A Tale Of Two Tunas – Chicken o.t. Sea beats StarKist

I tend to buy different canned tuna at different times. Price is important, but so is the quality in a sandwich.

I was peeved when they shrunk the can from 6 ounces to 5 ounces “net”. Then some brands are more mushy than others so don’t make as good a sandwich. Looking into it, I found that the way compliance with label regulations was tested was the “drained weight” and that was found by some standardized draining method with a set force.

Well, if you know your physics, you know that surface tension causes liquid to cling to surfaces. The more surface, the more clings. Chop your tuna into dust-mite sizes, you can put less actual tuna in each can. For this reason I avoid the ‘whatever’ brands that sell you cans of mush for cheap and buy “name brands”. Now imagine my surprise when one of them, when opened, seemed to have a deeper puddle of liquid on top of the tuna than the other.

How much? I wondered.

So I set up the food scale ( 1/10 ounce precision ) and two sandwiches later, I have my answer. StarKist Tuna shorted the can by 1/2 ounce compared to Chicken Of The Sea.


Digital Kitchen Food Scale – automatic tare on bootup
1 – 5 ounce can of Chicken of the Sea “Chunk Light” – packed in oil (water pack is for wimps!)
1 – 5 ounce can of StarKist “Chunk Light” – packed in oil
Can opener
Plastic perforated circular hand press ring thing designed for draining tuna (yes, folks sell those!)
Standard press weight – 48 ounce plastic jar of Apple Sauce – Great Value (Walmart) brand.
Standard glass bowl for mixing tuna and as tare container for naked tuna weight


Note can brand, and declared weight (net and drained) in notebook. Weight at each successive step of decanting and pressing and note in lab book. Set tare at each weighing to zero, measure, record, repeat until final step of putting fully drained tuna into the bowl (tare set with bowl to zero). Record final weight. Make sandwich and eat.

Measurements taken for:

Whole Can
Lid removed can
Pressed for 30 seconds with the 48 ounce weight and plastic press element inserted into the can.
Pressed with the same hand press unit using my full hand strength (not much left after that but dry tuna)
Tuna decanted into bowl (tare set with bowl to zero)
Empty can


Chicken O.T. Sea        StarKist
5 ounce                 5 ounce    Label Net Weight  (142 g)
4 ounce                 4 ounce    Label "drained" Weight (113 g)
6.1 ounce               6.2 ounce  Full can - unopened
5.8 ounce               5.9 ounce  Lid removed
4.7 ounce               4.2 ounce  48 ounce press for 30 seconds
4.2 ounce               3.7 ounce  Full hand strength press to the point of no more liquid available
3.4 ounce               2.9 ounce  Tuna decanted from can
0.8 ounce               0.8 ounce  Empty Can

My 48 ounce press seems to come close to the “official drained” spec, so I don’t think they are cheating. Well, not in terms of legality cheating…

But the Chicken Of The Sea can held a full 1/2 ounce more tuna under those conditions. At full press, it was still 1/2 ounce more, so I think that’s pretty good evidence that it was tuna in both measures showing up as the added weight.

Now a half ounce out of a 12 ounce can of commercial restaurant tuna would not be as big a deal. Even out of a 6 ounce can of tuna, it’s 1/12 or about 8% and not a crucial thing. But when you only have 4 ounces of tuna in the can, that’s a good 1/8 or 12% and we’re starting to reach definitely noticeable shortage range (hey, I noticed it just looking at the puddle in the can). Then when you are down to only 3 ounces of actual tuna in a can of tuna, that 1/2 ounce is 1/6 of the load. We’re talking 16% and that’s a LARGE percentage shorter.

So, for me, I’m going to be preferentially buying Chicken Of The Sea when given the choice.

At some later time, I’ll repeat this test on other brands (including a couple of ‘house brands’). If anything pops up that’s interesting, I’ll add a note. Right now I’ve still got a dozen cans of StarKist and Chicken Of The Sea to work off. I did this test just after stocking up on a monthly grocery run… Of course, if anyone else has a kitchen digital food scale and likes to do a bit of literal “Kitchen Science”, feel free!

Gee, kinda reminds me of that whole VW thing of manufacturing to meet the “spec” of the test, not the actual performance of the product…

Though I’m sure StarKist will say it might have been a bad batch or that 4.2 ounces is over 4 “drained weight” so legal, or whatever… It doesn’t matter. What matters is that being skeptical, doing your own measuring, and comparison shopping gets me 1/2 ounce more tuna in each can.
I’m OK with that…

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About E.M.Smith

A technical managerial sort interested in things from Stonehenge to computer science. My present "hot buttons' are the mythology of Climate Change and ancient metrology; but things change...
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27 Responses to A Tale Of Two Tunas – Chicken o.t. Sea beats StarKist

  1. Larry Ledwick says:

    What matters is that being skeptical, doing your own measuring, and comparison shopping gets me 1/2 ounce more tuna in each can.

