16

There's a shop in my neighborhood that sells lobster rolls.

Every time that I order one, it's packed with "lobster" meat and a little bit of mayo. At $15, I feel that I am getting a great deal.

But my gut feeling has always told me that this shop uses imitation lobster -- and that it couldn't possibly give that generous of a portion of lobster and still make a profit. I asked them, and they looked at each other, hesitated, and then said, "no, it's not imitation." I figure I need another way of verifying.

Is there some way that I could check the meat to see whether it's real lobster or fake?

I'm curious to know even if it tastes the same, at least for purposes of truth in advertising.

  • 5
    Do you live around "lobster country" or further inland? If they get lobster right off the boat, it could be extremely affordable. (This is still a good question and worth asking, but the geography could be an important deciding factor for whether they're likely to go for imitation!) – Erica Apr 14 '16 at 11:26
  • 3
    So I'll ask here. Imitation lobster will have no variation in taste and texture. It's pretty much going to be the same every time. Where as real lobster maybe be stronger or weaker flavored from time to time, the claw meat might have a "sandy" taste to it sometimes. I don't know what else to call that sometimes off taste that claws get sometimes. Does the meat you've had vary from time to time or is it mostly the same. Also where abouts do you live? – Escoce Apr 14 '16 at 12:38
  • 2
    Good question. I'm sensitive to both taste and texture, and only like the real thing. I live in Northeast USA, close enough to the ocean that it can go either way, and price isn't always the difference. If it doesn't say so on the menu I ask if it's 100% lobster. That way they can't get around it by saying it's lobster. Also, if the restaurant doesn't serve a lot of seafood, it's more likely to be imitation, or at least pre-frozen, which tastes watery & stale to me. I also ask where they get it-I know who the local quality sellers are. Others have given the same advice, so I'm just chiming in! – Sue Apr 14 '16 at 13:31
  • Langostino is often called "lobster" though it's illegal to do it without qualifying it. In other words, you can call it "langostino lobster" but not simply "lobster." That doesn't mean people follow that rule, naturally. (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Langostino) – Chris Bergin Apr 14 '16 at 19:19
  • Could be crawdad/crayfish: nytimes.com/2011/08/12/nyregion/… – TecBrat Apr 14 '16 at 20:08
20

If it is high quality imitation lobster and you are not amongst the highest skilled tasters (few of us are), you won't be able to tell the difference by yourself.

Imitation seafood is made from surimi, which is made from various whitefishes (most often Alaskan Pollock). The surimi is mechanically formed, colored and flavored to look like whatever species they are trying to duplicate. Sometimes the results are amazing. Behind the curtain, this is for crab, but I'm sure lobster is similar:

Handbook of Food Science, Vol 4: For the production of crabmeat analogs the Surimi paste containing the desired additives (with the exception of red colorants) is sheeted in a thin layer and then heat set. After this first heat set, the sheet is scored with the device that looks like a large comb. the sheet is not cut completely through. The scoring forms a long thin strips that resemble crab muscle fibers. Several of these strips are rolled together to form "muscle fiber bundles." These are set and then a portion of the outside surface is colored red with a blend of Surimi and food coloring. The ropes are then cut into logs (approximately 4 inches in length) or into small cylinders or diagonal cut product for salad chunks.

And if the cook lightly shreds the immitation crab, it's extremely hard to tell the difference.

I googled "detecting surimi" and learned that it is not an easy thing to do. There are people trying to do it with mass spectrometry and other complicated lab methods.

I'd say the lobster roll meat is one of:

  • it's real (guessing from their reaction to your inquiry, unlikely)
  • it's a high quality immitation lobster
  • it's canned real lobster (I never tried it)

If you like the sandwich, consider keeping it in your routine.

(a timely question, a surplus of pollock/surimi is on the market, we'll see more of these surimi analogs)

  • 5
    As an experiment: maybe save a chunk of the meat, carefully rinse and leave out at room temperature. Do the same with a piece of real lobster. Theory that I'm not sure of: surimi will deteriorate slower than lobster. – Paulb Apr 14 '16 at 11:37
  • 4
    @Paulb why would that be the case ? (just curious, not challenging you) – Ciprian Tomoiagă Apr 14 '16 at 12:39
  • 2
    @Ciprian, I don't know for sure. Just a gut feel. I know there is Sorbitol, Starch and usually salt in surimi. I think that might last longer the pure seafood. – Paulb Apr 14 '16 at 14:59
  • 1
    I never believe it's real unless the lobster comes out and it's still attached to the shell just having been freshly steamed. – haakon.io Apr 14 '16 at 19:27
  • 1
    @haakon319: If it tastes the same, why bother worrying about it being real or not? – David Mulder Apr 14 '16 at 22:12

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.