If you enjoy the health benefits of fresh tuna, you’re not alone. Recent reports from the UN show that tuna is the world’s most consumed food source. Tuna is even the second most wild-caught fish in the world.
Research also shows that tuna is the most popular fish in many diets aimed at promoting healthy eating habits. Part of the reason tuna is so popular is its versatility since it can be enjoyed raw, cooked and canned.
You can eat it as a meal on its own, in a salad, on a sandwich, as a sushi filling – the options are endless! It might come as a surprise to many people that tuna isn’t a single species, but a group of fish that contain more than a dozen types. But, just how much do you know about these different species?
The Wonderful World of Tuna
Aside from its versatility that’s so great, tuna is also easy to come by. It’s found extensively throughout the world’s oceans, making it easily accessible to many countries. Let’s dive into the wonderful world of the many tuna species found around the globe.
How Many Types of Tuna Species Are Out There?
Essentially there are about 15 species of tuna found in the globe’s oceans. Many of these top species have sub-species within them, making your tuna options quite vast.
Each type of tuna features a different color, texture and of course taste. Price also varies extensively between species depending on the availability of each particular species.
1. Yellowfin Tuna
As the name suggests, Yellowfin Tuna are easily identified with their distinguishable bright yellowfins. Found largely in the Pacific Ocean they are also known to frequent the warmer Atlantic Ocean. Since they tend to prefer warmer waters, they’re abundant in Thailand and the areas around the Philippines.
When combined with Bigeye tuna, they become known as ahi and are common choices in restaurants for fillings in sushi rolls or poke bowls. Since it’s a firm tuna, it’s a great choice for steaks. It’s also leaner and grills and sears very well.
2. Skipjack Tuna
The most commonly canned tuna globally is the Skipjack Tuna. It’s estimated that at least 70% of the U.S. canned tuna industry is made up of Skipjacks.
Generally, they’re quite small in size, provide dark meat and spawn by the time they’re one year old. This makes them abundantly available. Since their texture is tender, they’re easily made into chunks, perfect for various canning options.
Did you know: Katsuobushi, known as bonito flakes, is a form of dried and fermented skipjack tuna.
3. Black Skipjack Tuna
A close cousin of the traditional Skipjack tuna, the Black Skipjack tuna is a much bonier fish. Unlike other fish species that feature soft cartilage as skeletons, the Black Skipjack’s skeleton is made of actual bone.
Since there’s very little meat on this type of tuna, it’s not commonly a fish most people consume. If you happen to catch it by chance, you can eat the meat, but many fishermen don’t feel the slim pickings are worth the effort.
4. Albacore Tuna
About 20% of the tuna canning market in the U.S. is made up of Albacore tuna. Commonly referred to as “White Tuna”, the Albacore tuna has a light flesh with a considerably milder flavor. Since the chunks you can make from this type of tuna is bigger than Skipjacks, they’re usually pricier as well.
Albacore tuna is a firm favorite with chefs and home cooks as the meat holds together quite nicely, making it a great choice for grilling. It’s also worth noting that the Albacore tuna has mercury levels three times higher than many other species and consumption should be limited.
5. Longtail Tuna
Commonly referred to as the Northern Bluefin Tuna, the Longtail tuna is another one of the slimmer species. With fins shorter than other tuna species, it’s very easy to spot.
With a weight of 80lb and a length of 4 feet when fully grown, the Longtail tuna grows slowly to maturity and don’t reproduce as much as other tuna species. This results in there being less Longtail tuna available and has led to extensive overfishing.
6. Pacific Bluefin Tuna
It’s easy to see why Pacific Bluefin tunas are highly regarded as the kings of the tuna clan. They boast a rich, robust flavor that’s unmatchable. Due to their superior quality, they’re not only pricey but are primarily found in the form of sashimi.
Pacific Bluefin is tasty and fortunately abundant in numbers in the Pacific regions. So, if you want to do your bit for the environment, opt for Pacific Bluefins as opposed to their more vulnerable Southern Bluefin cousins.
7. Southern Bluefin Tuna
As with the Pacific Bluefin tuna species, their Southern Bluefin tuna cousins are overwhelmingly prized fish. Their size and flavor make them a firm favorite for fisheries.
Since they can grow up to 600lb in size and up to a whopping 8 feet in length, they’re one of the most extensively fished species. Over-fishing in Southern regions has placed them on the endangered list.
8. Atlantic Bluefin Tuna
Another cousin of the Bluefin tuna species is the equally impressive Atlantic Bluefin tuna. Since the Atlantic Bluefin can grow up to 1000lb the tender, firm meat is as sought after as the other Bluefin species.
The Japanese raw-fish market is the greatest culprit in over-fishing this species in the Atlantic. With the quality and high flavor of their meat, they’re the top choices for sushi and sashimi dishes.
9. Little Tunny Tuna
Many tuna species share similar physical features and are often mistaken for each other. One such tuna species is the Little Tunny. It’s sometimes called the False Albacore as they’re easily confused with the more popular Albacore.
