Crab sticks are those mysterious square sticks with a red skin, looking oddly like rhubarb, which contain very little in the way of crab, but impart its flavour. In fact they were patented by a Japanese company, the Sugiyo Co Ltd, in 1973 under the name of Kanikama. Legal restrictions prevented them from continuing to be marketed as ‘crab sticks’ in the event of them containing no crab meat, and so they were sold as any of Krab Sticks, Ocean Sticks, Sea Legs or Imitation Crab Sticks.
Crab sticks are made by pulverising white fish meat, surimi in Japan, often Asian pollock from the north Pacific. Crab flavouring is added, sometimes in the form of crab meat, sometimes just as an artificial flavouring. The flesh is formed to represent the texture of snow or king crab, and coated with a red artificial food colouring layer. If they are the type which do not actually contain crab meat they can be treated as kosher rather than treif.