On Nutrition by Ed Blonz

Surimi Often Hard to Distinguish From the Real Deal

DEAR DR. BLONZ: I have questions about surimi. I’m reading that it is a white fish that’s been washed and ground until it becomes gelatin in nature. Then it gets processed with artificial colors and flavors to resemble shellfish, most commonly crabmeat. Does this mean that the surimi used in ceviche and sushi would be raw like the fish it replaces? Should I be concerned about this? -- F.F., San Jose, California

DEAR F.F.: Surimi -- the literal meaning in Japanese being “ground meat” -- is a generic name for a type of processed seafood that was first developed in Japan, but is now widely available. Surimi is made up of less-expensive varieties of fish, such as Pacific whiting, hake and pollock, that get deboned, rinsed and minced until they’re nothing more than a bland and colorless mass. The surimi is then formed, flavored, cooked and colored to resemble more expensive fish varieties, such as crab, lobster, scallops, shrimp and even lox.

Novel processing techniques are used to put the finishing touches on surimi. In one interesting method, surimi is extruded in filaments that are then woven and glued together to resemble the texture and appearance of crabmeat muscle fibers. Amidst a salad with many ingredients, a surimi-based seafood can be difficult to distinguish from the genuine article. Because of this, shoppers should always check labels, or ask the deli attendant to verify that they’re getting the expected product.

Surimi differs from fish in that it contains a number of ingredients such as sugar, carbohydrate-based binding agents, and flavorings (which may or may not include glutamate). Surimi is low in fat like standard shellfish; however, the sodium level can be higher, and because of the added carbohydrates, surimi contains about one-third less protein.

Whatever its form, surimi is already fully cooked and ready to eat, so enjoy ceviche or sushi with no concerns in that regard. Assuming the final product has been kept under proper refrigeration, any risk of food poisoning from surimi is minimal.

DEAR DR. BLONZ: I sort my dietary supplements into multicompartment containers with snapping lids, using one compartment each day, so that I don’t have to mess with all the bottles. Is there a problem keeping them together like this? What about storage in the refrigerator? -- P.T., Phoenix

DEAR P.T.: Moisture and heat can decrease the shelf life of supplements. It is best to store supplements in a cool, dry place, avoiding extreme temperatures. Most bottles contain a moisture-absorbing packet to help preserve the product; perhaps you can distribute them into the daily containers. The bottom line, though, is that if you are dealing with short-term storage in a well-sealed container, there is little to be concerned about.

Storing in the refrigerator is usually not necessary, and raises the risk of exposure to moisture through condensation. Keep in mind that there may be specific products where storage in the refrigerator (or freezer) is recommended. Be sure to read each label for specific directions.

Send questions to: “On Nutrition,” Ed Blonz, c/o Andrews McMeel Syndication, 1130 Walnut St., Kansas City, MO, 64106. Send email inquiries to questions@blonz.com. Due to the volume of mail, personal replies cannot be provided.