A can of tuna: What could be simpler? It's something we always keep in the pantry, yet the ever-expanding offerings in the tuna section of supermarkets can leave you scratching your head. Is there a difference between light and white, or are they the same thing? Here's what you need to know, whether you just want to make a simple tuna salad sandwich or you're in the mood for a tuna noodle casserole.
White or Albacore Tuna
The two main categories of canned tuna are indeed "white" and "light"—but they're not the same. White, which is sometimes labeled "albacore," is lighter in color (see what we mean about a head-scratcher?). It comes from a larger fish that has a lighter colored flesh, with a firm texture and mild flavor. It's higher in fat and calories than light tuna (which we'll describe below), though not by much. If you're keeping it simple and just want to serve tuna plain, perhaps with some lemon juice, salt, and pepper, over a bed of greens, white tuna is perfect.
Light or Skipjack Tuna
Light tuna, on the other hand, is typically skipjack tuna, but it can also be a variety of smaller tuna species such as yellowfin, tongol, or big-eye. It's cheaper than white tuna and has a slightly stronger fish taste. Because of its richer flavor, light tuna is a natural for tuna salads and pasta dishes and casseroles—its taste can stand up to a range of other ingredients.
How Canned Tuna Is Processed and Sold
Both categories of tuna come in two varieties that refer to the size of the pieces in the can: solid and chunk. Solid tuna has larger, firmer pieces with fewer flakes, while chunk tuna comes in smaller pieces that vary in size. All canned tuna is cooked, though the cooking methods vary from company to company. It's common for the tuna to be quickly frozen on the boat right after it's caught; then, it's kept frozen until it's processed. Some companies use large baskets to steam the fish; others bake it in a pressure-cooking chamber. After that, the canning and sterilization process cooks the fish once more (or for the first time—if it hadn't been steamed or pressure cooked previously). Some tuna includes water, vegetable broth, or oil in the can; others have salt, too. And still others have nothing but the tuna itself. Our test kitchen prefers tuna packed in olive oil.
There's a Lot to Love About Canned Tuna
Despite all of the differences, there are two things all canned tuna have in common—and they're both wonderful attributes. The first: Canned tuna is shelf stable for an impressive three to four years. The second: All tuna is a lean protein, and boasts omega-3 fats, selenium, and other important nutrients.