This is not your mother’s tinned seafood.
In fact, it might be closer to your great-great-grandmother’s. Most sources agree that the art of canning fish was pioneered in the early 1800s by Nicolas Appert, an experimental French chef who came to the government’s aid in exchange for a hefty cash prize. France was at war with limited access to ports and this meant more traditional methods of preserving seafood, such as drying, smoking and pickling, were not holding up.
Appert’s success catapulted the seafood industry into a whole new ballgame, with tinned seafood becoming an essential commodity that would go on to feed not just French troops, but generations around the world. Today, we regard the tuna sandwich as an American staple, synonymous with apple pie only much less exciting.
It’s true that seafood in a can, tin or otherwise considered “processed” hasn’t always lived a glamorous lifestyle in the U.S. The same characteristics that once made it valuable as a durable source of protein caused consumers to banish it to the bottom shelf in exchange for items they viewed as fresher and more nutritious.
But that perception – and tinned seafood as we know it – is changing before our eyes.
The Comeback Can
In recent years, we’ve watched products historically relegated to the back of the pantry transform into trendsetting and tasteful meals worthy of the savviest seafoodie’s attention. The drab cans of days gone by are being outshined by colorful, flavor-packed tins boasting a range of seafoods – from Thai Sriracha tuna to Moroccan spiced salmon. And we’re here for it.
The Seafood Nutrition Partnership (SNP) notes that tinned fish became a “Covid kitchen craze rivaling sourdough, beans and meal kits because it’s a ready-to-eat convenience and a shelf-stable pantry item.” According to SNP, stocking up your ‘cantry’ is one of the easiest and most affordable ways to add seafood to your diet.
The appeal of these modernized all-in-one meals has rapidly spread from the culinary in-crowd to anyone looking for a quick, healthy bite with minimum prep and maximum flavor. A well-stocked stash makes hiking go bags, school lunches and last minute apps a cinch.
Seafood companies have seized the moment, showing evermore creativity when it comes to flavors, innovative packing techniques and more responsible sourcing.
“During our travels in Portugal over 5 years ago sourcing Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certified sardines, we discovered the quality of European tinned seafood,” says Henry Lovejoy, who together with his wife Lisa co-founded the New Hampshire-based EcoFish and recently launched their line of Freshé brand certified seafood tins. “We had an epiphany, why couldn’t you pack gorgeous fresh vegetables, beans, olive oil and spices in a tin (with a 4-year shelf life), with certified sustainable seafood?”
The answer is: you can. “We got to work with a celebrity chef to design global flavor profiles and the rest is history.” Freshé tins are now available in the canned fish aisles at over 2,700 grocery stores nationwide can be ordered online at Amazon.com and Walmart.com.
Perhaps not coincidentally, tins are trending in tandem with an important sustainability conversation. People are asking more questions about where their seafood is coming from. Was it fished or farmed in a responsible way? Is it safe to eat? And, of course – can it really taste good if it comes from a can?
Since the canned seafood market is expected to reach $54.77 billion by 2028, these are good questions to be asking.
Tin It to Win It
Freshé’s ASC-certified salmon meals won Canned Meat Product of the Year at the 2022 Mindful Awards, while their Moroccan Tagine was honored with People’s 2022 Food Award for Best Tinned Seafood in the Pantry Staples category. Further proof that modern seafood tins hit a sweet spot when quality, creativity and sustainability coexist.
“We were the first brand in the U.S. to commit to 100% certified sustainable seafood 23 years ago,” says Lovejoy. “We started working with the MSC in 2000, as their first U.S. certified sustainable seafood distributor. Sustainability is in our blood, that’s why we go to work every day.” ASC was founded in 2010 and shares its Chain of Custody program with MSC.
When it came to selecting farmed seafood for their new line of tins Lovejoy adds, “The ASC is the most credible certification for responsibly farmed seafood, it was a no-brainer.”
“The salmon we use is from an ASC-certified salmon farm in Norway. Norway literally invented salmon farming and our farm is doing it the right way, with minimal impact on the surrounding environment. We pack a whole salmon fillet in the tin, then we add the veggies and spices. The entire recipe is then cooked in the tin, creating amazing flavor profiles.”
Delicious and Nutritious
So what’s in a tin? Dozens of companies have stepped up their game with chef collaborations and seasoning combinations that would make a sardine blush.
The Lovejoys leaned into their appreciation for international cuisine and the high-quality, artisanal seafood tins still produced in regions of Spain and Portugal. “We prioritize Iberian ingredients whenever possible. Some items like spices need to come from other parts of the world, where they are grown. Many of the vegetables and the olive oil come from local producers. Freshé meals epitomize the healthy Mediterranean Diet. Our canner is the ‘greenest’ cannery in the world, utilizing solar panels and a biomass facility that burns olive pits to power the factory.”
SNP reminds us that nutrition guidelines recommend eating seafood at least twice a week. Access to versatile pre-packed options makes it easier to reach this goal and keeps things interesting in the kitchen.
“Canned seafood such as salmon, sardines, anchovies, mackerel, herring, tuna, crab and clams are excellent sources of omega-3s. However, seafood is not just filled with omega-3s,” offers Jessica Miller, SNP’s Nutrition Communications Manager. “Seafood includes other vital nutrients optimal for overall health and wellness, such as selenium, iron, vitamin B-6 and B-12 and protein. Canned, tinned and pouched seafood is a perfect way to get at least one of these servings into a quick and easy meal or snack. They are prepared, high-quality proteins that are easy to add to your weekly menu and are budget-friendly options.”
Whether you’re sitting down to plan an extravagant spread or running out the door, there’s a tinned seafood for that! Here are a few foolproof ways to hop on the canned-wagon:
- Serve meals over fresh spinach for tasty two-step salad
- Add to a bed of warm quinoa and drizzle with olive oil
- Create a seacuterie board that’s dressed to impress
- Top off a tapas spread with Mediterranean flair
- Skip right to chips and dip, with a twist
- For the active, outdoorsy or just plain busy, solo tins are a perfect grab ‘n go for camping, hiking, road tripping and kid-friendly snacks. Toss in a pack of crackers and you’re good to go!
Look for the Label
Making good choices about where our food comes from and how it was raised is always on-trend. In the case of seafood and even other proteins, this often works in conjunction with our health and wellbeing.
As the canned aisles of grocery stores become increasingly packed with new and exciting seafood choices, selecting products with ASC’s sea green label assures the tin you’re taking home is the most responsible choice for you, your family and the planet, too.