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Oil vs. Water-packed Tuna

OK. I suppose it's years of watching what I eat and a wife who does that for both of us. For as long as I can remember we've only bought water-packed tuna. Our current favorite is the Kirkland brand at Costco, which seems to be very consistently good-tasting and has more tuna-per-can, at a better price, than their Chicken of-the-Sea.

So, today I'm reading some posts about how to make the best tuna salad sandwiches and one of the things posters say is they absolutely HATE tuna packed in water. Can you guys help me justify tuna packed in oil? I'm sure it has a different and stronger taste, but what else should sway me in that direction? Good value brands and where to try them?


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  1. I was like you for years!! Only albacore and only in water. Then i discovered chunk light. Then I found Trader Joes Tongol or Yellowfin tuna packed in Olive Oil (and this is key; Olive oil, NOT vegetable oil!) It is so flavorful and tuna-ey (in a good way). Good enough to eat straight from the can, but even better for tuna salad, Marcella Hazan's fresh pasta w/ tuna sauce, etc. Calories shmalories....olive oil is a GOOD fat. Sometimes I drain some of the oil, but mostly just use it all. adam

    2 Replies
    1. re: adamshoe

      TJ's Yellowfin is awesome; a good compromise in price between the flavorless supermarket "solid white packing material" and the $10 per can Spanish Ventresca. I believe that it's a relabeled version of Genova tuna.

      1. re: Humbucker

        Another vote for TJ's olive oil packed tuna. Makes the tuna I grew up with taste like cardboard. It's kind of nice to like tuna again. If I wanted straight bland protein, I'd stick to egg whites.

    2. I mix one can of mostly-drained oil-packed with one can of thoroughly-drained water-packed. This contributes enough of the smoothness and moistness of oil-packed. Less mayo needed with oil-packed, Remember that soilid white tuna has more mercury than chunk light, so if you prefer the solid it's a good idea to either eat it infrequently or dilute it with chunk light.

      4 Replies
      1. re: greygarious

        We only buy 'solid white' albacore in water. Why does it have more mercury in it than 'chunk light'?

        1. re: Puffin3

          Aside from the fact that you're asking someone who posted this 5 years ago, solid white tuna is albacore and light is usually skipjack. Mercury accumulates in tissues over time and albacore grow much larger than skipjack over longer periods so they tend to accumulate higher levels of mercury. Wild Planet and some other pole-caught albacore tuna canners claim to have much lower levels of mercury.

          1. re: ferret

            Ferret, it has nothing to do with the fact that Puffin was asking someone who posted 5 years ago, because the answer should be the same either way. So there's no point of even mentioning that.

            Anyway, are you saying that no matter where the fish are found, mercury will somehow have accumulated in the fish anyway? Or aren't there places where there's just less of this poisonous metal in the water than in other places (for some reason I don't know), where any fish there would be clean from it? I thought I had heard that it depends on where the fish are located, or at least the condition of the cleanliness of the water, or something like that. What is it that would cause fish to have mercury in it in the first place? Can't they avoid fishing in areas that have mercury that the fish absorb? What's the difficulty there?

            1. re: MaxxFordham

              The Pacific ocean may be vast but it's a contiguous body of water. Studies have found that there are differences in mercury levels based on depth (deeper=more mercury) but as far as i know there aren't any enormous differences between one spot and another. In any case, it wouldn't really matter because tuna have migration patterns that range in the thousands of miles, so even if a "clean" spot could exist, you'd only be catching them as they pass through from other "dirty" areas. You can probably farm tuna in controlled conditions (but likely enormous expense).

              When you're talking ocean and migrating fish there really isn't a "better" area for fishing.

              Look at it this way, if you're in a pool and someone pees at the other end, eventually there will be pee at your end also, albeit at a much greater dilution. Mercury is also present in very trace amounts but is present in larger fish because of the cumulative build-up of mercury in the fish (which is ingested through eating algae, plankton and smaller fish). Fish are very good at accumulating mercury but it isn't easily excreted.

      2. I prefer water.

        Oil is too heavy for me, esp. if I'm making sandwiches.

