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A friend introduced me to kani salad at a Japanese restaurant many years ago. My choices there are usually limited, since I avoid rice for multiple reasons and don’t care for the typical semi-wilted Japanese salad usually offered. (Maybe I just haven’t had luck with getting fresh salads at these places?) Anyway, the salad was amazing, but unfortunately, I later found out that the imitation crab sticks used in almost every spicy kani salad recipe is not gluten-free and has added sugar. So, I created this homemade version using real crab meat — and it tastes so much better! Plus, it makes the perfect light and refreshing side to my salmon sushi bake, comforting coconut curry soup or even chicken satay.
Kani Salad Recipe: Why You’ll Love It
- Spicy, creamy flavor
- All the textures — tender crab, crunch from the veggies
- Easy to make
- Just 8 simple ingredients
- Ready in 15 minutes
- Delicious, healthy Japanese side dish
What Is Kani Salad?
Kani salad, sometimes called kanikama salad, is a Japanese crab salad that is a delicious mix of crab meat (often imitation crab meat), crunchy cucumber and carrots, and a spicy mayonnaise dressing.
Is Kani Salad Healthy?
Yes, this salad is healthy — especially this one, with no added sugar. Wondering about kani salad calories? Each serving has 169 calories. The full nutrition facts can be found below, on the recipe card.
Kani Salad Ingredients & Substitutions
This section explains how to choose the best ingredients for an easy kani salad, what each one does in the recipe, and substitution options. For measurements, see the recipe card below.
For The Salad:
- Crab Meat – Traditional Japanese kani salad is made with imitation crab sticks (kanikama), which are made out of starch and pulverized cheap white fish, typically pollock. (This is called surimi.) Kanikama is often used in sushi as well. You can still use imitation crab meat (cut into thin strips) if you want to, but I think lump crab meat like this tastes so much better, is healthier, and makes the best kani salad recipe. You can use any crab meat, really, but lump crab is the highest quality.
- Kelp Noodles – Traditional kani crab salad doesn’t use kelp noodles, but I thought they were a perfect fit for it. After all, kelp noodles are Japanese! And, they make this entire salad both filling and light at the same time.
- Cucumbers & Carrots – Thinly slice the cucumber and carrots into matchstick pieces.
For The Japanese Mayonnaise Dressing:
This dressing is a variation of my spicy mayo recipe, with sesame oil and lemon juice added for flavor and to give it more of a dressing consistency:
- Mayonnaise – This makes the dressing super creamy. You can make your own homemade mayo, or otherwise this is my favorite clean-ingredient store-bought version. For a more traditional option, you can substitute kewpie, which is a Japanese mayonnaise made with just oil, egg yolks, and vinegar.
- Lemon Juice – Adds tang and zing. You could also use lime juice, or simply rice vinegar.
- Toasted Sesame Oil – This gives the salad traditional Japanese flavor.
- Sriracha – A must for the kani salad dressing recipe. If you don’t like spice, add just a touch for flavor.
How To Make A Kani Salad
This section shows how to make spicy kani salad, with step-by-step photos and details about the technique, to help you visualize it. For full instructions, including amounts and temperatures, see the recipe card below.
- Make dressing. In a small bowl, whisk together mayonnaise, lemon juice, toasted sesame oil, and sriracha. Chill in the refrigerator.
TIP: Chilling the dressing helps the flavors develop.
If you have time, you can chill for an hour or two, or even make it a few days ahead.
- Mix salad. In a large bowl, toss together kelp noodles, cucumber, carrots, and crab meat with the salad dressing. If needed, you can season with sea salt and black pepper to taste.
- Garnish. Top Japanese crab salad with sesame seeds, fish roe (tobiko is most common for kani salad recipes), and/or green onions if desired.
There are a couple of main ways you can customize this salad:
Substitute The Noodles
If you don’t have or like kelp noodles, you can also try these noodle subs:
- Zucchini noodles
- Spaghetti squash
- Shirataki noodles
- Cucumber noodles – This is the most common in a classic kani salad. You can spiralize them OR just cut into thin strips (basically just increase the cucumbers already in the recipe.)
Mango is a popular addition for these salads. Just cut one ripe mango into thin strips and mix with the rest of the kani salad ingredients.
This salad is best made fresh, but you can definitely make the dressing ahead (it’s even better if you do!) and prep the vegetables and kelp noodles. When you’re ready to serve, just toss everything together. Freezing is not recommended.
More Healthy Crab Recipes
If you’re like me and think kani salad recipes with real crab are the best kind, you’ll probably also like my other popular crab recipes:
Kani Salad (Spicy, Creamy, 10 Minutes!)
An easy, spicy kani salad recipe with real crab meat! This Japanese crab salad is healthy, creamy, and takes just 10 minutes to whip up.
Like this video? Subscribe to my YouTube cooking channel for healthy recipes!
Tap underlined ingredients to see where to get them.
Tap on the times in the instructions below to start a kitchen timer while you cook.
Whisk together all the dressing ingredients. (For better flavor development, do this in advance and refrigerate until right before serving.)
Toss together the kelp noodles, cucumber, carrots, and crab meat. Mix in the dressing. If needed, season with salt and pepper to taste.
Garnish with sesame seeds or fish roe (optional).
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Serving size: 1/4 of entire recipe
Nutrition facts are provided as a courtesy. Have questions about calculations or why you got a different result? Please see our nutrition policy.
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