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Jun 15, 2009 02:35 PM

why is canned tuna so cheap when fresh tuna is so expensive?

Any answer to this conundrum? The Japanese market will pay thousands for a single fresh tuna, but canned tuna seems to be a quintessential 'cheap' pantry item. Does this canned tuna come from undesirable portions of the tuna or is it a different kind of tuna altogether?

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  1. Not the same beast.

    Canned tuna is most often Albacore - "white meat tuna". Still abundant in both the Pacific and Atlantic. "Dark Meat" is from Skipjack. These are small fish in comparison to their bigger brethren. There are Solid or Fancy packs and Chunks or Standard packs - the latter can contain up to 25% flakes, packed in. This is much cheaper, as it can use up the meat that has flaked off during processing.

    Sashimi is from the bigger varieties like Blue Fin (if and when available any more), Big Eye, and Yellowtail. Yellowtail is kind of intermediate, and used to be considered a fairly junk fish for sashimi, but is nowadays the main go to fish because everything else is pretty much gone.

    But just in case you think that all canned tuna is cheap, look into some of the Ventresca (Belly meat) tuna from Bonito Del norte or Ortiz... $18.75 for a 4 oz. can... not exactly peanuts.

    1. canned (white) tuna is albacore and the light is skipjack. two not so expensive fishes.
      fresh tuna is usually BlueFin or Yellowtail which is much more spendy.

      1 Reply
      1. re: ScubaSteve

        Whatever it is they are selling as all white meat tuna these days (with the exception of imported tuna in olive oil) resembles paste more than meat. Surprisingly, the 365 brsnd tuna from WF which is pretty cheap (comparably) is better than the big name brands.

      2. Probably because it's sub-standard tuna.

        4 Replies
        1. re: RaquelFoodie

          i disagree. i think it's the standard for something that's going to be canned.

          1. re: ScubaSteve

            Yes but maybe it's cheap tuna, so just because it's standard, maybe it doesn't make it high quality?

            1. re: RaquelFoodie

              i think the perceivced level of quality depends on the final use.

              1. re: ScubaSteve

                True, but you're still eating it somewhat 'raw' in that you're either mixing it with mayo, lemon/vinegar and olive oil so it's hard to mask the flavor. I still eat the stuff, but I always wonder why the quality varies so much with canned versus bottled.

        2. Air freight.

          Fresh food obviously requires much more careful, time-sensitive handling. Canned fish can sit in a warehouse for months, fresh needs to stay on ice from harvest to consumer, and has a lifetime of maybe a week.

          1. Have you ever heard of supply and demand? Blue fin tuna stocks are a fraction of what they were a few years ago. Some experts believe that we will fish the blue fin tuna out of existance in the near future. We have wiped out other fisheries like the cod in the grand banks of Nova Scotia and the sardines in Monterey. The scarcity of blue fin is due to overfishing by commercial boats using hugh nets to net the tuna. The scarcity of the tuna and the demand for sushi/sashimi is driving up the price. Unfortunately, people are still paying that price and If it goes on long enough, the blue fin tuna will be fished out of existance.

            PS-YELLOWTAIL is not a tuna. It is a member of the Jack family of fishes. Yellowfin is a tuna.

            2 Replies
            1. re: bgazindad

              Yes - you're absolutely right - I mispoke when I said yellowtail, I meant yellowfin. Yellowfin tuna is known as ahi (in Hawaii) or kihada/kimeji in Japanese. It is also used for canning, and is called "light" tuna when canned. It has only become called maguro, generically for tuna, in recent times, as bluefin and bigeye have disappeared. Bluefin is now referred to as Honmaguro, meaning real (or original) maguro, while maguro can mean just about anything, including yellowfin.

              Yellowtail, which is Hamachi (when young) or Buri in Japanese, is indeed a different fish altogether.

              1. re: applehome

                I think your first post hit the nail on the head about Albacore Vs other more desireable species for sushi etc. No doubt processing, supply and demand etc for Blue Fin and Big Eye also affect their price but neither are exactly standard fare for canned Tuna. Big Eye stocks are well in both the Atlantic and Hawaii. The primary avoid recommendation there is against long line caught fish.
                Yellowfin has no where near the fat content of Big Eye. Fresh caught Big Eye belly seared on the grill tastes like the best steak imaginable.
                BTW here is a link for a vendor with some of the imported canned Tuna.