How Americans came to love the lowly tuna

Kai Ryssdal Aug 30, 2012
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How Americans came to love the lowly tuna

Kai Ryssdal Aug 30, 2012
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Right now Americans eat more shrimp than any other seafood, but it was only a few years ago that tuna was on top. We still consume nearly 30 percent of the world’s canned tuna, which is primarily albacore and skipjack.

Several different species of tuna migrate in the waters off the U.S. There’s plenty of it around. But you might be surrpised to learn that we’ve only liked tuna for about a hundred years. Why?

To answer that question, we turned to Andrew F. Smith, a culinary historian and the author of the new book, “American Tuna, the Rise and Fall of an Improbable Food.”

Tuna was an improbable food until the turn of the 20th century. The enormous bluefin tuna was a popular game fish, but also seen as a predator that gobbled up all the other fish in a net. Meanwhile, other types of tuna — like albacore and skipjack — were easier to catch, but seen as oily and unpleasant until canneries in San Pedro figured out how to package, and market, the leanest parts of the fish.

And tuna salad? Smith says Americans believed the marketing efforts that boasted, “It tastes like chicken!”

Voila!  The dieter’s lunch staple was born.

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