The value-added potential of Jonah crabs — the 80 percent of the crustacean traditionally tossed by the processing industry — holds even more promise for the right entrepreneurial food producer. Using the mechanical extracting process, bits of meat deemed too time consuming to extract are ground up and used to make a crab appetizer in the testing center.
The crab appetizer features crab mince preformed into nuggets, seasoned with different flavorings, then battered or breaded. In taste tests, the Italian flavor was most popular, and again more than 50 percent of taste test participants indicated they would buy the appetizer in stores.
Skonberg also has experimented with food-related uses for crustacean shells and chitin, a carbohydrate biopolymer similar to cellulose found in the protective covering. Chitin can be converted to chitosan, a compound used in weight loss supplements because it can bind to dietary fat, preventing absorption in the body.
Skonberg isn’t interested in the diet fad, but rather what chitosan can do as an antioxidant and antimicrobial when applied to fresh seafood. Chitosan can be made into a powder for coating fish filets or salmon steaks.
Skonberg found that the antimicrobial properties of chitosan coatings slow bacteria growth on refrigerated seafood, extending its life at premium quality for several days.
She also discovered the coating can extend the freezer life of seafood because its antioxidant properties slow the oxidation of the fat in fish. Skonberg says the chitosan coating has the potential to make a significant impact on the industry by extending the shelf life of seafood.
But like much of the food products developed in the testing center, the chitosan coating won’t be available on fresh seafood in the United States anytime soon. The reason: It requires Food and Drug Administration approval, even though countries in Asia and the European Union have signed off on the use of chitosan in food products.
“We hope a company will come along, look at the research that’s been done and take it from there,” she says.
Image Description: In Maine, the European green crab (Carcinus maenas) is an invasive predator that threatens the health of marine ecosystems. It also is a by-catch species of the lobster industry. As part of her research on seafood quality evaluation and the utilization of crustacean processing by-products, University of Maine food scientist Denise Skonberg is investigating ways to use the meat from cooked green crabs to make a mince or paste for use in value-added food products.