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Tuna Test: The Cans Have Shrunk - Solid Has Twice The Volume Of Chunks Light

Fans of canned tuna aren’t imagining things: The cans, at least many of them, have shrunk. The country’s three big producers - Starkist, Chicken of the Sea and Bumble Bee - reduced the size of most of their tuna cans from 6 to 5 ounces last fall.

Despite the partial disappearing act, tuna still qualifies as a relatively inexpensive source of protein.

Take the most inexpensive tuna -chunk light packed in water or vegetable oil. From a 5-ounce. can, which we found for 59 cents and up, consumers can expect to get about ½ cup of fish after draining (or 4 ounces by weight). That compares favorably costwise with ground beef and chicken.

And it’s good for more than just tuna fish sandwiches, as the accompanying recipes show.

But not all canned tuna is created equal, as we found when we opened a dozen different kinds of cans.

What did we find?

• Tuna packed in olive oil tasted better and had a more pleasing aroma than that packed in vegetable oil or water. However, it also tends to cost more, and it seems probable that we were actually tasting the olive oil. If the tuna is to be mixed with other ingredients, this distinction is lost.

• None of the dozen varieties we opened failed the taste test, although some were more salty or fishy than others. As one taster said, “It all tastes like tuna.”

• There are, however, big differences in texture among tuna varieties that lend themselves to different uses. Chunk light is mushy and practically shredded; tasters preferred it in classic tuna salad recipes made with mayonnaise. Solid light, solid white and fillet are meaty and drier; they remind me of leftover grilled fresh tuna. It works better in dishes like the accompanying recipes for pasta and curry.

• Chunk tuna may not be quite the bargain it appears to be when compared with the solid variety. After draining, the solid varieties of tuna mentioned above appear to have nearly twice the volume as the chunk kind. This depends partly on how much liquid you squeeze out of the tuna.

• If you’re watching your weight, be careful which can of tuna you grab. A 5-oz. can of tuna packed in water has about 100 calories and 1 gram of fat. The same can packed in vegetable oil has 200 calories and 12 grams of fat.

Down the drain
I was unable to prove it while working on this article, but I remain convinced that cans of chunk light tuna have become harder to drain over the years due to higher moisture content.

All I have to back up my theory is years of heavy tuna usage. The national average for per capita consumption is about 3.4 pounds, or not quite one can a month. I eat at least four times that amount.

None of the representatives of the tuna industry I talked to had any information on the topic, and Internet research likewise turned up nothing.

The tuna reps did tell me they knew of only two methods for draining tuna - placing it in a colander, or using the loosened can lid to squeeze out the liquid.

From a 5-oz. can, about 1/6 cup of liquid will collect under a colander. Using the lid method yields about ¼ cup liquid. But you’re likely to lose some tuna in the process - and possibly get a shower of fishy-smelling liquid.