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Health Food of the month - Crab

April 2016

Crab is served all over the world and is either loved or hated. Singapore’s chilli crab is hailed by some as the best meal in the world; others can’t bear the thought of eating the meat from those spiny unattractive crustaceans.

Some crab meat can be disappointing - quite a lot of crab in the UK comes not from our own waters but flown in from across the Atlantic and of course some of its fresh flavour has to be lost in transport. Overcooking crab can also affect the flavour and tenderness of crab meat.

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Now however is the time to start thinking about fresh crab which will give the very best flavour and texture. Britain’s main species of crab… cancer pangurus, or brown or common crab… is coming in now - its season really runs from spring on through the summer months. The UK has large crab fisheries both in Scotland and also in Devon and Cornwall and these areas are recognised for their lovely fresh crab. Crab does need to be fresh, it has a short shelf life of around four days and this results in much of the crab meat we buy in the shops being frozen and then defrosted. Because crab meat has a natural water content that crystallises when frozen, once a crab is thawed there is a change in its texture and a change in the natural flavour - but it can still be delicious if you can’t find just caught fresh crab.

The crab gives different meats from different parts. White crab meat comes from the claws and legs, this can also have a pink/brown tinge. The body of the crab gives browner meat which many prefer because of its fuller flavour.

But of course the best news of all is that crab meat is really very good for you. For a start it is a great source of protein - a three ounce serving of crab meat supplies 16.45 grams of protein. This is around the same protein levels as meat but crab has far less saturated fat than meat, making it a healthier option.

Then crab also contained long chained Omega-3 fatty acids. This is not just any old Omega-3 which we all know is good for us, but the long chained variety which can be used by the body immediately (short chain Omega-3 found in vegetables and oils have to be converted by our bodies to the long chain form before they can be properly used).

Shellfish is generally recognised as a good source of the important Selenium, but crab meat is particularly rich in Selenium. This plays a vital role in our antioxidant defence and immune systems; it is also involved in thyroid hormone metabolism. Interestingly crab meat contained three times the amount of Selenium than cod and twelve times the levels found in beef.

One vitamin not normally associated with shellfish is Riboflavin or vitamin B2, but crab provides this essential vitamin that is involved in the production of red blood cells and the maintenance of our skin and nervous systems. Crab also contains copper and phosphorous, again important essentials in our overall health, plus impressive levels of vitamin B12.

One thing to be warned about though is that crab meat also contains sodium…a 3-ounce serving contains around 900 milligrams of sodium. Healthy adults need to limit their intake of sodium to 2,300 milligrams a day or so; too much sodium can increase the risk of stroke, heart disease, high blood pressure and cause other problems. But as long as you don’t heavily sprinkle the crab with salt, eating crab as part of a normal diet should be very beneficial.

While crab clearly offers excellent nutritional values, dealing with crabs can put people off. The main meat is usually easier to extract but the tasty meat from the claws can be a real challenge. Once cooked, a good tip to deal with the claws is to break them off and put them in a strong plastic bag and then whack them with a rolling pin. This stops broken bits from shooting all over the kitchen and you can easily pick out the lovely white meat from the shell.
With summer coming, the shops will be stocking cooked and fresh crabs and there are a great variety of recipes available, including of course that ubiquitous summer favourite, crab salad.

Overall the seafish and crab industry in the UK is tightly regulated and very well managed but if you have concern about the welfare of UK grown crabs, the following link has some very good information…

Do Crabs feel pain? Click here


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