Saturday, September 30, 2023

Are surimi substitutes as bad as they’re made out to be?

We republish this article by Miriam Pérez-Mateos, senior scientist at the Institute of Food Science and Technology and Nutrition (ICTAN-CSIC), published in The Conversation on August 10, 2023. | Featured image credits: Marco Verch.

Eels or eels? For many people the name “gluttony” already sounds like false advertising. And this despite the fact that, in reality, they are fish substitutes imitating the shape and texture of eels. The success of these fish derivatives lies in their low price compared to the sale price of eels, which can even exceed €1,000/kg.

This exorbitant cost is due to its great scarcity. At the moment, The eel is a critically endangered species, which is why we should protect it by totally avoiding its consumption and that of its offspring, the eels.

Other of the fish substitutes with a paradoxical name are “crab sticks” or “surimi sticks”. They get their name from the fact that they imitate the appearance and fibrous texture of crab meat, although in reality they do not contain any of this shellfish, or perhaps only the crab extract as a colouring. Its success lies in its presentation in individual portions and its long shelf life. It is common to use them to prepare appetizers or in salads.

Minced and washed fish muscle

The origin of surimi dates back to an ancient Japanese practice in which the muscle of the fish is minced and washed with water, then cooked the paste obtained until it solidifies.

Currently, there are some gourmet substitutes for surimi that are still made by hand by kneading the fish paste, without the need to add other additives other than water and a little salt, or by adding some dyes and/or texturizers. In this way, a wide variety of derivatives with different shapes and textures are obtained, imitating those present in nature, or playing with the imagination.

All of these surimi substitutes are highly prized in Japanese culture. So much so that they occupy a special place in the great New Year’s Eve and New Year celebrations.

But do not confuse the concept of surimi with surimi substitutes: surimi refers to the protein concentrate as raw material, while substitutes are the products obtained from surimi after adding the rest of the ingredients and cooking the pasta.

In addition, there are other restructured fish derivatives on the market that are not made from surimi, but are obtained from pieces of fish in which the muscle structure remains intact, such as the wands, delights, whims, etc.

The development of this industry began in Japan during the 1960s and in Europe in the late 1980s. Surimi is a myofibrillar protein concentrate, and 5 kg of whole fish are needed to obtain only 1 kg of product. Supreme quality surimi is obtained from clean fish fillets and the rest of qualities, from headless and gutted fish.

The manufacturing process is similar for both types of surimi: the muscle is crushed in perforated drums, washed repeatedly, and refined through sieves. It should be noted that although many vitamins and minerals are lost during washing, these washings could help decrease allergenicity to Anisakis and remove contaminants.

Cannot be prepared from trash

The species most used to obtain surimi is Alaska pollock. But other underutilized and/or undervalued fish species that would otherwise be discarded can also be used. Good for being very small, for its strong flavor, for having many thorns, for its textures that are too soft or too hard, etc.

Surimi cannot be made from industrial waste or fish trash. Fish with low commercial value in the market is used, but with high nutritional value and high functional quality. It is strictly necessary to start with a very fresh fish because, otherwise, a very low quality surimi would be obtained or even lose all its functional properties.

Preservatives, hydrocolloids and proteins

Commercially, surimi is sold in frozen blocks of 20 kg, containing cryoprotectants to maintain its properties throughout its conservation in the frozen state. These preservatives are the ones that we should reduce in our diet and avoid the cumulative effect produced by abuse of processed foods The quality of surimi basically depends its whiteness, its gelling or molding capacity in fish paste and/or its protein content (15-17%).

To reinforce its texture, it will be necessary to incorporate some hydrocolloids and proteins, from starch and egg white to alginates (gums derived from algae) and textured vegetable proteins. Hence, there is a wide variety of qualities of substitutes on the market depending on the quality and the percentage of surimi used.

Some of these additives added during processing may be beneficial to health due to act as dietary fiber in the body.

In general, surimi is made from lean species, so the fat content is low, especially after repeated washings. For this reason, surimi substitutes are being developed. healthier through enrichment or fortification in essential fatty acids, minerals, antioxidants etc

The Conversation


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