If you're wondering how surimi looks so much like the real thing, know that, just like a hot dog, this meat goes through some serious processing. The red stripe comes from a dyeing process, and the flavors themselves are mostly artificial with added sodium and sometimes MSG. Other potential additives include starch, egg whites, and sugar. As the Huffington Post reports, "the meat from real crab boasts more than double the protein and potassium of its imitator with none of the artificial enhancers." There are 16 grams of protein in 3 ounces (85g) of crab, versus 6 grams of protein in the same amount of surimi. Why do restaurants serve it, then? Well...it's cheap. It's also malleable—producers can form the fish paste into almost any shape they desire.
Like hot dogs, however, crab stick is perfectly fine to consume. Just know that you're really getting ground pollock the next time you order a California roll with imitation crab. To learn more about the process of making surimi, as well as other mock foods, watch the following videos.