Ingredient Intelligence

What to Buy, What to Make: Canned Tuna

updated May 2, 2019
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(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Let’s talk tuna! A tuna fish sandwich with crunchy pickle relish on whole wheat bread is still one of our favorite quick lunches. But tuna also has some problems, and we worry about everything from how the tuna was caught to BPA in the cans. What kind of canned tuna do you buy?

What to Buy:

Buying canned tuna really comes down to reading the label. There’s a lot of information wrapped around those skinny cans, but it’s not always clear what it means:

Albacore vs. Skipjack vs. Tongol vs. Yellowfin: All these tunas are processed and packaged in the same way. Look for labeling that says the fish were “troll” or “pole-and-line” caught as these are more environmentally-friendly fishing methods. Additionally Skipjack and Tongol tunas are usually rated higher on sustainability scales from places like the Monterey Bay Aquarium.

White vs. Light Tuna: This refers to the specific kind of tuna, but is also an indicator of mercury levels. Light tunas (skipjack and tongol) typically have lower levels of mercury than white tunas (albacore and yellowfin). The “light” labeling isn’t always 100% accurate on this, though. Try to find some indication that the tuna is either skipjack or tongol if you want lower-mercury tuna.

Solid vs. Chunk vs. Flake: These terms just indicate how the tuna was packaged. Solid means it was packaged as a whole loin piece, chunks come from broken pieces of loin, and flake is the leftover pieces. As you might expect, solid tends to be the most expensive and flake the most affordable. For everyday sandwiches, I usually buy chunk tuna.

Oil-packed vs. Water-packed: Oil-packed tuna will give you a richer-tasting and more luxurious tuna fish experience, but the olive oil can sometimes be of dubious quality. There is also evidence that water-packed tuna has higher levels of Omega-3 fats. Personally, I prefer to skip the oil in the can and add my own when I want it.

Avoiding BPA: Most BPA-free cans are now labeled as such. Keep your eye out for this if you’re trying to avoid BPA.

What to Make:

Canned tuna is a pantry staple in my house. Tuna fish sandwiches are really only the beginning.

What is your favorite kind of tuna? What do you make with it?