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Tasting Panel: Solid White Canned Tuna in Water

Fine Cooking Issue 79
Photos: Scott Phillips
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Canned tuna is a mainstay of the American pantry. Who doesn’t have a can or two stacked in the kitchen cabinet, ready to be opened in a pinch for a quick tuna sandwich when the fridge looks desolately empty?

To find out which brand is best, Fine Cooking staffers participated in a blind tasting of five nationally available brands of solid white (albacore) tuna in water. We drained them and tasted them straight. Surprisingly, there was little consensus; we all seemed to have a different idea of what canned tuna should taste like. Some tasters were partial to a very mild, clean flavor; others seemed to prefer bolder, more assertive tunas. So, while our panel was nearly unanimous in singling out Chicken of the Sea as a favorite, the runner-up, Bumble Bee, was one of the mildest tunas of the bunch, while the third, Geisha, was by far the most aggressive.

Tunas are numbered in order of preference; prices will vary.

Top Pick

1. Chicken of the Sea
$1.79 (6 oz.)

The clean, subtly fishy flavor and well-balanced saltiness of this tuna, along with its firm, meaty texture, made it a favorite among tasters, who consistently ranked it in their top three. And it looked good, too: A healthy pinkish-white color with no blood line, and nice big chunks.

Runners-up

2. Bumble Bee
$1.79 (6 oz.)

This tuna was a decent blank canvas: Mild and clean with no off flavors and a firm but moist texture. Big, white flakes made it visually appealing as well. One taster said it was “confidenceinspiring,” although some found it a bit waterlogged and too bland.

3. Geisha
$1.39 (6 oz.)

Assertive and salty but with an overall clean, pleasant flavor, some panelists proclaimed this the tastiest tuna of all. Those who were after a more subdued flavor, however, felt it was too salty and strong. Others commented on a slight metallic aftertaste. Almost everyone thought its dry texture and less-than-perfect appearance were forgettable.

4. Starkist
$1.69 (6 oz.)

It wasn’t looks or texture that caused this tuna’s score to plummet. Its large, good-looking light pink flakes were firm to the bite, yet tender and moist. But its flavor couldn’t keep up with appearances: It had a bitter finish (identified by some as “processed”).

5. 3 Diamonds
$1.39 (6 oz.)

This tuna was not our favorite. From the grayish color and conspicuous blood line to the tough, chewy mouth-feel and, most importantly, the bland, vaguely metallic flavor, there wasn’t much to be impressed with. Even tasters who normally like their tunas on the mild side found this one too dull.

Ever wonder about tuna in pouches?

We did. So, as we tasted cans of tuna for this issue’s tasting panel, we also sampled white tuna in pouches made by some of the same brands—namely, Chicken of the Sea, Bumble Bee, and Starkist. We weren’t particularly impressed. Pouches may be easier to handle because you don’t have to go through the trouble of opening and draining a can. And, because no water is added before pouches are sealed, the flavor tends to be more concentrated. But this doesn’t always mean it’s better. Sometimes, it just means the tuna is saltier and a bit fishier than its canned counterpart, but no more pleasant or satisfying.

What’s more, if it’s true that we eat with our eyes first, pouched tuna doesn’t make a good first impression. We couldn’t help but think of astronaut fare when we saw these compressed slabs of tuna meat come out of the bag. While we didn’t mind the flavor and texture of Bumble Bee’s pouch, we’ll probably continue to reach for the can opener when we crave that tuna sandwich.

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