Tuna salads are a perfect lunch food for a hot summer day when you need something flavorful, light, and refreshing. Though you probably grew up eating tuna salad as a quick meal your parents could put together with relatively little effort, tuna salad can be a fantastic choice for all kinds of meals and situations.
Of course, if you want to create a better, tastier, version of your childhood tuna salad, you need to know what the best tuna will be.
We’re going to stop short of recommending that you purchase fresh or frozen tuna cuts. While that is an option, that kind of tuna is probably more expensive and high-quality than you need for a fantastic tuna salad.
So what’s the best tuna for tuna salad? Chunk light or flaked tuna is the best for tuna salad. Tuna canned in water will preserve omega-3s, but tuna canned in olive oil can add a nice mild flavor to your salad. Our personal favorite is StarKist Chunk Light Tuna in Water.
In this article, we’ll talk about the different types of canned tuna, how each contributes to a dish, and finally review some of our favorite tuna salad tunas.
A Guide To Canned Tuna for Tuna Salad
You’re in the canned food aisle. Next to canned salmon and canned chicken is a large section of the shelving that is dominated by canned tuna, pre-made tuna salads, and other tuna products.
There’s a huge range of different cans, from different sizes to tuna that has been packed in oil and tuna that is canned in water.
Each label features a slightly different name for the tuna, and many have a cute cartoon mascot that makes the can more appealing but doesn’t tell you much about the contents of the can.
Common Types of Canned Tuna
Here’s what you need to know about the differences in all these cans:
Albacore tuna can be one of the more popular options because it’s tuna with a name. Albacore is a recognizable kind of fish, and you know that you’re only getting one kind of fish in that can.
Albacore is also appealing to people who don’t really like a strong fishy taste. It’s a white tuna that really tastes a bit like chicken, it’s very mild, kind of sweet, and doesn’t have a lot of tangy flavors.
However, Albacore is also a very large tuna with a long lifespan and predatory habits. That means that Albacore also has higher levels of mercury because the mercury is concentrated through predation.
So, it’s a milder version of canned tuna, but not necessarily the healthiest version.
Skipjack / Lite Tuna
Lite tuna, sometimes advertised as skipjack, is shorthand for skipjack and other smaller tuna varieties that have a shorter lifespan than albacore.
Tuna as a fish encompasses a relatively large group of fish that all have similar body plans, similar flavor, and similar habits. However, skipjack, and the other smaller varieties of tuna, have lower levels of mercury than Albacore, Blue Fin, and other large types of tuna.
This tuna is usually a light pink and has a slightly fishier taste than albacore tuna. But it’s still going to be a milder tuna flavor than the tuna steaks or sashimi you’ll get at a restaurant.
Lite tuna is also softer in texture, so you usually can’t find it as solid tuna.
This isn’t strictly a type of tuna, but you’ll see some can that is cruelty-free, by-kill free, or dolphin free. Basically, this means that the tuna is harvested in a way that doesn’t harm other fish in the fishery.
Dolphins are usually the main fish of concern here, but there are lots of other fish and marine species that benefit from healthy and sustainable fishing habits.
It doesn’t necessarily mean anything about the quality of the fish itself or the type of tuna in the can.
Canned Tuna: Oil Vs Water
Next comes what the tuna is packaged in. Tuna is usually packaged in either oil or water. This is largely a matter of personal preference, though if you want more omega 3 fatty acids you may want to go with water.
Water does not significantly impact the flavor of the tuna, so water is going to give you the truest to tuna taste.
Oil adds some additional fat to the tuna but can break down the natural omega 3 fatty acids contained in the fish. It can slightly alter the texture of the tuna.
The oil is usually vegetable oil or similar, which means that it does have its own flavor, and will change the flavor of the fish.
Size and Texture of Canned Tuna
The last thing to consider is the size of the tuna in the can.
Larger pieces will generally be more flavorful in any individual bite, while smaller pieces create a more even and mixed flavor in tuna salad. Different types of tuna are generally available in different sizes of tuna.
This is exactly what it sounds like. You’ll find whole pieces of tuna that haven’t been cut or processed smaller in the can. The actual size varies, but you’ll typically only find larger tuna, like albacore in this form.
Chunk tuna is the most common size for lite tuna. It’s very similar to solid, but it has more variability in size and averages smaller than solid canned tuna.
Flake tuna is tuna that has been passed through a mesh screen to create a smaller size of tuna. Often it will flake along the grain of the fish in this process, which is what gives the size its name.
Grated tuna is tuna that is one level finer than flaked tuna. The pieces are generally very small, but not so small that they turn into a fish paste.
In general, most people prefer chunk and flake tuna for tuna salad. But if you want larger pieces, or are creating a more rustic salad, you can use solid.
Grated tuna is good for tuna salads that are more of a creamed salad, or that is a paste with chunks of other things. Think guacamole for an example of that texture.
