Gel properties are important in determining the quality of surimi. In addition to myofibrillar proteins, lipids play an important role in the formation of surimi gel. Phospholipids (PL) are amphoteric lipids that cannot be removed through rinsing. Paradoxically, the addition of PL increases or decreases gel strength. This research aimed to investigate the effects of specific lipids on the gelation properties of surimi from three different carp. The hardness, chewiness, and gel strength of bighead carp (Aristichthys nobilis: BC) surimi were higher, and the total lipid content was lower when compared with grass carp (Ctenopharyngodon idellus: GC) and silver carp (Hypophthalmichthys molitrix: SC) surimi. Bighead carp surimi had lower levels of phosphatidylethanolamine (PE), phosphatidylinositols (PI), and phosphatidylcholine (PC), and higher phosphatidylserine (PS) and sphingomyelin (SM) content. The gelation properties of surimi increased with increasing concentrations of SM and PS. Furthermore, increased levels of saturated fatty acids (SFAs) and decreased levels of polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFAs) increased gelation properties. Finally, higher hydrophobic interactions and more disulfide bonds were shown to increase gel network structure stability, resulting in improving gel strength in BC surimi. The textural characteristics and gel strength of surimi were dependent on the PL content, including total lipid levels and the types of fatty acids. This may account for previous conflicting reports on PL effects on gel strength. This study provides insight into how the texture of surimi can be improved and provides a starting point for further research. © 2020 Society of Chemical Industry. © 2020 Society of Chemical Industry.