A clear telltale that you’re dealing with a Little Tunny is that it’s considerably smaller. Only 2 feet in size and 30lb in weight these little fish are abundant in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. Despite being primarily caught to be used as bait for bigger tuna fish, you can still cook a tasty meal with these fast little swimmers.
10. Slender Tuna
One of the thinner tuna species, is the Slender Tuna – hence the name. With their long, thin bodies they also feature dual colors that make them unique. One side of a Slender tuna is blue-black while the other side is a lighter grey color.
Since they only weigh about 25lb, they’re not very big. They’re generally not commercially fished, but if they happen to find their way into fishing nets, their oily meat makes them a good addition to canned tuna options.
11. Blackfin Tuna
Another one of the smaller tuna species is without a doubt the Blackfin tuna. Since they only grow up to 3 feet with an average weight of 45lb they’re not usually used for mass fish production.
If you happen to catch one, you won’t be disappointed. They’re firm, delicious and will easily provide enough meat for a family meal.
12. Frigate Tuna
As one of the smallest tuna species, Frigate tuna usually only grows to about 25” in length and weighs an average of 4lb. Since they’re a very migratory species, they’re always on the move which makes it easy to find them in most of the oceans around the world.
Frigate tuna meat is red in color and their oily flavor might not be to everyone’s liking. Their unusual taste is the main reason they’re not fished commercially. When they are sold fresh, they’re often preserved in oil and dried.
Since they’re usually sold in slices, they can be confused for Tunny Tuna. Also, because there’s a difference in taste, it’s important to ensure that the tuna you’re asking for at the fish market, is what you’re getting.
13. Mackerel Tuna
It’s important to note that Mackerel Tuna is not the same thing as regular Mackerel. In fact, they’re two different species entirely! It’s easy to identify a Mackerel tuna by the pattern of broken diagonal lines on its upper sides.
They also have between two and five dark spots above the pelvic fin. Since Mackerel tuna isn’t very big and contains very little meat, they’re primarily used as bait for catching larger fish.
14. Bigeye Tuna
Making up the other half of an ahi dish, Bigeye tuna is often confused with its cousin the Yellowfin. An easy way to distinguish this tuna from other species is as the name suggests, with its big eyes.
Since they’re quite stout, they boast firmer meat that’s brimming with flavor. Due to their global popularity, this species has been flagged as “vulnerable” and catching methods are closely monitored by environmental groups.
15. Bullet Tuna
Another tuna species that’s thinner and shorter than many of its cousins is the Bullet Tuna. Usually found in the warmer Mediterranean Sea or even the Pacific Ocean, this little Bullet tuna only grows to 20” long.
With its blue-black hue, it also boasts some interesting dark markings all over its body. While not really fished for commercial use, it’s not uncommon to find it in fish markets at considerably cheaper prices than other tuna species.
Types of Tuna: FAQs
Is Wild-caught Tuna Better Than Farm-raised Fish?
Another common question people often ask is – is it better to eat wild-caught or farmed tuna? In general, wild-caught fish are often healthier as they often have less contamination from man-made toxins. Their diet is more natural and is made up of algae and even smaller fish. Wild-caught tuna also come into less contact with bacteria and parasites and also have higher levels of trace elements.
Farm-raised tuna, on the other hand, tend to have more omegas as they have a higher fat content. The protein-rich diet fed to farm-raised tuna includes non-seafood which creates flesh with little flavor. Some people have mentioned farm-raised tuna tends to be watery and too fatty.
Which Tuna Has the Least Mercury?
Many people shy away from eating large quantities of tuna in their diets because of the uncertainties of mercury content in some tuna species.
The good news is you don’t have to give up on tuna altogether to avoid serious mercury intake. Skipjack and canned light varieties often have the least quantities of mercury. The two species to consume the least are Albacore and Bigeye as they have the highest mercury levels.
Which Type of Tuna Species is the Best to Eat?
The three Bluefin tuna species are highly regarded as the best tuna type. The main reason is the unique balance between the protein and fat elements.
The Bluefin tunas have a higher fat content, and their flesh is meatier than other species. Its bright red flesh has a salty taste that makes it a sought-after dish in many high-end restaurants. Bluefin is the ideal choice for sashimi or sushi-grade tuna. They’re also the top choice for tuna steaks.
Read More: What is Sushi-Grade Fish?
Why You Should Include Tuna in Your Diet
As we’ve already mentioned, tuna is one of the most common food types found in a healthy diet. The primary reason for this is the high levels of omega-3 fatty acids.
Some of the benefits of eating more omega-3 filled tuna include:
- Reduces the development of plaque in the arteries
- Minimizes the likelihood of heart attacks or stroke
- Lower blood pressure
- Reduces the risk of abnormal heart rhythm
- Aids weight loss since it’s low in fat & calories
There’s no denying it. You can’t go wrong with a juicy serving of tuna on your plate. Whether you prefer a fresh tuna sandwich, a crisp salad, a plate of sushi, or even a juicy steak, you’ll never go wrong with tuna. Aside from its many health benefits, the right species will add a mouthwatering flavor to your meal!