The Best Canned Tuna for Tuna Salad
For our tuna selections, we’ve picked from a wide variety of preparations and types of tuna. That’s because the type of tuna that’s best for salad will vary based on your personal tastes, as well as the type of salad you want to make.
|StarKist Chunk Light Tuna in Water
|Great tuna flavor, mild fishiness, versatile tuna size
|Genova Yellowfin Tuna in Olive Oil
|Added flavor complexity due to the olive oil, larger solid chunk tuna
|Bumble Bee Solid White Albacore in Water
|Very mild fish flavor, soft flakey texture
|Safe Catch Elite Lowest Mercury Solid Wild Tuna Steak
|Tastes more like a cut of tuna than canned tuna, lower mercury content than other brands
|Wild Planet Skipjack Wild Tuna, Sea Salt
|Just tuna and sea salt (no water or oil), balanced tuna flavor
1. StarKist Chunk Light Tuna in Water
For many people, StarKist Chunk Light Tuna is an example that’s very similar to the tuna you might have had in childhood.
It’s got a relatively mild flavor in terms of fishiness but has a stronger tuna-y flavor than many canned versions. However, that flavor is less distinctive than single-variety canned tuna.
This is a relatively soft chunked tuna. That means that you can easily cut it into a finer tuna, or leave it a little larger and appreciate the flaky texture in your salad.
Chunk light tunas, in general, are versatile for tuna salads whether you mean a leafy vegetable salad with tuna as the protein or a mayo and tuna based salad with some seasoning and vegetables.
We also appreciate that the 5 oz can is versatile. It works as a single serving for a tuna-heavy meal or can be spread out to feed more people with the addition of more ingredients.
- Great tuna flavor, minimal fishiness
- Packed in water for true to tuna flavor
- Reasonable size can
- Versatile tuna size
- Dolphin free fishing
- Lots of water in the can reduces the amount of space for tuna
2. Genova Yellowfin Tuna in Olive Oil
This tuna is a little different. Yellowfin is an incredibly popular tuna since it has a pleasant and distinctive flavor compared to other tuna types.
Yellowfin is a common fish to find on sushi menus, for instance.
That flavor comes through in this oil-packed can. The oil makes the fish a little milder, reducing some of the natural acidity of the fish, while also adding some olive taste.
That makes this a good tuna for salads where you want a more complex flavor profile.
It’s good for leafy salads, especially if you’re adding olives to your salad, or can be used to elevate a mayo or sour-cream based salad.
- Slightly different tuna flavor
- Added flavor complexity from the olive oil
- Nicely mild tuna
- Larger solid chunk tuna
- Sustainable fishing practices
- Occasional shipping problems with this brand
- Less oil than other oil-canned brands of tuna
3. Bumble Bee Solid White Albacore Tuna in Water
If you’re looking for a milder tuna taste along with a milder fishy taste, this is probably the can for you.
This can of tuna offers a slightly larger size of fish in water, without drastically altering the taste or texture of the fish.
This tuna gives you a light and flakey texture without an overpowering flavor.
It’s a good option for salads that have multiple stars of the show in your tuna salad. If you want to heavily season your salad or want a blend of flavors from a lot of ingredients, this canned tuna is a good option.
But it doesn’t shine as much in terms of the flavor on its own. So this isn’t going to be a good canned option if you want the tuna itself to be the main flavor profile.
- Mild fish flavor
- Soft flakey fishy texture
- Whitefish for a more familiar taste profile
- The flavor is not very distinct or complex
4. Safe Catch Elite Lowest Mercury Solid Wild Tuna Steak
This tuna isn’t a canned tuna in the way you typically think of a canned tuna.
The preparation is the same, but it’s in a 3oz pouch instead of a can. That means less liquid for a similar amount of tuna.
This is a good tuna if you want a higher quality of tuna but don’t necessarily need a large quantity of it. That’s because this is canned tuna made from better cuts of the fish and less from the leftover sections.
It’s also usually made from larger tuna types instead of the smaller tuna that can go into a lite tuna mix.
The big selling point of this tuna is that it’s lower mercury, and is tested, so it’s safer for pregnant people and people with some other health conditions to eat.
The flavor is slightly more like a cut of tuna instead of canned tuna, but the difference is mild.
- Very low mercury content
- Made from better sections of the tuna
- Low liquid count
- Sustainable catch
- Rather expensive
- Smaller packages, less tuna
5. Wild Planet Skipjack Wild Tuna, Sea Salt
This is skipjack tuna, which means it’s most similar to lite tuna, but it’s a single variety.
The biggest difference for this tuna is that it’s not packed in extra liquid. It’s just the tuna itself, along with some sea salt to enhance the flavor.
This is a good option for leafy salads, but you may find yourself needed added moisture for mayo-based tuna salad.
This option is very friendly for different dietary preferences, has a great balance of tuna-y flavors without being overpowering or unpleasantly fishy.
- Only two ingredients
- Sustainably sourced
- Dietary-restriction friendly
- Great balanced tuna taste
- Occasional shipping problems with this brand
That’s it! We’ve picked some of the best tuna from a variety of different kinds of canned tuna.
But more than that, we’ve also talked about the different types of tuna, and how a different canning style or liquid can influence the final taste and quality of your tuna.
Hopefully, you know a bit more about tuna, and a bit more about how to find the right tuna for your favorite tuna salad.