Tuna is a hugely versatile fish that comes in many different forms. Whether you’re a fan of juicy tuna steaks or prefer flaked tuna in a sandwich or pasta bake, this fish appears on many household midweek menus!
But what if your family is not keen on tuna, or you are struggling to get hold of your favorite fish?
What are the best substitutes for tuna? Tuna is best substituted with other types of fresh fish with a similar texture and flavor (ex. halibut or salmon) or other types of canned fish (ex. sardines and salmon). Vegan alternatives like jackfruit and cauliflower can be cooked as steaks, and crushed chickpeas can replace canned tuna.
Whether you’re looking for a fish to replace tuna, or are seeking a vegan or vegetarian alternative, we’ve got all bases covered for you right here! Let’s take a look at the very best substitutes for tuna.
What Is Tuna?
Tuna fish is a firm favorite in many households, loved for its versatility and flavor.
These majestic fish can be found in many different oceans all around the world, and have a very distinctive taste and texture.
Although there are many different types of tuna fish, only a few are commonly caught for human consumption.
If you are a fan of tuna steaks or sushi, then it is highly likely these were made from bluefin tuna. The type of tuna caught for canning is normally albacore tuna, although you may also come across skipjack and yellowfin tuna in cans.
Tuna fish are one of the true giants of the ocean — they can weigh up to 1,500 pounds. This means that a single tuna can feed a large number of people!
So, in years gone by, a variety of methods were used to preserve this fish for longer, as it was unlikely that a family would be able to eat whole fish before it went bad.
We still eat tuna in many of the same ways today, and both fresh and canned tuna are normally widely available.
Fresh tuna can normally be bought from your local fishmonger or fish counter in the grocery store.
If you are buying tuna steaks, ensure that they are as fresh as possible and keep them chilled on ice until you are ready to cook them.
Canned tuna is a great, cost-effective way to feed your family a healthy source of protein.
You will find canned tuna in a variety of forms, packed in ingredients such as brine, oil, or spring water.
These cans have a lot relatively long shelf life and make a handy store cupboard ingredient for a last-minute dinner.
Nutritionists are constantly urging people to eat more fish and tuna can be a good choice.
It is full of healthy fats and protein, and is relatively low in calories. Tuna is also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, and selenium.
However, some people do have concerns about consuming tuna regularly, due to the high mercury content. This occurs due to contaminated seawater and is more concentrated in larger types of tuna, such as albacore.
Food safety experts advise limiting consumption of albacore tuna to no more than once per week. Skipjack tuna tends to be lower in mercury, but is normally only available as canned tuna.
But if you’re worried about the mercury levels of tuna, or are looking for a vegetarian alternative, don’t panic! We’ve got some great substitutes for tuna that will tantalize any taste buds.
What Does Tuna Taste Like?
There are some subtle differences in the flavor of tuna according to the variety of fish, where it was caught, and how it has been prepared.
One key feature of tuna is the sweetness and mild fishy flavor. This is why many people who do not normally enjoy eating fish will happily tuck into a tuna meal.
When it comes to tuna, it is the texture that is equally as important as the flavor.
While a lot of fish will rival tuna when it comes to flavor, these other options often fall apart when cooked. It is the firm, meaty texture of tuna that enables the flesh of tuna to be cut into steaks or thinly sliced for sushi.
And with canned tuna, the texture is also key. A good-quality canned tuna should have a firm texture but flake easily when pulled with a fork. It will blend easily with other ingredients such as mayonnaise or salad dressing.
While tuna is firm and holds its shape well for cooking, it is a different matter when it comes to eating it.
This delightful fish is not at all chewy and almost melts in the mouth. The texture is dense, meaty, slightly creamy, and incredibly moist.
How Is Tuna Used?
One of the reasons that tuna is so popular is that it can be cooked and eaten in many different ways.
Tuna steaks can be grilled, baked, broiled, and even diced up for tuna skewer kebabs. They can be sliced thinly and used for sushi, or seared and spread over a salad.
Tuna is one of the few fish that is safe to eat without cooking it fully, and many people like to serve it rare.
The Best Substitutes For Tuna
So now we’ve got you all excited about tuna, we need to turn our thoughts to what you can use as a substitute for this delicious fish.
There are plenty of other fishy options available, so don’t be disheartened if you are struggling to source tuna in your local grocery store!
Finding vegetarian or vegan-friendly alternatives to fish can be a tough task. But luckily we’ve got some great ideas for you here, with not one, but three great options to choose from!
Without further ado, here are the best substitutes for tuna.
1. Halibut Steaks
If you’re a fan of a delicious seared tuna steak but want to find an alternative, then halibut steaks are a great choice.
Halibut makes an ideal substitute for tuna because it has firm flesh which retains its shape well during a variety of cooking methods.
It can be grilled, baked, or pan-fried and has a great meaty texture that will rival prime tuna steak.
In terms of flavor, halibut has similar levels of sweetness to tuna and has a great fishy taste. It will pair well with sauces and marinades intended for tuna and takes on seasoning nicely.
One thing to remember with halibut is that it must be cooked thoroughly, so you cannot serve it rare like you would a tuna steak.
2. Canned Sardines
Many people find the idea of canned sardines off-putting, but they can be a great substitute in place of canned tuna.
Sardines are tiny fish that are normally preserved in their entirety in a can, including the skin and bones.
The flesh is firm and flaky and can be used in place of tuna in a variety of different dishes. The fishy smell and flavor of sardines are quite strong, so you may want to try using a smaller amount instead of tuna first.
If you can find them, opt for smaller canned sardines, as they are easier to pull apart into flakes. Larger sardines can be quite dense and meaty, and many people find the crunchy texture of the skin and bones quite unappealing.
Our first vegetable swap for tuna is the versatile jackfruit.
This unusual fruit can be bought in cans and has a similar flaky texture to tuna.
It takes on other flavors well and can be marinated to create a great alternative to tuna.
Salmon is often regarded as a delicacy, but it actually makes a relatively inexpensive alternative to tuna.
The flavor of salmon is slightly sweeter than tuna, but it has a similar firm texture which holds its shape well when grilled.
You can use it as a replacement for tuna without having to adapt the recipe too much, as it will work with similar ingredients and seasonings.
Our second vegetarian substitute for tuna on the list takes a little bit more effort in terms of preparation, but it is worth the work!
Chickpeas are a highly nutritious alternative to tuna that are packed full of protein.
By themselves, chickpeas do not taste much like tuna, but with just a few simple tweaks, they can be used to make a delicious alternative to tuna salad.
Load the mix into a fresh baguette along with some salad leaves and sliced tomato, and you’ve got the perfect vegan replacement for a tuna salad sandwich!
If you’re looking for a fish with a flavor as close as possible to tuna, then trout is a great choice.
Saltwater trout tends to be stronger in flavor than freshwater trout, but both can be used in place of tuna.
The main difference when using trout in place of tuna is that it has a much more delicate and softer texture. It is best to cook this fish whole if you are pan-frying, as trout steaks are highly likely to fall apart.
When cooked, the flesh of trout also flakes apart nicely, making it ideal for a sandwich filling.
Our final substitute for tuna is another great option for vegans or vegetarians.
We’ve been fans of cauliflower rice for quite some time, but cauliflower steaks take this versatile vegetable to the next level!
Cauliflower steaks can be cooked in a variety of ways, including pan-frying and roasting. These methods bring out the delicious, sweet, nutty taste of cauliflower, and it also soaks up other flavors really well.
So, if you need to serve a vegetarian option at a dinner party, then cauliflower steaks can be cooked and served in just the same way as a tuna steak.