What’s the Deal with Canned Fish

Canned Fish with Lentils

Canned fish is one of those polarizing ingredients — people either love it or hate it! There are so many negative connotations associated with the word “canned”, right? If at all possible, most of us prefer the fresh variety of food anyway. So why should fish be any different? But this is one food group that might actually benefit from being canned. Here’s the case for canned fish.

Always Choose Fresh, Right?

Depending on the type, fresh fish ranges from mildly expensive to wildly exorbitant. And you wouldn’t mind indulging in this nutrient-rich food every once in a while. The problem with fresh fish is that you have to plan the grocery trip. It doesn’t stay fresh in the fridge for too long. I usually try to buy it on the same day that I’m planning to cook it. And then there’s the sustainability aspect. Many fish varieties are over-fished using methods that trap marine animals that were not meant to be caught. This creates an imbalance in the eco-system and destroys natural habitats. This is why it’s really important to choose fish (fresh or preserved) that has the blue Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) label. More on this below.

Fresh doesn’t always mean good. Take the case of Tilapia as an example. At one point, this lean fish was everywhere. In our tacos, on our grills and in our ovens. However, as this study by Eat This, Not That shows, most of the Tilapia available in supermarkets is artificially farmed and nutritionally equivalent to, or worse than red meat or junk food. And that’s not even taking into consideration the risk associated with high levels of mercury in some fish.

The Case for Canned Fish

One of the things working against canned fish is that it’s incredibly cheap – especially compared to the fresh variety. It’s so cheap therefore, it must be bad quality or deficient in some way, right? Wrong! According to this Consumer Report, canned fish and fresh fish are roughly equivalent in their nutrition. In fact, in the case of wild-caught pink and red salmon, the canned version has more heart-healthy, inflammation-reducing Omega-3 fatty acids than the fresh variety.  Also, canned fish tend to be wild caught instead of farmed, and smaller in size, which means lower levels of mercury. We should also look out for what has been added to the fish in the canning process. Fish packed in water will have lower fat content and the next preferable option is olive oil. And as far as sodium content is concerned — the lower the better of course.

Golden Salmon Patties with Oats

Are All Canned Fish Equal?

Actually, no. The supermarket can be quite confusing, with so many brands and so many varieties of fish. And if you haven’t grown up eating canned fish, it can be daunting to buy it for the first time. Look for a neighborhood artisanal food specialty store that sells canned fish too. Not only will they point you to the best brands, but they will also educate you. The best varieties are canned salmon, sardines and mackerel. But even when buying these varieties, look out for the blue MSC label that certifies the fish was sustainably caught/farmed. And if you are feeling really adventurous, canned oysters and octopus can be next on your list. Believe it or not, in countries like Spain, Portugal and Greece, canned seafood, or conservas is carefully prepared and is considered a delicacy.

Besides being nutritionally equivalent and sustainable, another argument for canned fish is its longevity. Canned fish can stay in your pantry for as long as five years! In fact some varieties, like sardines and anchovies are matured like fine wine.  It is quite typical to eat canned fish straight out of the can with beer or wine, in many a tapas bar. But if you are not sure about what to do with canned salmon, this Golden Salmon Patty with Oats recipe is a good place to start.

There are so many reasons to love canned fish. Its health benefits make it a great food for the body and brain. In addition it’s a pantry staple and easy on the wallet. How do you use canned fish in your kitchen? Share your recipes with us!

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2 years ago

Thank you for your recipes, why can’t I print them?

About Puneeta

Author, Educator, Speaker

Puneeta is a writer, food advocate and guide for those who seek earth-friendly, delicious solutions that work for real life.

Puneeta Chhitwal-Varma, Food Writer, Climate Advocate, New cookbook - Good Food, Healthy Planet - out April 2024
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