t intend on eating it on the same day you purchased it.
Even though it’s not true crab meat, there is real fish in imitation crab, which leads to you treating it the same as you would any other seafood as far as preparation and storage go.
Just always remember that it is safest to only leave imitation crab out at room temperature for no more than 2 hours, and it’s best for the meat quality to only freeze it one time, as refreezing and rethawing crab meat can diminish the quality of the food over time.
By keeping these items in mind, you will do a great job of protecting against the growth of harmful bacteria on your crab meat.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How Long Can Imitation Crab Last?
Cooked imitation crab meat will last for 3 – 5 days in the refrigerator. In the freezer, it will last much longer, up to a year, provided it hasn’t been frozen and thawed before.
Does Surimi Freeze Well?
Surimi freezes very well, even better than real crab. You can keep it in the freezer for more than a year when stored correctly and maintains its peak quality for 10 – 12 months. This is much longer than authentic crab meat.
While real crab can remain frozen indefinitely if it is properly stored and hasn’t been thawed before, it only maintains its peak quality for 2 – 3 months.
Can You Make Good Crab Cakes With Imitation Crab?
Yes, you can! They’re a great alternative if you can’t get some fresh fish. We love this recipe for imitation crab cakes.
Do Most Grocery Stores and Supermarkets Have Imitation Crab Meat?
Yes, most do. Especially if the store sells fresh fish.
You will usually find imitation crab in the refrigerated or frozen sections of the store.