    At what price per can?
    Next step would be to figure the net price / ounce of actual tuna per can.

  2. cdquarles says:

    @ Larry, that’s why I prefer the store brand stuff. I, though, press it harder than 4 lb force. I also prefer the water packed to oil. The mayo these days has more than enough oil.

  3. Clay Marley says:

    Brings back memories. When I was in elementary school, Mom would sometimes make tuna sandwiches for us kids. I think back then the cans were 7 or 8 ounces and several sandwiches could be made from one can. Then they went to 6, then to 5 ounces. That shrinkage has happened in a lot of products.

    I still enjoy a tuna/mayo sandwich occasionally, partly out of nostalgia I suppose. I use the solid-white tuna packed in water. I think it has better flavor and texture. And as an experiment, it might be worth checking if there is as much water and variations in the solid pack.

  4. jim2 says:

    I’ve been wondering for many years what the REAL food inflation index is. Stuff in the box gets less and less even if the price stays the same.

  5. gallopingcamel says:

    While I love beef steak it is full of fatty acids that increase my arthritis pain. I eat beef maybe once per month but eat fish at least once per day.

    I eat mostly “oily fish”. Here are my preferences in order of quantity consumed:
    1. Portuguese sardines (minus skin and entrails).
    2. Smoked (Norwegian farmed) salmon.
    3. Tuna, mainly the two brands named above.
    4. Herring (mostly in the form of kippers). Adam West kippers are worth the higher price.
    5. Rainbow trout (I used to farm Donaldson Supertrout by the tonne).
    6. Mackerel (as a boy this was my #1 as I used to catch them and clean them myself). It is hard to beat a mackerel you caught and cooked within an hour.

    When living in Europe, herring is my #1 fish as there are so many wonderful options available that are not in cans. For example real kippers that you can grill. For people who can’t stand the smell of grilled kippers there are packs that you put in boiling water that taste almost as good as grilled kippers. Then there are soused herrings, Bismark herrings, rollmops and on and on.

    I also like “not so oily” fish such as Dover sole, cod, catfish and tilapia.

  6. Graeme No.3 says:

    Tuna with preserved chilli. Sirena brand tuna (in oil ) and pickled green chilli (Italian type) made a great lunch roll – mind you that was 25-30 years ago, another time, another city, another State.

  7. beththeserf says:

    Tasmanian oysters in shell, fresh lemon juice … Lobster Newberg …. mmmm.

  8. catweazle666 says:

    “When living in Europe, herring is my #1 fish as there are so many wonderful options available that are not in cans.”

    Manx kippers!


  9. llanfar says:

    You take a fresh jalapeno, slice it lengthwise and remove the seeds. Fill with tuna. Pop into mouth…

  10. philjourdan says:

    It could just be my age, but it seems to me that the practice of cutting the size and maintaining the price got its big start back under Nixon’s wage price controls. That was a way to raise the price (especially since inflation was accelerating at the time) without seeming to. It is all marketing and psychological. Now they are even finding ways around the price per unit. just another example of how government trying to control anything is a waste of time.

  11. John F. Hultquist says:

    At some point this downsizing has to stop. Price inflation happens, such as a pound of Malted Milk Balls, once $1 a pound now in 12 ounce cartons for $2+.
    Downsizing of things in cans that cookbooks say things such as — use 2 cans of tomatoes, assume you have a 16 oz. can, not 14.5 oz. Soup cans have gone to 10.5 oz. Further, as the size shrinks, the cost of packaging and transport increases.
    Young folks won’t know what a loaf of bread is.

  12. Soronel Haetir says:

    The product I find interesting is precooked bacon. The package is way more expensive but if you compare the precooked with post-cooked regular bacon the price per oz is basically the same. Plus you don’t have to deal with a can of bacon grease (My cooking habits don’t use it for anything).

  13. Greg Hall says:

    I have started eating the pouch tuna from Starkist, “Tuna Creations”. Then I discovered the MRE Starkist “Tuna Creations” “First Strike”. You get more tuna with less calories than the smaller commercial pouch version. Apparently the government has higher quality standards. Commercial pouch = 80 cal per serving. MRE = 60 cal per serving

  14. Dan_Kurt says:

    re: Canned Tuna.