        I like the cleaner foundation that water packed tuna provides for the condiments and flavorings that I add.

        1 Reply
        1. re: ipsedixit

          I have to agree. Bought two cans of albacore a few weeks ago, one in water and one in oil (by mistake). When I used the tuna in oil I didn't like the fact I couldn't get it as dry (draining it) as I can the tuna packed in water. The tuna salad was way too heavy and wet for our liking. It's water for this girl unless I'm making a recipe that calls for tuna in oil.

        2. One word: flavor. I use exclusively Pastene light tuna in olive oil and water-packed tuna (especially solid white water-packed) tastes like cardboard by comparison.

          2 Replies
          1. re: BobB

            In the other thread where I mentioned the most memorable tuna sandwich I have ever eaten.....was made with a can of Pastene......though I cannot tell you if it was light tuna or other. I would agree tuna packed in olive oil is preferred over vegetable oil. or water.

            1. re: fourunder

              Pastene only packs solid light tuna.

              I should mention that they also sell a couple of other canned tuna products - a version with red chili pepper and one with ginger - but these are Thai imports which they distribute in the US under the Pastene brand. While they are interesting variations, the actual tuna in them is not at all the same quality stuff they package as straightforward Pastene tuna (it's flaked packed in sunflower oil, not solid in olive oil).

          2. I grew up on oil packed- but recently for the same reason you eat it- I switched to water packed. To me the water packed tastes much "fishier" and not in the good way. I have to add a lot more "stuff" shallots, parsley, mustard etc to make it taste good to my palate. Tuna packed in oil as its been mentioned- can be eaten on its own and has a really beautiful flavor and even texture.

            5 Replies
            1. re: fmcoxe6188

              while the flavour is definitely better, it's the texture that really prompts me to go for oil packed. i find the water packed is very dry and grating on my tongue. i don't often make tuna salad but i will use tuna in bastardizations of nicoise salads and it's much easier to eat oil packed tuna on it's own with hardly any dressing (the oil in the can is enough dressing for me!) and is much much more enjoyable. it's worth a single can taste test to see, but definitely also olive oil over generic mish mash of vegetable oil.

              1. re: pinstripeprincess

                Since I usually mix water-packed tuna with lots of mayo I would probably be able to use much less with oil-packed. My guess is that olive oil is better for you than mayo, so this may just work. I still have to find out if I like the taste of oil-packed tuna though.

                Off to TJ's.

              2. re: fmcoxe6188

                I grew up on oil packed as well, and remember having the same reaction when I switched to water packed. We did it to cut calories, but the taste was fishier -- and it took some getting used to.

                1. re: fmcoxe6188

                  we grew up with tuna in oil never water, I don't think I knew it even existed until about 15 years ago. I still prefer it in oil it makes the better sandwich.

                  1. re: fmcoxe6188

                    FM Coxe, first off, I know that I'm responding to a posting that's already almost 5 years old. Who cares? Well, I do, but only because I just found it today and wish I had found it 5 years ago. But still, responding now is better than never!

                    Uhh, you didn't really make sense. You flip-flopped on which one you preferred for what reason. You switched to water-packed fish from oil-packed and then go back and say that the one you switched to has too much fishy taste? Setting aside the discussion that fish *should* taste like fish for another day, I have these questions:

                    Why would you switch *to* the version that you don't like (water-packed)? Or did you mean that the *oil-packed* fish tastes "too fishy" for your fish? Not sure, because then you come back and say that your oil-packed tuna is the one you like!

                    So which is it? You've gotta rewrite almost this whole thing, girl!

                  2. I am always watching my weight but I buy only olive oil-pached tuna. I prefer the taste. Just eat less if you're worried about calories. And drain it.

                    1 Reply
                    1. re: NYCkaren

                      Right on. Water-packed to me is fishy-tasting soggy balsa wood. If I were to add enough mayo to make it palatable I'd wind up with lots more calories than with oil-packed, and more salt and stuff as well. Olive oil is a lot better for you, too, unless you've made your own olive-oil, low-salt mayonnaise. Whoever thought up water-packed tuna OR sardines oughta be taken out and smacked. Salmon, okay - it can take it.

