When Did They Start Packing Tuna In Water? (Fully Explained)

Canned tuna has been a staple in American households for decades, but have you ever wondered when and why tuna started being packed in water?

The history of canned tuna is a fascinating one, from its humble beginnings as a way to fill empty sardine cans to becoming a popular and affordable source of protein.

In this article, we’ll explore the origins of canned tuna and how it has evolved over time. So grab a can of your favorite tuna, whether it’s packed in water or oil, and let’s dive in!

When Did They Start Packing Tuna In Water?

The practice of packing tuna in water began in the early 1900s, when canneries in Southern California were looking for ways to fill empty sardine cans. One cannery owner, Albert P. Halfhil, experimented with packing locally caught albacore tuna in the cans and found success.

At first, canned tuna was not a popular food item in America. It was considered a “trash fish” and not widely consumed until the onset of World War I, when it became a convenient and portable source of protein for soldiers in the field.

As the demand for canned tuna grew, so did the variety of species being packed. By the 1920s, canners were also packing skipjack, bluefin, and yellowfin tuna. Fishing boats ventured further offshore and further north to meet the demand.

The size and packaging of tuna cans also evolved over time. The industry responded to increased production costs by reducing can size and experimenting with other packaging such as pouches. Pouches cost less to produce than metal tins and allowed the industry to reach additional customers.

But when did they start packing tuna in water? It wasn’t until later in the 20th century that water-packed tuna became popular. Water-packed tuna provides pure protein and a more subtle tuna flavor, but it also dilutes the natural juices and flavors contained within the fish.

Oil-packed tuna, on the other hand, has a softer texture and stronger tuna flavor. It helps to trap vital nutrients deep within the fish where they can be unlocked by your body during digestion. While not the healthiest canned fish option, oil-packed canned fish seals in every last drop of flavor to keep your meal as delicious as possible.

The Early Days Of Canning Tuna: From Sardine Cans To Tuna

In the late 1800s and early 1900s, the primary fish that people bought and ate from a can was the sardine. However, in 1903, due to over-fishing and poor ocean conditions, the catch of sardines was exceptionally poor. One cannery owner, Albert P. Halfhil, who canned sardines from San Pedro Bay, saw that he was going to have lots of empty sardine tins, so he figured out a way to fill them.

He experimented by packing the empty sardine cans with locally caught albacore tuna. Albacore are a highly migratory species that travel up the West Coast every year. They were readily available and provided a fish to fill the empty sardine tins. In his first year, Halfhil sold 700 cases, and by 1914 he was producing 400,000 cases per year.

The demand for canned tuna soared with the onset of World War I. Canned tuna provided a high protein portable and convenient food for soldiers in the field. This demand caused the tuna fleet to expand from San Diego and explore further out into the Pacific. The demand outpaced the supply of albacore, resulting in boats fishing for other species of tuna.

By the 1920s, canners were also canning skipjack, bluefin, and yellowfin. Boats fished further offshore and further north. The methodology of the fishery has changed over the years as well. The fish are caught with both nets and hooks. Today, 62% of tuna are caught using a seine net which encircles the tuna school and closes up by pulling a rope that goes through rings on the bottom of the net.

The size and packaging of tuna cans has changed over the years as well. The industry has responded to increased costs of production primarily by reducing can size and experimenting with other packaging such as pouches. Pouches cost far less to produce than metal tins, and from a marketing standpoint, they were able to reach additional customers.

The Rise Of Canned Tuna As A Popular Protein Source

Canned tuna has become a popular protein source due to its convenience, affordability, and nutritional value. With busy lifestyles and a rise in the working population, the consumption of convenience food products has increased in recent years. Canned tuna, being precooked or ready to cook, provides an easy-to-prepare source of protein that can be enjoyed on-the-go or at home.

Tuna is a complete protein, containing all nine essential amino acids that the human body cannot produce on its own. It is also a good source of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, and minerals such as iron, calcium, and potassium. These nutrients are important for maintaining overall health and wellbeing.

Canned tuna is also a cost-effective way to get the recommended daily intake of protein. It is often less expensive than fresh seafood and can be stored for longer periods of time without refrigeration. This makes it an ideal option for those on a budget or for those who do not have access to fresh seafood.

