It may look like lobster and taste like lobster, but Hong Kong's consumer watchdog is warning hungry hot pot fanatics that the shellfish-tasting meatballs do not, in fact, come from under the sea.

Meatballs are ubiquitous in food-obsessed Hong Kong -- offered up on skewers by lunchtime food vendors and also a popular menu item in hot pot and barbeque restaurants.

But anyone with a hankering for lobster meatballs might get a little crabby with Monday's press release from Hong Kong's Consumer Council, which said it conducted DNA tests on a variety of meatballs for the first time.

"All 10 samples of lobster balls were not detected with crustacean DNA, including a sample which listed lobster in the ingredients list," it said.

Only two samples tested had indicated they were not made from real lobster, calling their products "lobster-flavoured meatballs" and "imitation lobster balls".

Meatballs are ubiquitous in food-obsessed Hong Kong
Meatballs are ubiquitous in food-obsessed Hong Kong AFP / Bertha WANG

The shell-shocking discovery still holds some mystery -- specifically what exactly the so-called "lobster balls" contained, said Nora Tam Fung-yee, the chairwoman of the council's research and testing committee.

"We found some other ingredients... that might be other seafood or even meat-type ingredients," she told the South China Morning Post.

"But our tests focused on lobster-related DNA so we only know that lobster balls to not contain crustacean DNA."

The Consumer Council also found that out of 20 beef and beef tendon balls tested, only seven were found to contain 100 percent cow DNA -- the rest had pig and chicken detected in parts of it.

"(Eight) samples even had a lower proportion of cow DNA as compared with pig and chicken DNA," it said, warning consumers with dietary or religious food restrictions to "pay extra heed".