When To Use Canned Tuna In Oil Over Water And Vice Versa

It's always a good idea to have canned tuna in your panty. The ways you can use it are endless, from tuna melts to tuna patties to niçoise salad. 

At any given grocery store, you can choose between tuna packed in water or tuna packed in oil. Both types of tuna are great sources of lean protein and heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids (with water-packed tuna containing more), but does it really matter which type you use for cooking? Ultimately, it comes down to personal taste — but there are certain dishes where it makes sense to use one over the other. A good rule of thumb is that if you'll be enjoying your tuna with little to no mix-ins, you should go for oil-packed tuna. If you'll be flavoring your tinned fish, reach for water-packed.

You may believe that, nutritionally, the better choice is tuna packed in water because it contains fewer calories than tuna packed in oil. Tuna in oil, however, is higher in bone-healthy vitamin D and selenium, which helps your body fight infections. In addition, the oil that tuna comes packed in is typically unsaturated, i.e. heart-friendly.

There's more flavor in oil-packed tuna

Flavor-wise, oil-packed tuna gets the gold star. The texture, too, is going to be more tender because the fish is packed in fat, which keeps it moist. This type of tuna shines by itself, without the need for mayonnaise or other creamy condiments. 

Use oil-packed tuna for topping a salad; when it will be an ingredient in pasta dishes, such as Sicilian spaghetti with tuna; or to top crackers and breads. It's even delicious eaten with a fork right out of the can.

In general, canned tuna is affordable, but you may notice that there are some brands of oil-packed tuna that are substantially more expensive than their water-packed counterparts. Many of these are European brands, and the tuna comes in larger filets packed in olive oil. Some even come smoked or canned with additional herbs and spices. Whether they're worth the splurge is up to you. One option is to purchase several different types at once to determine which ones are your favorites and what you'd use the less expensive ones in, versus the dishes that call for a splurge.

Opt for water-packed tuna in rich recipes

Water-packed tuna is the best choice for many of the tuna dishes you grew up on and continue to enjoy, such as tuna salad, tuna melts, and tuna casserole. All of these dishes utilize tuna that gets mixed with creamy ingredients. 

When you drain a water-packed can of tuna, the chunks of meat are fairly dry, so you need some elements of moisture for flavor and texture. (Still, you can use water-packed tuna for any recipe that calls for canned tuna, even in ones where oil-packed tuna might be the tastier choice.)

Some recipes, such as tuna tostadas, will utilize canned tuna that's mixed with flavorings that aren't necessarily fatty, such as citrus juice, onions, and herbs. In this case, it's fine to use water-packed tuna because the other recipe elements, such as avocado, sour cream, and cheese, will provide the fatty texture you need. Water-packed tuna even comes in convenient, pre-drained packages. All you have to do is open and prepare them however you'd like, making them a great option for people on the go.