What the hell is surimi?
You may not have heard of surimi before, but you may know it under its most popular name: "imitation" seafood. To call it that is actually misleading. If a comedian imitates Robert De Niro, he's not actually De Niro, no matter how perfectly he says, "You talkin' to me?" But surimi is not imitation seafood -- it's actual seafood! It is typically made from either Alaska pollock or Pacific whiting, according to studies from the Oregon State University Seafood Lab. The fish is run through a complicated manufacturing process and turned into a gel. Depending on how that gel is processed, it can be used as a substitute for a number of types of seafood, including lobster and crab.
Surimi seafood was initially created by Japanese chefs hundreds of years ago, who saved any extra fish they couldn't use by salting and grinding it into a gel. This isn't a new phenomenon, either -- the Japanese have considered it a delicacy for 900 years. In the 1960s, a Japanese chemist figured out how to preserve surimi with sugar, giving it a long life span, which officially kicked off an entire surimi industry. It's not just a Japanese industry today -- there are plenty of fisheries (as in, places where farmed fish are raised) on the Oregon coast too. They manufacture about 200,000 tons of surimi per year, according to Dr. Jae Park, a food scientist at OSU.