What's Better: Real Crab or Real Krab?

In the shadow of a booming Oregon seafood industry, our taste test pits genuine crustacean against the sushi substitute.

By Allyson Reedy May 1, 2013

You know krab with a k. You’ve probably eaten it in strip-mall California rolls, in which finely ground whitefish often stands in for the real thing. What you may not know is that Oregon, which hauls in 20.2 million pounds of crab (with a c and working pincers) every year, also plays a leading role in the krab masquerade.

Surimi, the fine art of disguising one fish as another, dates back to 12th-century Japan. Basically, surimi makers grind up cheaper fish and craft the resulting paste to mimic the look, taste, and texture of more expensive fish. The abundance of Pacific whiting off the coast lured Oregon processors into the surimi business more than 20 years ago. The state ranks well behind Alaska as a US fake-crab producer—but Oregon State University’s Jae Park is the man who helps the whole industry create simulations.

In 1993, Park, a food-science professor, began leading the Surimi School, an annual short-
format seminar in Astoria. Since then, he’s trained more than 4,500 people to twist, color, and mold lesser fish into fancy forgeries. This month, crabstick (that’s Park’s preferred term) experts descend on the old seaport for insight on manufacturing, chemistry, flavor creation, microbiology, and other arcana. This highly technical content makes Park’s program a must-do for the industry, with spin-offs in Europe and Asia. Last year, Seafood Executive magazine named the professor one of the 100 most powerful leaders in the global seafood industry.

Knowing that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but still wondering whether crabstick is our friend or faux (sorry, we couldn’t resist), we weighed crabstick’s merits against the real thing.

VERDICT: Depends on your taste buds, the pinch of your budget, and your green consciousness. (But we’ll be checking out the live tank, thanks.)

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