why is tuna in oil a thing?
July 20, 2012 11:36 PM   Subscribe

Ive ben wondering about this since i was little. At the store you can get tuna packed in water, or tuna packed in oil. what's tuna in oil got that water doesn't? i would think that tuna in oil won't work if you don't want the oil, and if you do, you have many better oil options that the the oil in that can, that most likely just got sluiced out the top of a tanker truck or held for months belowdecks in unwashed tankards on a tuna boat.
posted by facetious to Food & Drink (22 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Tuna in oil just tastes better, IMO. Probably because the oil absorbs the tuna flavor.
posted by lunasol at 11:48 PM on July 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Tuna is commonly packed in soybean oil, but you can get Trader Joe's in olive oil.
posted by BlueHorse at 11:49 PM on July 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Oil packed tuna, especially olive oil packed tuna, has more flavor straight out of the can than water packed tuna. This is especially notable if the only accompaniment you have on hand is a sleeve of Saltines.
posted by jamaro at 11:51 PM on July 20, 2012

Best answer: Tuna packed in oil doesn't taste the same as tuna packed in water then taken out and mixed with oil. According to this article the flavor of tuna packed in oil improves over several months.
posted by acidic at 11:54 PM on July 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The tuna gets a softer, oilier (obviously) texture. Tuna in water can get a bit dry when the water is drained away.
posted by A Thousand Baited Hooks at 11:59 PM on July 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Also, I think counter to what your question implies, tuna is canned later, on shore, so the oil is never on the boat.
posted by mercredi at 3:58 AM on July 21, 2012

Best answer: Side by side taste comparison, the oil-packed is going to taste better. Fish and olive oil are a match made in heaven. I have read, though, that if you are going to throw the oil away, it will have leeched out some of the nutrients in the fish.

I actually don't like most canned tuna-- it tastes like the can to me-- but everyone should try canned seafood from Spain. (The prices on that website are not even high compared to some!)
posted by BibiRose at 4:53 AM on July 21, 2012 [3 favorites]

If I use tuna for sandwiches, I use tuna packed in water. If I'm using it in a salad, where the salad dressing is usually oil based, then I use tuna in oil, as it mixes better with the dressing then. Also, if you drain the water from the tuna can, the tuna can be a bit dry, which is ok for the sandwich where I'm using mayonnaise. But for a salad, where the tuna needs to stand on it's own a bit, I don't want dry flakes of it atop a bed of spinach. The oil packed tuna mixes in better.
posted by bluefly at 5:07 AM on July 21, 2012 [5 favorites]

I think part of the answer is that tuna in water can be too salty if you're eating it regularly and it's hard to remove the salt whereas you can drain most of the oil and have your tuna be slightly fattier, which does no harm since it's protein in the first place.
posted by ersatz at 5:13 AM on July 21, 2012

Best answer: Please do yourself the favor of trying some ventresca tuna packed in olive oil and you'll really see the difference. If you've got a Whole Foods nearby, they usually sell it, as would any Italian gourmet shop.
posted by briank at 6:11 AM on July 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I find tuna packed in water inedible, but then I grew up overseas knowing only the olive oil-packed variety, which I absolutely love. My affordable supermarket favourite is Tonno Genova, which costs about $2 and you can get it at Trader Joe's and most large supermarkets. There's a 'white' and a 'light' option. One of them is tastier but I will have to do a side-by-side taste test to figure out which, as both are very good individually.
posted by Dragonness at 6:14 AM on July 21, 2012

I grew up eating tuna salad from tuna packed in water and still like it, probably because I ate it so much as a kid. In the past year I've started eating a lot of sardines and I always buy the oil packed ones because they simply taste better to me and have a nicer (imo) texture.

I think you will also find a big difference in quality among nicer brands of canned tuna and the bumblebee or other regular supermarket brands. I definitely notice a difference with sardines...I didn't really realize there was such a wide range of quality of canned fish even though it seems obvious now. As a kid eating tuna we just got whatever was on sale.
posted by fromageball at 6:32 AM on July 21, 2012

When tuna is caught, it's flash-frozen. It's packed onshore; the factory should* adhere to food-grade production standards. *In the US, the FDA has few inspectors, and some people are not terribly confident that food, esp. meat, poultry & eggs, is as safe as it should be. Please so not use this as a derail to the thread. I'm trying to address the oil quality issue raised by the asker
posted by theora55 at 7:04 AM on July 21, 2012

Oil is a bit of a preservative. in ancient Greece they would store wine in giant jars like these and pour a big layer of olive oil on it that would float on top, thus sealing the wine from air -- then just get the wine from a spigot on the bottom. Perhaps it's something like that; the oil seals the fish. Dunno, just speculating. That's what I always thought it was. Sure is yummy. There's a Korean brand that I get from the Asian market that crazy delicious.
posted by halatukit at 7:05 AM on July 21, 2012

Think of it as the difference between poaching something in water and confiting something in fat.
posted by JPD at 8:17 AM on July 21, 2012

As far as I understood, tuna in water is a relatively new product compared to tuna in oil, which is what most of the rest of the world considers canned tuna.
posted by Lyn Never at 8:18 AM on July 21, 2012

Some people find tuna in oil offensively strong, and tuna in water offensively tasteless, so it's personal. My solution is to use one tin of each in tuna salad and drain both before using.
posted by halfbuckaroo at 8:43 AM on July 21, 2012

Response by poster: amazingly enlightening answers, thank you guys
posted by facetious at 8:53 AM on July 21, 2012

As far as I understood, tuna in water is a relatively new product compared to tuna in oil, which is what most of the rest of the world considers canned tuna.

I believe that's true. It comes from the "OMG, fat makes you fat!1!" hysteria.
posted by gjc at 12:14 PM on July 21, 2012 [1 favorite]

A word of caution. I have found, personally, that eating tuna packed in oil vs. water can sometimes cause intestinal upset...
posted by Hanuman1960 at 6:54 AM on July 22, 2012

Best answer: So I grew up in a tuna packing town. Used to be ALL tuna was packed in oil. There was some sort of protectionist legislation that said that you could only move your water packed tuna canneries off-shore and oil packed tuna had to stay in the US. (this is all coming from personal memories and I don't have time to double check but it's an interesting lead/story nonetheless). The idea at the time was that water tuna was such a small bit of the business, it seemed like a easy compromise, "who wants tuna packed in water?". Then the 80's came and everybody got afraid of oil and fat, and all of a sudden Bumble Bee started selling more and more water tuna that they did off-shore. As a result, there isn't a tuna cannery in the town anymore...But if you ever want to take a trip to Astoria Oregon, there are lots of places telling the history of tuna canning.
posted by dipolemoment at 5:01 PM on July 23, 2012

Best answer: I have a friend in Oregon that sends me tuna that he catches and then has canned at a local cannery. The canning is done with just the straight fish (no oil or water added). Albacore is naturally a fairly oily fish, and the flavor and texture is amazing. Try it and you'll never go back to supermarket tuna again.
posted by doctord at 1:08 PM on August 6, 2012 [1 favorite]

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