Will Plant-Based Tuna Fool You?

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Photo:  Marnie Shure
Photo: Marnie Shure

I hate tuna. The smell of it, and even the sight of it at times, makes me lose my appetite—and trust me, I’ve tried my best to give it a chance. I’ve tasted tuna from a can, from a pouch, on a salad, in a sushi roll, in a wrap, in a box, with a fox. Okay so, those last two were just Dr. Seuss references, but you get my point. I do not like tuna.

That being said, when I came across the opportunity to try a plant-based option, I was intrigued. Without any real tuna involved, perhaps this would be the “tuna” to end my tuna-hating streak.

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What is plant-based tuna made of?

To convert myself from a tuna hater to at least a tuna tolerater, I tried three different varieties of a plant-based tuna, prepared as three different dishes that tuna-eating people usually eat. I also consulted a couple of my fellow Takeout staffers who do enjoy tuna, Marnie Shure and Dennis Lee.

Photo:  Marnie Shure
Photo: Marnie Shure

Good Catch, a plant-based seafood brand, offers pouches of plant-based tuna in multiple flavors, including Naked in Water (plain), Oil & Herbs, and Mediterranean (which includes garlic, red bell pepper, chili flakes, and other flavorings). Each 3.3-oz. pouch contains 17 or 18 grams of protein and is made from various proteins such as chickpeas, peas, soy, and lentils.

Does plant-based tuna taste like the real thing?

Using the plain packet, I took a swing at making a tuna salad—something I am not accustomed to doing. The end result was pretty darn good, if I do say so myself. (The consistency could have been less soupy, but that’s not the fake tuna’s fault.) And just to reassure any tuna salad fanatics out there, fellow Takeout staffers Marnie Shure and Dennis Lee both said the tuna salad was comparable to those made with actual fish.

With the Oil & Herbs pouch, simplicity seemed best, so we weren’t competing with the flavors already on the protein. I just sprinkled the chunks over a Spring mix and added a little vinaigrette to make a basic salad (the oil from the pouch also helped dress the lettuce). And since the Mediterranean variety already came seasoned with the most flavor of the bunch, I just laid it over some white sticky rice. Out of all three dishes, I think the non-tuna tuna salad turned out to be the best, with a flavor you could control by adding or subtracting mayo, mustard, pickles, and pickle brine.

The thing I’ve always hated most about tuna is its fishy smell. Surprisingly, although none of the Good Catch pouches gave off a tuna smell, my nose was still assaulted with a very specific scent. At first I couldn’t put my finger on it, but Shure was able to pinpoint it as a pea or chickpea smell. Yes, the scent of canned legumes; not as appetite-ruining as real tuna, but also not my favorite smell either, and not very inviting. The more I sit with the scent of pea proteins at my side, the more I know that the best way to enjoy this plant-based product is to dress it up with stronger flavors. All you need from this protein is its texture. Which is good, because it’s not really convincing as tuna.

Photo:  Marnie Shure
Photo: Marnie Shure

When a plant-based burger or sausage is designed to mimic its meat counterpart, a lot of that imitation can be accomplished with seasonings that typically go in the meat, or condiments that it gets topped with on the bun. But tuna is tuna. And even if the manufacturer dresses it up as tuna or chicken or whatever else, that protein is going to taste pretty much just like its legume-y self.

You might think I’m unqualified to make this call as a tuna hater, but I’d argue that actually makes me more qualified, because I can identify tuna immediately by the look, smell, and texture I’m always trying to avoid. And my verdict is that this product is not imitation tuna. These all-purpose plant-based protein chunk pouches do add a nice heft to any dish you make with them, even though they haven’t earned the title of tuna. For me, that failure is a good thing, one that strips away the worst parts of actual tuna, and maybe that’s good news for some of you, too.