The global tuna fish market is projected to continue to grow in the upcoming years, driven by the increasing consumption of various packaged food products and beverages. Europe and Asia are the leading buyers of canned tuna, with South America and the Middle East fast developing an appetite.

The Debate Over Oil Vs. Water Packing: Which Is Better?

The debate over whether oil or water-packed tuna is better is a question of personal preference and nutritional benefits. According to the USDA, one 6.5-ounce can of drained tuna packed in oil has 317 calories while tuna packed in water yields 150 calories per can. When it comes to heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids, tuna comes highly recommended by the American Heart Association. However, whether it’s packed in water or oil makes some difference, as does whether you intend to drain your canned tuna or not.

If you plan on draining your can of tuna before using it, you may want to choose tuna packed in water. That’s because when you drain tuna packed in water, the omega-3s contained in this oily fish are largely retained. But when you drain tuna packed in oil, it takes some of those lovely omega-3 fats with it. In fact, a 2011 study in Public Health Nutrition shows that tuna packed in water had more omega-3 fats than tuna in oil.

However, oil-packaged products may be better for those with increased need for essential fatty acids (EFAs), including linoleic acid and α-linolenic acid. This includes those with conditions such as cystic fibrosis. For those looking to boost their vitamin D or selenium, oil-packed tuna may be just the thing. Tuna packed in oil shows increased levels per serving over tuna packed in water.

From a taste perspective, water-packed tuna provides a more subtle flavor while oil-packed tuna has a stronger taste and softer texture. Canned tuna packed in oil also contains more sodium and calories than canned tuna packed in water.

The Innovation Of Water-Packed Tuna And Its Benefits

Water-packed tuna is an innovation that has become increasingly popular over the years. This type of tuna offers several benefits to consumers, including health benefits and a more subtle flavor.

From a nutritional standpoint, water-packed tuna is a great source of pure protein. It contains fewer calories compared to oil-packed tuna, making it an excellent choice for those who are watching their calorie intake. Additionally, water-packed tuna contains three times more beneficial EPA and DHA omega-3 fats than tuna packed in oil, according to a Public Health Nutrition study.

Water-packed tuna is also a healthier option for those concerned about mercury levels in fish. While all fish contain trace amounts of mercury, larger fish like tuna accumulate more of it. Water-packed tuna contains less mercury than oil-packed tuna because smaller-sized fish are used for canning.

Aside from its nutritional benefits, water-packed tuna also has a more subtle flavor compared to oil-packed tuna. Some people may find that water-packed tuna is less “slimy” than oil-packed tuna, making it easier to eat. Ultimately, the choice between water-packed and oil-packed tuna comes down to personal preference.

The Future Of Canned Tuna: Sustainability And Environmental Concerns

While the history of canned tuna is interesting, it is important to consider the current state of the industry and its impact on the environment. Sustainable fishing practices are essential to ensure that we do not wipe out tuna species and harm other marine life in the process. The Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) has introduced a blue tick certification for sustainable seafood products, which denotes that a capture is Fad-free (fish aggregating devices). These devices can harm other species, including sharks and sea turtles, and it is important to remove non-sustainable fish from shelves and menus.

Sustainable fish consumption is a complex issue, but there are proven environmentally responsible fishing methods such as pole & line, trolling, handlines, and free school (or FAD-free) purse seine net fishing. The most sustainable method of catching tuna is the pole and line method, which limits the impact on tuna stocks and reduces accidental catches of other species. It also brings employment opportunities to coastal regions such as Pacific Island neighbors.

The MSC believes that there is no such thing as a sustainable species, only sustainable stocks. There are five species of tuna and 23 known stocks, some of which are struggling while others are well managed and abundant. It is essential to find MSC certified sustainable options for every species.

In recent years, consumer pressure has led to more pole and line options available in Australian supermarkets. It is important to choose tuna with the MSC blue fish label, which denotes that it is sustainable and can be traced back to a well-managed fishery. Tuna can be sustainably caught in many different ways, including purse seine, longline, and pole and line fisheries.

The future of canned tuna lies in sustainability and environmental concerns. It is crucial for retailers and chefs to remove non-sustainable fish from shelves and menus. Consumers can play a role in promoting sustainable fishing practices by choosing MSC certified sustainable options and supporting companies that prioritize sustainability in their fishing methods.