Best Canned Tuna? My Tuna Taste Test

Since last week when I had a particularly miserable can of Bumble Bee tuna, I’ve been wondering: What’s the best canned tuna?

best canned tuna
Best Canned Tuna?

Today, I organized myself a little tuna taste test to find out. Here’s a recap of the findings.

Canned Tuna Brands Tested

I bought all the brands available at our local store – all except Bumble Bee. In all cases, I bought 5 oz cans of solid white tuna in water (except I made a mistake with one which was in olive oil).

Here are the brands

  • Pastene (the one in olive oil)
  • Starkist
  • Genova Tonno
  • Ace of Diamonds
  • Chicken of the Sea
  • Geisha

From my Googling last week, there are some other brands out there that people like. This post in particular was pretty helpful – but many of the tunas tested there are a bit rich for my blood and/or they aren’t readily available in local stores. Some of the brands I’ll have my eye out for are these:

  • Whole Foods store brand
  • American Tuna
  • Kirkland (Costco)
  • Trader Joe’s (whatever brands they sell)
  • Goya

If/when I can track these down, I will add them to the test.

Tuna Taste Test Comparison

Being obsessive, I took photos of the tasting process, but for now here’s the highlights. Maybe I’ll get some of the images up later.

Group A: Genova Tonino, Starkist, Geisha

Features Genova Tonno Starkist Geisha
Price $2.49 $1.25 $1.50
(in can)
slighter darker meat, clear liquid lightest meat, large chunks visible, very watery and murky light meat, lot of liquid
Amount of liquid drained off 2.75 Tb 1.75 Tb 3.33 Tb
‘Solidness’ of meat
(on plate)
2 1 (most) 3
Comments came out of can dry, most appetizing looking, mild flavor, appeared to be all one piece (but not a dense, solid piece like the Starkist was), not a lot of ‘tuna mush’ even after draining, meat had a kind of watery film of tuna mush on it, (required a couple paper towels to absorb & remove it), most even color, largest /densest chunks of solid tuna came out of can dry, mild flavor, mostly chunks of meat, not too much ‘tuna mush’
Overall rating #1 #2 #3

Group B: Pastene, Ace of Diamonds, Chicken of the Sea

Features Pastene Ace of Diamonds Chicken of the Sea
Price $2.29 $1.89 $1.33
(in can)
darkest meat, clearest liquid (olive oil), fairly solid looking light meat color, fairly clear liquid meat kind of murky looking
Amount of liquid drained off 2.0 Tb 2.5 Tb 2.5 Tb
‘Solidness’ of meat
(on plate)
4 5 6
Comments not sure how much olive oil changes things, but this meat was darker and stronger flavored than the others. not unpleasantly so, but noticeable fewest chunks of solid meat, lot of ‘tuna mush’, but the chunks that were there, tasted fine fewest solid chunks of meat, lot of ‘tuna mush’, uneven color, most like cat food, least appetizing
Overall rating #4 #5 #6

So What’s the Best Brand of Canned Tuna?

Of the tuna brands sampled so far, I would say the top 3 brands are: Genova, Starkist, and Geisha.

However, the Starkist recommendation is a bit qualified: you have to take the extra effort of papertoweling off the excess moisture and tuna mush. If you aren’t prepared for that, go for Genova or Geisha.

And the worst brands: Chicken of the Sea, Ace of Diamons, and, of course, Bumble Bee.

Some Tuna Tips

It’s not every day (thankfully) that I have 6 cans of tuna open and available for tasting. But I learned a few things in the process:

  • Dry, solid chunks of tuna from most any brand taste pretty similar
  • Drain all the liquid – even if it means toweling off the excess goop – the liquid does not taste good
  • Use only the real chunks of tuna – discard the ‘tuna mush’ – tuna mush does not taste good
  • Cans of tuna with uneven coloring or other funkiness are best disposed of – they aren’t going to be any good

One thing I don’t know yet is how much variation there is from can to can for a given brand. Might the next can of Starkist not be a big, solid chunk of tuna like this one was? Might the next can of Genova be a pile of tuna mush?

These and other pressing questions remain to be answered.