                    2. Funny, at my Costco, the water-pack white Starkist is a lot cheaper -- and better -- than the Kirkland. However, I almost always do the chunk light. I'm extremely skeptical about the supposed mercury dangers of any of them.

                      Oil- and water-packed are different beasts. I get the Starkist olive oil when the dish features the tuna fairly plain. For salad with mayonnaise, it's usually water pack.

                      Walmart's water pack is pretty tasty, but it has a lot of added vegetable flavorings and salt. And like many house brands, it varies a lot from can to can.

                      1. As a treat, may I recommend a sandwich I had in Barcelona, Sp. It was a crusty roll filled with oil packed tuna, roasted red peppers and chopped kalmata olives. It was to die for.

                        1. I only eat tuna packed in oil. Om a salad, mixed with some red wine vinegar, in a sandwich- sometimes with mayo sometimes without. It has a more appealing flavor, texture and color to me. Tuna in oil, being bland often ends up smothered in mayo to spruce it up. Oil packed tuna needs very little else.

                          1. I love tuna in olive oil. Trader Joe's used to sell the Genova brand, but not anymore. I've tried their house brand but it's just not the same to my palate.

                            1. Whoa!!!! TJ's brand tuna in olive oil is $1.99 for half of what's in a Kirkland can. I think my wife pays something like $15 for 10 cans of Kirkland (can't be too far off). That's the same as $40 worth of the olive oil kind at TJ's. Not sure I want to get hooked at that price.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: Midlife

                                Is the Kirkland albacore? Trader Joe's oil packed Yellowfin is so much tastier than any albacore tuna that I think it's worth the extra dough.

                                1. re: Humbucker

                                  Yes. The Kirkland is albacore. FWIW, I don't find it fishy, cardboardy or any of the other negatives above. I guess I'll try the TJ's in oil, but what if I really like it? :o)

                              2. Have been an olive oil packed fan for years. Do have a food regret from Trader Joe's on the subject. I don't have a TJ's that's "on the way" for everyday errands, so when I'm remotely in that area I stop in. Totally agree with what other posters have mentioned about TJ's yellow fin in OO... very nice. On time there was solid sticks (only way I can think to describe) of tune in OO in JARS. Had seen somebody using jarred tuna on a tv cooking show but had never seen it on a market shelf. Bought a jar... a little pricey (like $6 a jar) but probably close to twice as big as regular can. It was DELICIOUS!! Have been kicking myself ever since for only buying ONE jar, cuz I've never seen it again.

                                On another note, tuna is definitely one of those things where canned and fresh CANNOT really be compared?!?

                                1. Julia Child insists that tuna packed in oil is not just better, water-packed tuna is an "abomination." She said it on an episode of "Julia and Jacques." After years of water-packed, I switched to oil-packed because she said so, and for me the flavor and texture are better. Don't know why; perhaps oil prevents oxidation better than water, which after all is H2O. Whatever.

                                  See also http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/864406.

                                  1 Reply
                                  1. re: John Francis

                                    There is a a third alternative. The smaller brands that advertise "pole & troll" caught tuna that are packed in nothing (cooked in can) such as Wild Planet (they also have a jarred tuna in olive oil, but the canned is delicious).

                                  2. I switched from water to oil packed solid white Albacore tuna several years ago. The only thing I make with commodity canned tuna is simple tuna/mayo/celery salad. Albacore is a relatively lean specie of tuna so the added oil improves the mouth feel, IMHO. Water pack has a sawdust kind of consistency, very dry. I've bought the good stuff, like the Italian or Spanish tuna packed in olive which I like to eat standing alone but not in classic tuna salad.

                                    1. I would prefer Tuna packed in Oil rather than water.Tuna pack in oil seems to be a rare find in the Major Supermarkets.I came across some
                                      Tuna packed in Vegetable Oil at Walmart and boy did I go crazy.I grabbed me two cans along with two packs of Kipper Sardines.