Why Vegans and Vegetarians Won't Eat Imitation Crab


Oct. 10 2023, Published 11:24 a.m. ET

Imitation crab.
Source: Getty Images

The Gist:

  • Imitation crab is not vegan.
  • Imitation crab is made with ground fish, and may also include egg whites.
  • There are vegan-friendly foods you can substitute for crab in recipes.
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Adopting a vegan lifestyle is more than just choosing to eat a plant-based diet. It’s also a way of making a statement against the animal agriculture industry that abuses and kills animals for food. The fishing industry is no better. In 2021, the Netflix documentary Seaspiracy exposed numerous environmental and human rights injustices in the industry.

As a vegan or vegetarian, you look for food products that are more sustainable and less harmful to the environment. Crab, of course, is off the menu, but what about imitation crab? Is imitation crab vegan?

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Imitation crab, or surimi, at a deli counter.
Source: Getty Images

Is imitation crab vegan or vegetarian?

No, imitation crab is not something that can be included in a vegan or vegetarian diet. While it isn’t crab meat, it is still made of fish, which isn’t on the menu for vegans or vegetarians.

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What is imitation crab usually made of, exactly?

According to WebMD, imitation crab is made with a paste of shredded and pulverized white fish called surimi. The surimi is pressed together and colored with artificial coloring to resemble real crab meat. The attraction of imitation crab over the real stuff is that it is more affordable.

Egg whites are sometimes added to the surimi to help bind it together. This is also a no-no for a vegan lifestyle because eggs are an animal byproduct. Because of all the additives and artificial ingredients in imitation crab, many refer to the product as the “hot dog of the sea,” per TofuBud.

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There are many recipes for vegan imitation crab.

While you won’t necessarily find a vegan imitation crab on store shelves, there are certain vegan-friendly ingredients that can be used as a substitute for real or imitation crab. Those ingredients include:

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Tofu: This Vegan Crab Salad recipe by School Night Vegan uses tofu as a substitute for real or imitation crab. Tofu is also the key ingredient in this Vegan Crab Cakes recipe by TofuBud.

Hearts of palm: Hearts of palm (aka palm hearts) are crunchy with a mild taste, enabling them to take on the flavors of whatever you are cooking. This Crab Cakes recipe by Kathy’s Vegan Kitchen uses palm hearts instead of imitation crab. The blog OneGreenPlanet uses hearts of palm for its Vegan Crab Dip recipe.

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Jackfruit: Jackfruit is a plant-based meat alternative often used to mimic pulled pork or chicken. It can also be used in lieu of crab, real or imitation. Here’s a recipe for Vegan Crab Cakes using jackfruit from Veganosity and one for Jackfruit Crab Salad by Veggies at Tiffani’s.

A bowl of Jackfruit.
Source: Getty Images
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Artichoke hearts: This Vegan Crab Cake recipe from Lettuce Veg Out uses artichoke hearts instead of crab. The Elephantastic Vegan blog also has a recipe for Artichoke Fish, which resembles fried fish.

Lion’s mane mushrooms: According to the Mushroom Council, lion’s mane mushrooms taste like shellfish when blanched in water, and the council has a recipe for Lion’s Main Crab Louie. Lion’s mane mushrooms can also be used to make Vegan Crab Cakes, like this recipe from Yummy Mummy Kitchen.

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