Tuna in olive oil: four tips on how to choose

Tuna is one of our favorite summer recipe ingredients. But tuna in olive oil is also something that goes down well the year round. Find out how to choose the best tuna!
The vacations are over, but we still want to enjoy fresh, lightweight flavorsome dishes. There are so many good reasons for considering canned tuna a must-have for our kitchen shelves, whether a question of taste, health or finding more spare time for other pursuits.
Tuna in olive oil is flavorsome, genuine, versatile and quick to prepare. Perfect for recipes that are as practical and simple as they are delicious.

Versatility and genuineness

Colorfully mixed salads, rice salads, cold pasta dishes, gorgeous spaghetti dishes, gourmet sandwich treats, baked fish cakes, treats with spreads, stuffed vegetables, Mediterranean-style toasted bread pieces seasoned with garlic, olive oil and salt… you’ll most surely find the white meat tuna recipe that’s right for you!

Canned tuna perfectly preserves the nutrient properties of the fresh tuna. It is rich in noble proteins, unsaturated fats (including Omega 3 fatty acids), essential vitamins (above all of the B, P and A groups) and mineral salts (phosphorus, iron, calcium, potassium and sodium).

We all love tuna!

About 94% of Italians buy it. Italians consume 2.4 kg of tuna per year. Nearly 1 out of 2 Italians (43%) will consume tuna once a week.

Remember – canned tuna products aren’t all the same!

If you wish to fully benefit from tuna both as a nutrient product and as a flavorsome treat, you must look out for quality. Go to your local grocery store or supermarket and check out how many canned tuna products you’ll find there, not to mention the special offers and other deals for new-entry products and so on. Generally speaking, it’s anyone’s guess what tuna product shoppers will finally settle for!

But, when purchasing responsibly and in full awareness of the health implications, there are 4 key questions that you should ask:
  1. How is the tuna conserved?
  2. Species?
  3. Sustainably produced?
  4. Organoleptic qualities?

1. In olive oil or ‘au naturel’?

There are two types canned tuna available: tuna ‘au naturel’ (also known as tuna in pickle brine), or tuna in olive oil. In both cases, the tuna is cooked (generally steamed) and then packed. The difference is in how the fish is stored: in salt or in olive oil. While salt conserved tuna is less rich in calories, this does not necessarily mean it’s your best choice from the dietary angle. When it is ‘au naturel’, tuna contains much salt (an alternative preservative to olive oil).

If you prefer tuna in olive oil, please check the type of olive oil used. You should rule out products that just say “olive oil”, seed oil or blended oils (seed + olive). You must instead choose tuna in a quality olive oil. Such oils enrich the tuna, and conserve it optimally, while safeguarding (i.e. without masking) the flavor.

2. Tuna? Which tuna?

Tuna fish vary. The tuna fish varieties available are not all the same! Among the canned product species that you’ll find in grocery stores, the most common is Yellowfin tuna (Thunnus albacares). The name is owing to the color of its tail. This species lives in tropical or subtropical waters, and mainly the Indian or the Pacific Ocean. It is pinkish and moderately firm in consistency. However, it stands penultimate in the ranking of high-quality tunas. That said, it is practically the only tuna that you’ll find canned, alongside the lowest ranking fish, Skipjack tuna (Katsuwonus pelamis), the flesh of which is fragile (and with a marked flavor). The Skipjack tuna is frequently fished by unsustainable means. Let us now look at the undoubtedly high-ranking Thunnus alalunga (which inhabits the Atlantic Ocean). This fish is also known as the White Meat Tuna, since the flesh assumes a whitish-pinkish hue when cooked. Connoisseurs are particularly fond of this species, given its delicate taste and firm and yet tender flesh.
infografica tonno

3. Where your tuna fish come from

How good is your tuna? The tuna in your sandwich or on your spaghetti? The intrinsic quality of the fish is important, as is its species (see above), but the method adopted for fishing, and the later processing, must also be factored in.

Unfortunately most of the tuna on sale is fished using techniques of a totally unsustainable nature, such as use of longlines (also known as boulters or spillers) and FAD (Fish Aggregation Devices), destructive in their impact on the marine ecosystem. FAD are floating structures that exploit forms placed underwater to attract tuna and other fish, then caught in nets called seines, but which also lead to a bycatch: too many young tunas, as well as barely sellable fish, and even protected species such as turtles, dolphins, devil fish and sharks. The latter species are thrown back into the water, having died in the meantime.

Sustainable methods for tuna fishing − acknowledged as such by Greenpeace itself − are traditional angling and use of the seine but without FAD, which must trap only the schools of the species in question, without damaging the seabed. Processing is also crucial. How long does it take to get to the canning plant from the harbor? How are the fish cleaned, cut, prepared and canned? Canned tuna products are definitely not all the same!

Learn why our tuna is good for you and good for the environment too!

4. You know about the two packaging formats. But watch out for the consistencies!

You must have noticed that tuna are sold in two packaging forms, tin cans and glass jars. You will also have noticed that one format (tin cans) is for sliced tuna, and the other (glass jars) is for filleted tuna. By definition, filleted fish must be integral and tender. However, the sliced tuna must also be firm. It must not fall apart at the first touch, and it must be free of all the residues of processing. In both cases, the consistency of the flesh is a key issue.

Of course, the (delicate and not overly strong) fragrance of the fish will also indicate its quality, as will the color (light and pinkish; not dark), the flavor (harmonious; not overly marked), and digestibility. Again, you can tell by the taste!

Mandatory transparency

Look very carefully at the label. Read the technical specifications on the web site of the producer company. Before choosing your tuna, find out the following:
  • fish species
  • fishing zone
  • fishing technique
  • fishing season
  • if the tuna is in olive oil, the olive oil used for preservation
  • absence of additives (e.g. E621 monosodium glutamate preservative)

Perhaps you didn’t know that...

The history of the practice of preservation of the tuna goes back to the times of Imperial Rome, when the fish was preserved in pickle brine or in olive oil for storage in amphorae. In 1810, the Frenchman, Nicolas Appert, finally introduced the use of glass jars with wax-sealed closures. In 1850, the Englishman, Bryan Donkin, was the first to use tin cans, which were closed after cooking in a bain-marie or double boiler. Here lie the origins of the classic canned tuna. Canned tuna, then as now! Lightweight, hygienic… and well able to stand the test of time!