9 thoughts on “Best Canned Tuna? My Tuna Taste Test”

  1. I’m glad you wrote about this important issue! I’m actually just after opening two cans of Bumblebee chunk light tuna (not white) and both cans were total mush! I actually expected this at the store- but I was in a hurry so I rushed picking out cans. I can usually tell the difference between a can with mush and a can with solid chunks by the sound it makes when I shake it! It takes a while to acquire the skill, but it’s worth it. My general experience with Bumblebee is that it’s usually entirely mush. I have much better luck with the Fred Meyer store brand.

    I hate to say it, but I think that bumblebee would probably come in last in your study. I hate to say this because I vaguely remember taking tours of the Bumblebee tuna cannery when I was young and I do go out of my way to shop locally when I can. Being a Portlander I’d much rather buy tuna canned in Astoria than….? Wherever.

    Thanks again for writing the article!

    Jeff Rose
    Lents (Portland) Oregon

  2. nice post. I too have fond childhood memories of bumblebee. no longer.

    but why water pack?

    Even the best-tasting tuna tastes better in oil, which better maintains the texture it had when fresh.

    There’s virtually no real calorie diff, once drained — especially if your tuna recipe calls for mayo, since water packed need more to be palatable.

    But even if you’re a real no-fat stickler, you can always drain, rinse with water, and drain again.

    just don’t soak, or your tuna ends up the same texture you do, after too long in the bath.

  3. tried a new type of tuna yesterday from Starkist called ‘Gourmet Choice’. it is labeled ‘solid white albacore tune fillet’. it is packed in water.

    i really liked it. it was genuinely a solid piece of tuna. not chunks or fragments, but a real piece of tuna.

    the taste was very clear and pleasant. not heavy or overly fishy.

    i think this may be my new favorite.

  4. just tried a new Bumble Bee tuna version i’d not seen before called ‘Prime Fillet’ Solid White Albacore. ugh! not good.

    a pack of 4 cans costs a steep $7.79. wow! i hesitated, but gave it a go.

    definitely not even close to as good as the Starkist Gourmet Choice tuna that I mentioned above. that stuff was gooood! should have bought more of that instead.

  5. I wonder how the Bumble Bee Tuna of today is different than the Bumblebee of the past. As I said before, I remember when it was a local brand canned in Astoria- now the company is in San Diego and there’s no telling where the tuna is actually canned! When searching for a local alternative, I’ve found that there are lots of small canneries along the coast- but what you pay would make having a tuna fish sandwich pretty prohibitive, cost-wise. I’ll have to take the plunge one of these days and try a couple of them- when I do I’ll let you know what I find out.

    1. good question. i don’t know why. i remember bumble bee was the tuna we always ate, too. maybe we weren’t as picky back then?

      but boy, this tuna today from bumblebee today was not good – and it was the most expensive stuff on the rack. possibly a bad can? i’ve got 3 others to try, so will report back if any major improvements.

      i don’t live on the west coast, but i’ve heard there are specialty tunas out there. i bet those could be very good. from time to time you see a brand here on the east coast called ‘american tuna’ that is in the same vein, but i haven’t yet tried it.

      thanks for visiting again.

  6. I thought I was the only person fussy about Tuna fish, so I’m glad to see it’s not just me. When we were young, my mother always made either Geisha, water packed, white, or 3 diamonds brande, water packed, white, and it was always so good, never dry, never hard chuncks, but fell apart easily, and had no mush, just a nice taste. I have found a couple of places who make great tuna subs, but not many, so I hesitate to try new places on the tuna fish salad. I don’t know what brand they buy, but I am almost tempted to ask them. Glad to know there are picky people out there like me, about their tuna salad.

  7. I’m pleased it’s not just me who takes the issue of tinned tuna seriously. I live in the UK and the predominant brand is John West. However, I spent a few months working in Saudi Arabia and there I was introduced to the delights of Geisha Tuna. I felt it was truly the creme de la creme of tuna…until I read your article, I now must find a way to sample Genova Tonno tuna here in England.

    5 oz. can in water
    Sold thru Pricerite stores in MA

    FROM VIETNAM ??????

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