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One of the most popular types of seafood in the United States, canned tuna comes in many styles and price points, and provides quick, protein-packed meals. It can be bewildering, however, for consumers trying to make smart choices. Tuna fishing methods can be particularly harmful to other species, and certain types are overfished or accumulate mercury. We found the cheapest cans are no bargain, with mushy, tasteless, or fishy fish from unknown sources disguised by enhanced broth or cheap oils.
Our choices below reflect the best processing and sustainability practices in the industry, focusing on three kinds of wild-caught tuna certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) to be managed well with healthy populations: skipjack, albacore, and yellowfin. There is no limit to the number of recipes you can make using this healthy pantry staple, either.
Here, the best canned tuna on the market.
Best Overall: Ortiz Bonito del Norte
Widely considered the Cadillac of tuna fish, Spain-based Ortiz’s signature Bonito del Norte albacore garners rave reviews by tuna lovers who are seduced by the extraordinary fish carefully arranged in modernistic oval cans in bright primary colors. There's no need for mayo with this “Northern beauty.” Pleasingly pink-hued chunks of moist, fine-textured meat are often eaten as-is but are lovely in a salad niçoise, too.
Line-caught individually in northern Spain since the late 19th century using traditional methods, Bonito del Norte are poached in the can with olive oil and plenty of salt, and allowed to marinate for a spell before being sold globally. This albacore is so delicious it makes average grocery store tuna seems like cat food. Ortiz is spendy and can be difficult to find, but it's worth every penny. Ordering online in bulk keeps the cost somewhat reasonable.
Best Budget: Wild Planet Skipjack Wild Tuna
Widely available in grocery chains, this skipjack tuna is a smaller species that often is the unnamed “chunk light tuna” in cheaper brands. Sustainable and delicious, its healthy population is good for the pocketbook, especially when you buy cans by the dozen online. Skipjack has darker flesh and a stronger flavor than albacore, which can be a little too mild and dry. It also has more Omega 3s per serving and tends to accumulate much less mercury than the larger types of tuna. This tuna is cooked once in the can in its own juices, with only a bit of salt added. However, some crumbled pieces used to fill in gaps can detract from the presentation.
Sustainably caught with pole and line (not nets that can trap birds, turtles, and dolphins) in the central or north Pacific ocean, this species is processed at a facility in Thailand, but Wild Planet is a California company that’s been recognized by Greenpeace for its sustainable practices and environmentalist mission.
Best for Dietary Restrictions: American Tuna No Salt Added Wild Albacore Tuna
Albacore not only contains a healthy serving of protein, but it is also an excellent source of vitamin D, several B vitamins, minerals, and omega-3 fatty acids. Cooked only once in natural juices in the can without additional salt or any gluten, it’s great for special diets from heart-healthy to keto. American Tuna’s albacore is caught young, so isn’t subject to mercury accumulation, but the fish are also tested by a third-party lab to ensure their integrity.
As the name implies, tuna are sourced and processed in the United States by American fishing families. They are hand-caught using pole and line, which reduces bycatch of other species. Apparently, customers can trace the vessel that caught their albacore, but we could not find out how to do so on the website.
Best Pouched: Sea Fare Pacific Wild Albacore Tuna
Silver retort pouches are a great option for shelf-stable cooked fish since they take up less shelf space and are lighter than cans or jars. Unopened pouches last without refrigeration at least four years, according to manufacturers, so they’re great in emergency kits, and easier to carry on the road or in the backwoods than a can. Sea Fare Pacific provides plenty of tuna science research on its approachable website for seafood geeks like us to browse.
The Pacific Northwest-sourced albacore comes in single-serving 3-ounce pouches, which we like for single servings, and even better, there is 15-18 percent belly meat added, an old home canning trick that makes the meat a little darker but provides natural oils to soften and flavor the tuna without adding additional oil. Be sure to mix in the juices instead of draining them before making your favorite tuna fish sandwich.
Best Oil-Packed in Jars: Tonnino Tuna Ventresca in Olive Oil
Tuna packed in oil, arranged attractively in little fingers standing upright in a glass jar, is a traditional European hand-packing technique to show off premium fish. Tonnino, based in Costa Rica, follows suit with its award-winning wild yellowfin. The ventresca or belly is the softest, most delicious part of any tuna, and Tonnino’s pieces have a particularly silky and succulent texture. (They might be so good because of the 600-milligram dose of salt per serving, way more than other brands we tried.)
These MSC-certified yellowfin are caught in dolphin-safe purse seines, a net-like contraption that draws tight at the top. Consumers can trace the tuna’s origin and catch method for any of the brand's products (ours was the Solomon Islands, purse seine). The company gives back by supporting many community projects, including disaster relief, water treatment, and beach cleanups.
Best Locally Sourced: CS Fishery Line-Caught Albacore
This line-caught albacore is landed by small-boat fishermen in Garibaldi, Oregon, one of several small canneries that process the catch in facilities along the Oregon coast. CS Fishery (the CS stands for “community-supported”) utilizes its fleet to support the local economy and ensure only the freshest albacore end up in the canner. The albacore caught off the Pacific Northwest coast are smaller and younger than those caught elsewhere in the world, and are repeatedly found to have no issues with mercury.
Each large 7.5-ounce can contains sashimi-grade white albacore loin, flavored with Oregon olive oil and sea salt that’s hand-harvested merely miles away. Of all the tuna we tasted, these fillets were the most beautifully packed, with a single loin that fills the can perfectly. Pro tip: This tuna makes the best classic tuna noodle casserole in the world, but be sure to mix in the released juices before adding to any recipe. If you drain, the lean meat will be a bit dry.
Best Smoked: Katy’s Smokehouse Smoked Albacore
The faint scent of smoke lingers in Trinidad, a tiny fishing village on the coastal cliffs of far Northern California, where beloved Katy’s has been smoking fish since the 1940s using techniques founder Katy State learned from her friends in the Yurok Tribe. Albacore caught by local boats is a relatively recent addition to the smokehouse products, and it’s even better when prepared in Katy’s painstaking three-day kippering process of “brining, drying, seasoning, and both cold- and hot-smoking the fish over alder wood,” as Saveur magazine noted in its writeup. Pricey, but worth it.
Opt out of the cheapest cans of tuna if your budget allows, and spend a little extra on fish caught and canned close to the source and processed by companies with truly sustainable methods and quality control. You can't go wrong with our top pick, Ortiz Bonito Del Norte (view at Amazon), or even our budget option, Wild Planet Skipjack Wild Tuna (view at Amazon).
Why Trust The Spruce Eats?
Food educator Jennifer Burns Bright teaches and writes about Pacific seafood. A certified Master Food Preserver, she puts up her own tuna on the Oregon Coast, so knows her way around these beautiful fish.