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The fresh crab selection in Illinois is dismal. Head to the coast of Alaska, and you may have better luck finding this delectable species of seafood. However, the United States is still the largest importer of crab. That's no surprise as over 90% of the seafood consumed in the U.S. is imported from other countries, and due to its limited local availability, it comes with a hefty price tag.

Crab is very lean and a good source of protein and potassium, but despite the type of crab (Alaskan King, Dungeness, or Snow, for example), it's simply expensive. One pound of Alaskan King crab legs is generally between $35-45. Between the limited availability and the price, it's no wonder imitation crab has it's appeal. Imitation crab actually contains no crabmeat at all. According to the FDA, it's made of surimi, which is minced fish meat from one or more species. Manufacturers add the red and white coloring, flavoring and fillers, including starch. As such, imitation crabmeat has carbohydrate, whereas fresh crab does not. It's also generally lower in protein and potassium than fresh. In terms of sodium, both are high. Crab is generally brined and frozen, which may contain as much as 800 to 1000 milligrams of sodium per serving. Canned imitation crab may actually have less sodium, but will still be high.

Use fresh or imitation crab in crab cakes, crab dip, crab Rangoon or crab bisque. Use it in pasta dishes or stuff lettuce leaves with crab salad. There's nothing wrong with occasionally supporting the wannabe crab. After all, there's room in the kitchen for a diverse selection of proteins.

Baked Crab Dip (Printable PDF)

1 (8-ounce) package fat-free cream cheese

½ cup reduced-fat sour cream

2 Tablespoons mayonnaise

1 Tablespoon lemon juice

1 ¼ teaspoons Worcestershire sauce

½ teaspoon dry mustard

Pinch of onion salt

3 Tablespoons reduced fat shredded cheddar cheese, divided

1 cup crabmeat (fresh or imitation)

Milk, if needed for thinning

In an ovenproof dish, combine first seven ingredients. Gently fold in 2 Tablespoons of cheese, crabmeat and a few drops of milk, if needed, to make it creamy. Sprinkle top with remaining cheese. Bake at 325°F for 30 minutes. Serve with whole-grain crackers.

Yield: 8 servings

Nutrition Facts (per serving): 90 calories, 5 grams fat, 320 milligrams sodium, 4 grams carbohydrate, 0 grams fiber, 9 grams protein

Source: North Dakota State University Extension Service