17 August, 2010

Why Is Canned Tuna So Crappy?

When I was a kid, my mom would buy two kinds of canned tuna:  Chunk Light, and Solid White.  The difference between them was obvious - "solid white" was a thick, solid piece of fish; flaky and white, and obviously a whole cut placed into the can, while "chunk light" was a can full of smaller bits which were darker in color.  Chunk Light was cheaper, and that's the kind Mom used for tuna salad sandwiches.  After all, if you're going to be breaking the tuna down with a fork and mixing it with mayo and stuff anyway, why start with the expensive stuff?  she saved the Solid White tuna for casseroles and pasta salads where large flaked pieces would be more appreciated.  When I went off on my own, I pretty much followed the same reasoning.

Over the years, however,  I've noticed that the quality of affordable canned tuna has dropped amazingly.  I completely avoid tuna labeled "chunk" now, because the product is almost unrecognizable.  Take, for example, this chunk white tuna by Ace of Diamonds.  There are no chunks involved - just a can full of sludgy tunawater with lots of fishy particles suspended in it.  This was really nasty stuff and it was worthless.  Other brands of chunk-style tuna have proven to be just as bad.

But I've also found out I have to be careful about which brand of solid white tuna I buy, too.  Although the quality is generally better with solid white, there is a wide variation between brands and even from can to can within brands as well.

Starkist solid white tuna is usually of decent quality, with big fillets of flaky white tuna, just like I remember as a kid.  It's great for a casserole or a macaroni salad, and it makes delicious tuna salad as well.

Similarly, this can of 3 Diamonds solid white tuna was excellent as well.  Mitsubishi, the corporate overlords of the 3 Diamonds brand, have changed this brand name to "Ace of Diamonds" since then (and they were the folks responsible for the tuna slurry pictured above) so I'm not sure if this older photograph is still representative of the actual product.  I hope so, but I won't find out until the next time it goes on sale.

Bumblebee solid white tuna, on the other hand, is just barely acceptable for a "solid" tuna.  The picture at left is typical of what you'll find in the can:  No solid pieces at all, just chunks.  If the color was darker it would look exactly like the "chunk light" tuna of my youth.  At least I've found Bumblebee to be consistent - every time I open a can of their solid white tuna, I know I'm going to find this - so I don't turn away an opportunity to buy a few cans when they go on sale for less than a dollar a can at the local supermarkets.  I just wouldn't pay full price for it.

And then there are brands which vary from can to can.  Here are two cans of Chicken of the Sea solid white tuna (undrained) side by side.  I purchased them at the same time from the same supermarket.  The one of the left was filled with bits and pieces; the one on the right was what I expected to find when I bought "solid tuna."  Do they have no quality control at the canneries?



Andrew said...

Perhaps the tuna themselves are not of the same quality as they used to be....

Alan said...

This is a good article. It's sad to see such degradation in the quality of what we dearly pay for today.

Christina said...

And when I was a kid, tuna was in at least an 8 oz can - I remember my mom could make sandwiches for four people from a can...

Michael said...

Andrew may have a point - the good stuff gets sent to the gourmet store, where you can buy it for $12 a pound or something.

cyrell said...

The fishing industry is catching smaller and smaller fishes to fill the demand.

The numbers, and also the size of the fish are shrinking.

And the smaller the fish, the 'crappier' is what you get in the can.

The good cuts are going to the restaurants or to the frozen section in the grocery..and what´s left is going into the can.

The fishing industry is only catching fishes 30% of the size as 50 years ago.

And if they do not stop soon and let the damn tuna reproduce before they stuff them into a can, there will soon be no tuna anymore.

Ann m said...

I'm happy to see that Dave has noticed the discrepancies in canned tuna. Can't some real system of quality control be established so the consumer can buy the product that was intended?

Rexx123456 said...

The tuna of today isn't as good as what it was 2 years ago, even if you buy brands claiming that they are "solid white albacore".

Chicken of the Sea & Bumble Bee brands are 2 examples of tuna that was good 2 years ago (even in "chunk white" grade) but are now TERRIBLE quality and mostly containing "mush" or dark brown & grey trash pieces. This means that the tuna of today does NOT match the pictures in this article. This adds to the insult that all tuna dropped from 6oz to 5oz cans earlier this year.

Great article, by the way.