02 September, 2009

Fishy Delights 24: "Gourmet" Canned Tuna vs. Standard Canned Tuna: Worth The Price?

After being disgusted by lesser grades of tuna, I made up my mind to only buy Solid White Albacore canned tuna. Even that's not as good as it used to be, but it's still acceptable for most uses.

Anyway, on a recent shopping trip, a tuna brand I hadn't noticed before caught my eye: Henry & Lisa's Natural Seafood Solid White Albacore Tuna. It jumped out at me for a couple of reasons: It's in a big six-ounce can, and it was about $8.00. Eight bucks is a lot for a can of fish.

As it turns out, that eight bucks pays for a big backstory. Henry and Lisa Lovejoy are the human faces for EcoFish, a seafood company which takes environmental responsibility, sustainable fisheries, and support for small family fishermen very seriously. Henry and Lisa founded EcoFish in 1999, and have been growing ever since, showing that a company that does good can also do well.

And yet...I can buy Chicken of the Sea for a dollar a can on sale. EcoFish's tuna is out of the price range for a lot of people who, feeling the economy squeeze their budgets, need to feed a family inexpensively with a batch of Tuna Wiggle. So how well does Henry & Lisa's "sashimi grade" canned tuna stack up?

First of all, I'm really skeptical about the "sashimi grade" claim. It might very well be sashimi-grade when the tuna is carved, but after being stuffed into a can and processed, it's just another block of cooked fish.

But what a nice block of cooked fish indeed. Firm and delicious and - unlike most canned tuna - not swimming in a huge water bath, because Henry & Lisa's albacore is packed only with the natural juices and oils in the piece of fish itself.

The tuna looks quite gorgeous unmolded onto a plate, holding its shape well and showing off its attractive golden-brown glow. I pulled a chunk of it loose for the photo to show how nicely it flakes. Visible quality indeed.

The Chicken Of The Sea solid white albacore, in contrast, wasn't nearly as appetizing. True, it isn't the foul sludge that first turned me against "chunk" tuna of any kind, but it doesn't come out of the can nearly as nicely as the Henry & Lisa brand. The Chicken of the Sea tuna needs to be well-drained before using. It's a dirty little secret of the packers that the drained weight of fish in a "five-ounce" can of tuna is a little over 3¼ ounces these days - so if you had a sneaking suspicion you needed more cans to make tuna salad sandwiches for the family than you used to, you were probably right.

But for all the differences, once the tuna is finely flaked, tossed with minced onion and celery, seasoned as you like it, and dressed with mayonnaise, the flavor is identical. Seriously. In a blind tasting, no one I asked could tell the two tuna salads apart. And even given that you might need two cans of Chicken of the Sea to equal the amount of fish in one can of Henry & Lisa's, that's still a six dollar difference in price for no noticeable difference in flavor or quality.

There are times, of course, when the beautiful presentation of a perfectly cylindrical canned tuna filet is important. But I think most of us are just trying to feed our families on a budget. EcoFish has noble goals, and I admire and support them when I can (they have quite a line of products.) But I don't know if I can often afford eight dollars for a can of tuna.


EcoFish's website. Learn about the company's history, their corporate philosophy, products, where to buy their stuff, and more.



zoe p. said...

Very interesting! I had noticed that I was beginning to need 2 cans of tuna where I used to need one!

Jennette said...

Sustainable tactics are worth it to me. I just bought the "gourmet" brand you're talking about at the corner store recently and I'm sticking to it for now, even though it's more expensive.

Eliot said...

One huge advantage of buying the gourmet tuna is that you don't need all the mayo and stuff to enjoy it! I really love this tuna and eat it by itself for lunch. I would imagine it would be really good on top of a green salad too.

sweetwings3 said...

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sweetwings3 said...

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