ASTORIA, Ore. - A slow global economy hasn't significantly affected the market for surimi - the processed fish protein that is transformed into shellfish-flavored products - and now seafood processors are pushing new products they say are healthy and delicious.
Those products: deep-fried surimi seafood.
Tasty, sure. But healthy? The seafood products are typically made as a mixture with vegetables, or tofu that can be formed into different shapes - a patty or nugget, for instances - and then fried, said Jae Park, of the Oregon State University Seafood Laboratory.
"When prepared properly, deep-fried surimi seafood contains only 1 to 3 percent fat, which is extremely healthy compared with other fried foods that typically have 12 to 18 percent fat," Park said. "And they taste great."
So how can a deep-fried product contain so little fat? The secret, Park says, is that the fish proteins in surimi form a film and block the oil uptake during frying.
Those new products, methods and insights into the world of surimi will be on display this Tuesday, April 13, when OSU hosts its 10th Surimi Industry Forum in Astoria. This one-day course, which has the theme "Fried Surimi Seafood: Better Taste and Less Filling," is designed for executives, marketers, operators and technologists from the surimi industry who want to learn the latest on product development, industry trends, and supply and economic factors.
A three-day OSU Surimi School will follow from April 14-16, at which surimi manufacturers, seafood processors, marketers, restaurateurs, chefs and others can learn everything from the chemistry of surimi, to how the color of shellfish-flavored products like crabstick affect their marketability.
Surimi has become a major international commodity with its annual production of more than 500,000 tons and a value of $2.2 billion, and Park has developed a global reputation for his work with the industry. In 1993, Oregon State University established the "OSU Surimi School" at its Seafood Laboratory in Astoria, Ore., where Park and his colleagues share the latest in surimi research and demonstrate new processing techniques to the participants - mostly food scientists, technicians and surimi manufacturers. The school has gained international recognition, and Park takes his program on the road each year, alternating between sites in Europe and Asia.
A decade ago, Park launched the Surimi Industry Forum, which annually draws more than 120 participants from around the globe to discuss issues ranging from international policies, management, marketing and economics - all related to surimi and surimi seafood.
The global shortage of fish has been the primary topic of conservation during recent years, Park said. Much of the supply for surimi comes from Alaskan pollock and Pacific whiting, but total allowable catch rates have declined over the past several years. In response, Park and his colleagues have been testing other white-fleshed fish for surimi, including the arrowtooth flounder and the freshwater carp.
"To be eligible for a surimi resource, a particular species must be abundant, currently under-utilized, and be economically viable," Park said. "Most recently, we've been experimenting with using fish that have colored flesh, which would open many new doors for surimi processors."
Meanwhile, Park said, get ready for deep-fried surimi seafood.
"American consumers enjoy fried foods, from fish-and-chips to French fries," Park said, "so why not fried surimi seafood? It already is extremely popular in Japan and Korea - and it's healthy."
More information on the Surimi School is available online at: http://surimischool.org
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Jae Park, 503-325-4531