A Quick Guide to Buying Better Canned Tuna

During the latest episode of All-Star Academy, the remaining contestants got a double whammy — they all had to share guest mentor Robert Irvine and create a winning dish using a mystery canned good. Once all the cans were opened, we learned that chicken, ham, tuna, salmon and clams were on the menu. Some of you may have run for the hills faced with such a challenge, but for those of you left, which canned protein would you have wanted?

We in Food Network Kitchen (well, some of us) would go straight for the tuna. But not all cans of tuna are equal. There are many types from which to choose. Below is a little bit about what’s in the can.

Some tuna types and fishing methods are more ecological than others. When you’re shopping, 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.

Here’s a quick visual guide to the types of canned tuna you’re likely to find in stores:


Solid Light Tuna in Water or in Oil: “Solid” means larger pieces, which might be better for a green salad or in a pasta dish. “Light” indicates the rosier color of tuna from species like skipjack, tongol, yellowfin and some other varieties.

Yellowfin Tuna Fillets in Water or Oil: Yellowfin refers to the species of tuna, and fillet is the cut of tuna the meat comes from. Packed in water or oil is up to you based on your personal preference and intended usage. Oil would be a good choice when you don’t plan on adding other flavorings to the tuna.

See More: Budget-Friendly Dinner Dishes

Solid White Albacore Tuna in Water or Oil: Albacore is a species of tuna that has the lightest-color flesh compared with the other varieties, and per the FDA is the only species that can have the “white” label. It’s possible that you’ll actually get more heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids from tuna packed in water. In oil-packed tuna, the tuna’s natural fat can mix with the added oil, so you may be tossing out your omega friends when you drain the can.

Chunk Light Tuna in Water or in Oil: “Chunk” means smaller pieces. “Light” tunas typically have lower levels of mercury than “white” (albacore) tuna. Chunk light tuna tends to be the most economical of all the canned tuna options and is great for a classic mayonnaise-based tuna salad.

Chunk White Albacore Tuna in Water or Oil: Again, “chunk” means smaller pieces. Though tuna packed in oil may have extra flavor depending on the type of oil it’s packed in, it may also have up to double or triple the calories as compared with water-packed.

See More: 10 Ways to Save at the Market

Hand-Packed Wild Tuna in Oil: As you can probably tell from the name, this is the creme de la creme of the canned-tuna world. Keep a special eye out for the word “ventresca,” which is tuna that comes from the belly of the fish and is also known as toro. It has deep, buttery, complex flavors and a creamy texture (and is a personal favorite of many in the Food Network Kitchen).

Tuna Melt Recipe

By Food Network Kitchen



2 English muffins, split, or 4 slices sourdough, rye, or whole wheat bread
2 tablespoons prepared mayonnaise (optional)
1 recipe tuna salad, recipe follows
1 cup shredded sharp farmhouse cheddar cheese
Tuna Salad
Two 6 ounce cans white meat tuna packed in water, drained
2 tablespoons minced celery
2 tablespoons minced red onion, soaked in cold water for 5 minutes and drained
1 teaspoon minced flat-leaf parsley
1/3 cup prepared mayonnaise
1 tablespoon whole grain mustard
Freshly ground black pepper,
Freshly squeezed lemon juice, to taste (optional)

Preheat the broiler and set the rack about 4 to 5 inches from the heat source.

Spread the bread out on a baking sheet and toast. Spread the toasted muffins or bread with the mayonnaise, if using. Top with the tuna salad and then the shredded cheese. Place the baking sheet under the broiler and heat for 3 to 5 minutes, until the cheese has melted. Serve immediately.

In a small mixing bowl break up the tuna with a fork. Toss with the celery, onion, and parsley. Add the mayonnaise, mustard, and season with pepper to taste. Stir to combine. Add lemon juice, if using.

Don’t forget to watch All-Star Academy on Sunday at 9|8c.

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