How I learned not to hate seafood extender and became fascinated with surimi

13 Comments

Follow-up post on a visit to Austrimi in North Geelong can be found here.

A ho-hum noodle joint and a lunch unlikely to be blessed by much merit or distinction.

I order the seafood mee goreng.

When it arrives, with dismay I realise I have once more neglected to ask if my ordered dish includes the dreaded seafood extender among its ingredients.

There’s a lot of it.

I fastidiously push it to one side and try to enjoy what’s left.

I depart determined to find out more about this stuff and whether any of the stories are true.

In particular, I’d like to know whether there is truth to the widely-held belief that seafood extender – and its close cousin, the crab stick – is made from tripe. This, I confess, is a significant part of my aversion to the stuff. I suspect many other folk feel the same.

Not surprisingly, I find countless references not just to seafood extender but to tripe being part of it.

Yahoo questions, a forum at Vogue, an IT forum, all sorts of people wondering the same thing as me.

I find a Kath & Kim site debating the topic before the thread descends into rampant spamming.

Even the venerable Snopes site gets in on the act.

But for all the questioning, there’s not too many answers.

Among the more enlightening is a poster at the Australian Kayak Fishing forum who seems to know what he’s talking about.

The answer, it seems, is … no, tripe is not used in the manufacture of seafood extender.

It’s an urban myth.

So now I know, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to like this, um, product all of a sudden.

But what exactly is seafood extender?

It’s surimi – a term I have not come across until my current trawling.

Turns out seafood extender, crab sticks and the like are part of a venerable – and even revered – Asian tradition, and not necessarily a nasty exercise in bulking up, as suspected by this Western mind despite the amount of Asian food I eat.

Most references I find suggest surimi is best made from pollock, although I also find plenty suggesting cheap and nasty Vietnamese catfish is imported to Australia for the same purpose.

I’m still not warming in any way to seafood extender in my noodles.

It’s flabby and tasteless, just taking up space and bringing nothing to the table at all. And I hate the food colouring that is used in a pathetic attempt to suggest this is real lobster or crab meat.

By contrast, I really like the fish cake slices that are commonly served in many Asian noodles, soups and laksas.

That product has texture and flavour, and is honest about what it is.

Ahhhh! It turns out that, too, is surimi – as are the fish balls and beef balls we’re all familiar with!

I know some people get a bit sniffy about Wikipedia – no doubt with good reason – but its surimi article seems reliable about the many different kinds of surimi and their geographical and cultural baggage.

To my surprise, I find that a major Australian producer of these sorts of products, Austrimi Seafoods, lives right in my town of employment, Geelong.

(And, yes, I’ve contacted them with a view to an interview and tour!)

The company’s product page has a brief summary of the surimi process, while the individual product pages have ingredient breakdowns.

Incredibly, the company produces three different calamari products – Kal-Rings Golden Crumbed (“A formed crumbed ring made from a combination of squid and surimi”), Squid Ring Golden Crumbed (“squid 46%”) and Squid Ring Natural (“Natural squid rings”).

All three of these look like products found in your typical fish and chips shops.

Still, despite my enjoyable and entertaining research, strong doubts linger.

For surely it is not a good thing for food to be so highly processed, mucked around with to such an extent that it resembles no more the original ingredients?

But hold on – isn’t tofu, in all its many, varied and enjoyable forms – just another form of surimi?

To be continued …

13 thoughts on “How I learned not to hate seafood extender and became fascinated with surimi

  1. I knew someone who worked at that plant and said if I saw the seafood sticks being made, I would never eat one again! I didn’t ask anything else!

    Tofu I believe is essentially soy cheese – the soy milk is coagulated just as in cheesemaking and the curd is strained from the whey and pressed which becomes tofu. All the different forms result from varying degrees of pressing and potentially frying or marinating. It’s actually a very natural process and you can do it at home. I haven’t made tofu but have made my own paneer by an identical method.

    I would be very interested if they let you have a tour! And boo to that place’s seafood mee goreng, that is pretty shameful.

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    • The process you describe for tofu resembles very closely – from what I deduce – the process for surimi! Lots of straining and pressing. That’s why I made the comparison.

      As for the scary factory, same could be said for sausages, frankfurts, abattoirs and all sorts of food manufacturing processes.

      They haven’t responded to two different emails to two different email addresses so far. That’s the way it goes – pretty much a cold shoulder from Pampas, welcome and professional arms from Community Chef and Highpoint!

      Is it shameful? I’m not really sure now!

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    • I know this is over a year old but I just have to comment on this.

      How could you possibly think the making a cheese-like substance out of soya beans, a product that is naturally toxic to humans, is more natural than making what is simply ground fish out of fish?

      I totally agree with toastman’s point that everything should be labelled honestly but otherwise I can’t see any problem with it.

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  2. My mum loves the stuff….ok…well…ok…so do I.
    And not just two days ago was I trying to convince my brother that it is not tripe! It’s some sort of fish product, really. Yeah right.
    And then there’s your piece – great timing.
    So, anyway, good luck with the visit. It would be one of life’s mystery explained.
    Love your work.
    Nippy

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    • Hi Nadia! Haven’t had a reply to either email I sent … so far. Next week, if I haven’t heard from them, I’ll send them a copy of this story and the comments. I hope it’s not a case of, “Ignore him and he’ll go away”!

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  3. No luck with the emails, so today started on phone calls. So far the GM has either been in a meeting or not on the premises. Nevertheless, I take some heart from talking to a Geelong Advertiser colleague today who has been given The Austrimi Tour. That was part of a media event, with various pollies in attendance, but still …

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  4. I love squid! I am allergic to fish. Many people are. Not shell fish, fish. White fish, freshwater fish, saltwater fish. And hence I’m allergic to seafood extender. I eat it… I DIE… (or at least have an ambulance called. No, really).

    If you produce a Squid Ring and call it a Squid ring, no worries! NOM!
    Austrimi produces “Kal-Rings”. Looks like Squid. Contains Fish… I suppose that’s OK. It sounds kinds dodgy, so I steer clear. No worries.
    Mr. Fish Shop owner, sells “Calamari rings”, I’m like “Bewdy, Squid!”, they’re Kal rings, I eat them, I DIE…

    There should be a law against it… oh wait, there IS.

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  5. Seafood extender is made from tripe. It’s not an urban myth. At least, in Australia. I was told this by someone who worked at a meat processing plant in QLD. By law, the term ‘seafood extender’ doesn’t necessarily imply that the product is primarily ‘seafood’. I’ve mentioned this to some people, and they haven’t been put off by the fact!

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  6. Hello Crabstick. Maybe. But for me the sentence, “I was told this by someone who worked at a meat processing plant in QLD”, is the very stuff of urban myth. And certainly I feel confident there is no tripe to be found in the Austrimi plant I vistied in North Geelong.

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  7. This is interesting to read. 2007 i had an anaphylaxis attack and nearly died from eating seafood extender. Till this day i still don’t know what it was that caused this. I had been tested after the episode and had no reaction to seafood. Nor have i had since. And i still eat seafood

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