Taste Test: Corned Tuna From San Marino, Century Tuna, and 555November 26, 2017
Canned tuna is a staple across numerous households, assuring families that they’re only a can opener away from a filling meal. Among the many variants available in these parts is corned tuna, first brought out by local brand San Marino back in 2009 (with a telenovela-inspired promotional slant to boot), followed very shortly by main competitor Century Tuna, and a year later, by 555. As the name implies, corned tuna is a spin-off of fellow canned staple corned beef, promising to deliver its distinct flavor (note that the “corned” part is more a reference to corned beef than it is to the actual “corning” process of preserving beef by adding salt)—but with tuna fish, often marketed for its supposed health advantages over beef, as the medium. Though odd-sounding on paper, the concept worked and is among the most popular canned-tuna variations today. But with more brands now trying their hands at “corning” their own tuna, how do they fare against one another? Do any of these brands even really taste like corned beef, or are you better off sticking with the stuff from actual cows?
The brand that pioneered the corned-tuna movement does their version especially well, with a flavor we can’t deconstruct the components of exactly, but we can best describe as having that savory, meaty character we distinctly associate with canned corned beef. There’s just enough oil to help moisten the mix, and for the most part, the tuna bits—with the exception of a few dry flakes here and there—still feel soft and supple to the tongue.
Bathed in oil of a more fiery red hue, Century Tuna’s version exudes a sharper, more zingy aroma as you open the can. The flavor follows: slightly tangy, peppery, and Mediterranean-leaning in profile, it hardly tastes corned beef-y to us, but we appreciate it in that it reminds us of Spanish-style sardines. It does taste saltier than San Marino’s when eaten plain, but it stands out better when consumed on crackers or rice. The tuna itself here feels flakier and a tad dryer than San Marino’s, but not so much that it becomes unpleasant to eat.
Though also part of the Century group, 555 carries its own version of corned tuna for a few pesos cheaper for the same amount by weight. Its flavor—a medley of savory, onion-y notes—comes close to that of San Marino, though not quite as “corned”-tasting as much as it brings to mind luncheon meat. Though not too salty as a whole, the relative lack of other seasonings makes it taste less complex than the other brands. Rather oddly, too, the tuna itself comes across as feeling spongier and chewier; and while the moistness is appreciated, one of our tasters says it feels more like textured vegetable protein than it does fish.
The Verdict: San Marino
San Marino’s takes the crown for tasting the closest to actual corned beef—its savory, almost meaty flavor is unmatched—while allowing the tuna’s seafood-y profile to shine through. Still, Century’s version, though a tad off-mark in tasting like corned beef, holds its own with its zesty, peppery profile. 555’s comes close to San Marino’s in a way, albeit with differences that better quell the craving for SPAM than for corned beef. Though no brand can completely mimic the actual beef-based classic at the end of the day (as this is tuna), they serve as a testament to corned tuna’s goodness by its own merits and to the versatility of the canned fish.