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What Is Kani (Imitation Crab Meat)

What Is Kani (Imitation Crab Meat)

If you’re a fan of sushi, then you’ve probably enjoyed Kani, short for Kanikama, before. This popular imitation crab meat is popular in Spicy Krab Roll, Sushi Bake, Crab Rangoons and so much more. But, what is Kani?

What is Kani?

Kani is a Japanese word meaning “crab”, although it contains zero real crab; it’s just designed to mimic the flavor, and texture.

It goes by several names, making it pretty confusing. Other popular names: Kanikama, Surimi (refers to the ground fish inside the sticks), Imitation Crab, Crab Sticks, and Ocean Sticks. Here are over 20 Imitation Crab Recipes!

Imitation Crab Meat

Imitation crab meat is made with a combination of whitefish (mainly Alaskan Pollock), wheat flour, egg whites, salt, seasonings, and crab flavorings. Red food dye is also used to reflect the look of real crab.

Types of Kani

Imitation crab comes in a few different forms, each with its own set of benefits and drawbacks. The most common forms are:

  • Crab Sticks – This is the most popular form. It’s what’s used in California rolls.
  • Flakes (or Chunks) – This is our favorite form when making recipes requiring lump crab meat. Think soups, dips, and ceviche.
  • Shredded – This form is perfect when making salads, and crab cakes.

Photo of imitation crab to show what is Kani.

Kani Recipes

Here are some popular Kani recipes:

Where to Buy

As it’s a common ingredient, Kani can be found at any local grocery store or Asian market. When purchasing, it is important to look for products that are fresh and have a bright color.

Nutritional Information

Imitation crab is low in fat and calories, and a good source of protein. A 3-ounce serving has only 80 calories and 1 gram of fat. It’s also a good source of vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B12, phosphorus, and selenium.

However, real crab is higher in protein, omega-3 fats and other vitamins, so it’s one reason it’s a healthier option. As you can imagine, imitation crab is also highly processed, therefore should always be limited if/when possible.

Sushi Bake topped with cucumber and avocados in a white casserole dish.

Is Imitation Crab Gluten Free

Nope – the wheat flour filler is loaded with gluten.


Leftover imitation crab can be stored in the refrigerator for up to one week, or in the freezer for up to three months.

To thaw, transfer to the refrigerator overnight. As with any seafood, do not thaw at room temperature, as this can cause bacteria to grow.

What Is Kanikama

In short, Kanikama is an inexpensive and flavorful alternative to real crab. While real crab is the healthier option, this is a great substitute.

Find out what wine pairs best with Kanikama by checking out our Best Wine With Sushi guide!