There are many factors to consider when judging the best canned tuna. Flavor is a huge one, of course, which is why I always opt for tuna packed in olive oil over water.
Yet just as important is safety. Tuna has been found to contain significant levels of mercury, a toxic heavy metal occurring both naturally and released through industrial pollution. Mercury is airborne, but eventually collects in water, where it is absorbed by fish, entering the food chain and winding up, eventually, on our plates. Though ingesting small amounts of mercury is okay, as it builds up in a body it can cause a host of maladies. To reduce the risk of mercury poisoning, the Environmental Defense Fund, as well as the EPA and FDA, regularly list guidelines for which canned fish are the safest and most environmentally-conscious to eat.
From a sustainability perspective, other fish and seafood are often at risk with conventional tuna fishing practices. Greenpeace notes that “pole and line” or “troll-caught” are two fishing methods for tuna that don’t negatively impact other marine populations. Many other types of fishing use fish aggregation devices, which can draw in young tuna that have not yet bred, thus reducing the overall population, as well as other creatures that weren’t supposed to be caught like sharks, turtles, and seabirds.
Ultimately, if canned (and jarred) tuna are certified to be low in mercury and sustainably caught, it will say so right on the package. Here are 10 brands of canned tuna we feel good about turning into lemony, tomato-y pasta, mixed with mayo for tuna salad, spread onto a pan bagnat, and more.
1. Wild Planet
Wild Planet was founded in order to “promote environmental change from within the seafood industry.” Their tuna, which is available packed in water or olive oil, as well as a number of versions with added seasoning, was ranked number one by Greenpeace in terms of sustainability.
“American Tuna is a far cry from the ho-hum canned tuna of my youth. The flavor is truly unparalleled—it tastes like the tuna leapt from the sea right into the can. Not only is the flavor unbeatable, but American Tuna also has a real commitment to sustainability, sourcing only pole and line caught tuna from stateside shores.” —Alexis deBoschnek, video host and recipe developer
4. Whole Foods
The first national retailer to set sustainability and traceability requirements for their canned tuna, Whole Foods ensures their tuna is certified by the Marine Stewardship Council, and requires each supplier they work with to employ electronic traceability software, which tracks tuna’s entire journey from fishing to can.
If you ask me, Ortiz is one of the best in terms of flavor—their silky tuna is just as good straight from the can as it is in recipes. This brand also sticks to sustainability: “That’s why we use the ‘live bait’ and ‘trolling’ techniques to catch white tuna.”
You may recognize Bela’s label from their sardines, which are superb on toast with a smear of butter or hummus, but their tuna is another great option. With practices to avoid overfishing and bycatch in place, as well as a commitment to packing the fish within hours post-catch, their European tuna is practically begging to come on your next picnic.
Committed to producing simple cans of tuna (just water or olive oil), Ocean Naturals believes all fish-eaters owe the ocean a debt of gratitude, which they ensure through their sustainability promise: They distill concise information on the problems within the seafood industry, as well as their specific commitments to how they responsibly catch their slipjack and albacore tuna.
8. Safe Catch
Safe Catch boasts a commitment to protecting the marine ecosystem, plus a wide collection of seasoned tunas (like chile-lime, habanero-mint, and citrus-pepper). I bet the garlic-herb variation would be A+ in a classic tuna melt.
Greenpeace notes that Aldi—which offers a couple canned tuna brand options—has made big strides for sustainability when it comes to their seafood’s in-house brand Northern Catch, though they add that it’s “unclear how Aldi ensures that its suppliers comply with these standards.”
As of 2017, Genova announced they’re holding themselves accountable when it comes to holistic sustainability practices, from the safety of their employees and fishing in a manner that respects marine life, to the legality and responsible operation of the vessels they buy fish from.