Today we’re taking a stroll through the mainstream grocery aisle to see what we find, and this time it’s the Sweet and Spicy Chunk Light Tuna (in oil with peppers) from Starkist. I grabbed this one for a review for a quick few reasons. One: canned fish is one of the few preserved canned meats that I actually don’t mind eating. The rest of them end up as weird gelatinous creations that honestly are quite nasty beyond their need as a basic survival tool for some emergency situations.
Secondly, this isn’t an area I expect to see any smaller manufacturers getting into any time soon, so I thought it would give a change of pace from the multitudes of hot sauces, salsas, bbq sauces, marinades, bloody mary mixers and such that we get asked to look at, and a little change in pace seemed interesting at the time. Lastly, I usually don’t enjoy the ‘in oil’ variety of canned tuna, but oddly enough, as I was picking it out, someone was there noting how this is one of the few ‘in oil’ varieties that they don’t mind the oil part of it, and so this sort of quasi-endorsement made me a bit curious if I would think of it the same way. Time to rip open the ring top and find out.
This easily comes across more like a prepared tuna salad in a can versus canned tuna. I was rather surprised to see the varieties of ingredients in what I assumed was going to be “Tuna, Oil, Sugar, Chile Peppers” and then all the preservative stuff. I certainly didn’t expect tomatoes and Vinegar in this at all. Here’s the full list: Light Tuna, Water, Red Bell Pepper, Soybean Oil, Sugar, Dehydrated Vegetables, Tomatoes, Salt, White Vinegar, Chili Pepper, Natural Flavors, Soy Flour, Corn Syrup, Autolyzed Yeast Extract, Phosphoric Acid, Sodium Benzoate, Potassium Sorbate and Extractives of Paprika.
The texture to this is quite a surprise. I’m accustomed to the canned in oil tuna essentially being tuna saturated to the brim with oil, in which you have to drain off nearly an ounce of oil just to use the product, but this oddly seems to be complimented by the oil as something that just keeps the product looking like a moist tuna salad tossed in oil and veggies instead. The tuna appears to be more reddish-pink than the standard stuff and has lots of red bits dispersed throughout, requiring close inspection to determine which are the tomato parts and which are the red bell peppers. The combination of fish, tomatoes, bell peppers and oil give this a vaguely Asian-influenced aroma.
True to its name, the sweet is the first part of this that you notice, not flavored sweet, but just sweetness, likely from the sugar and corn syrup, even more so than the flavor of the tuna, and then you get that tuna flavor. Then comes the next layer of sweetness, which is from the red bell peppers and tomatoes, followed quickly by the spicy part of this, which is a tiny bit more than I expected from this. It’s still a Mild heat, but it likes to hit in the back of the throat and on the tip of the tongue a bit, so it is noticeable. Honestly, for being supposedly packed in oil, this doesn’t give me the oily feeling at all; it just sort of plays its part in this marinade that they’ve made to pack the tuna in. The nice thing about this is that it eats more like an entrée than an ingredient and has a pull ring top, and so you can just bring this along for a quick bite to eat as a lunchbox item. While in the grand scheme of the food we see, this isn’t an amazing product, it is considerably better than the average tuna on the shelf, so while I’ll be rating it a Nominal against the broad spectrum of spicy products, I’ll say that in the canned tuna arena, this just might be my new go-to for quick snacks. It’s certainly nicer than eating the plain chunk light tuna for someone who is looking at it as a quick protein source for exercise purposes.