    There are three types of canned tuna: 1) Tuna in water, 2) Tuna in oil (usually olive oil), and, IMHO the very best, Tuna packed alone. I first had the Tuna packed alone in the late 1970s after a fishing trip in Westport, Washington. I was salmon fishing in a small charted boat and on returning to port the captain cleaned the catch and advised us to have the excess fish (keep one silver salmon to cook soon) canned at the local cannery. There were six of us and about 15 silver salmon that we took to the nearby cannery. As remember the deal, we turned in the fish and could trade the fish for cans of salmon and tuna. My wife and I took home a dozen or so cans of salmon and tuna. The tuna was spectacular and the small amount of “tissue juice” in the can tasted wonderful.

    Since then I have been buying Tuna and other canned fish from a variety of canners in Washington by mail order. I highly recommend the TUNA GUYS by mail order http://www.tunaguys.net/dda/b/tg/build.asp?page=Groups&dpt=1&cat=3&view=Canned%20Tuna .

    A new source I have discovered is from COSTCO: Wild Planet brand, wild albacore tuna. It appeared in recent months and is not packed in oil or water. It is excellent. See here: https://www.instacart.com/costco/products/57166-wild-planet-albacore-pole-troll-caught-tuna-5-oz

    Eat it straight out of the can or in a bowl break it up in its own juice and add a touch of kosher salt (but no mayonnaise) and a bit of high quality of extra virgin olive oil. Great on the cracker of your choice or by the spoonful which is my choice.

    Dan Kurt

  15. E.M.Smith says:


    “Yes but”…

    I buy my tuna at one of two places. The local “Bargain store” that sells overages, or Walmart. Same name brands, just lowest available price. Usually in the 79 ¢ to 89 ¢ range, and the two brands typically are priced the same.

    Now moving out to other brands, other grades, and especially the $1.50 / can that has a more ‘filet’ chunk of tuna in it, that price / unit will matter a lot more. I’ve already done a “quick estimate” of canning my own in small flat jelly jars ( 4 oz or about one sandwich) and it is marginally close, so will need exact numbers. (Frozen tuna from the local low cost store… good tuna, just in chunks that are not favored by chefs…) Most likely I’ll go for the convenience in any case, but… I’m on the edge. Any more “funny business” with canned tuna I’m going to abandon them and just do my own.

    Bought as a large slab at the fresh fish market I’m thinking it might be even cheaper now. One of the joys of living near a Pacific coast with an Asian population – real fish markets with tuna… one on Hilo was a real treat. Tunas on the floor through the door (like seeing your car on the lift at the mechanic) with a butchers display case of chunks in the front / office area, and some folks getting it sliced on a paper plate with wasabe for a quick lunch… no fancy fru-fru $25 sashimi restaurant for these working folks, just a ‘grab and go’ lunch at a nice price for some of THE best tuna in the world… maybe 4 hours out of the water. I need to go back there ;-)

    @Clay Marley:

    OMG! The memory of those larger ( 8 oz I think) cans was in my brain, but I’d not ever pulled it back up. Memory of a little kid looking sideways at the top of the counter, Mum making several sandwiches from one can ( I now get one sandwich per can…)

    Thank you for pulling that back up.

    @Water vs Oil:

    I’ve tried both. Both are “ok”, but IMHO using less mayo and letting some of the oil stay in gives a more interesting more fish flavored result. It seems to be especially noticed in Tuna Noodle Casserole where no mayo is involved and the fish us used un-drained (well, other than pouring off a puddle if one is on top (damn StarKist…) But I’m not hard core about it. Were there a nickle difference in price, I’d use the water pack. Paying the same for a bit less flavor in my creations doesn’t have any balance point for me…


    I get “sprats” at the local Middle East Shop. Packed somewhere like Latvia and with Cyrillic on the can. Richly smoked and whole. Small and very tasty. Something most Americans would recoil from and likely the FDA would not allow (due to heavy smoking…) to be made here.

    Smoked herring and kippers! I’ve watched the canned kippers go from actually semi-dry smoked things to ever wetter and more pallid ‘canned fish with a fire nearby’… Polar brand (watch the labels… the Kippers are from Germany but other stuff is from China) is pretty good still. Brunswick (Canadian?) has gone too far to the mild and wet to be honest smoked kippers. I need to find a real kipper source… Sigh.


    When on contract in Florida a decade+ back, there was a bar about 2/3 of the way from work to the hotel. Had a “happy hour” special of a 1/2 dozen oysters on the half shell for something like $3 and wine at 2:1 and about another $3. For $9 I’d have a dozen oysters and two ample glasses of wine. As long as I go there before 6 PM… M-Th. Needless to say, I’d not plan to work late on those days, if at all possible.

    Went back on another contract about 7 years later, it was a cheap ass pizza place. Sigh.

    Seems that having a gigantic coastline, they had a large low cost oyster supply. I suspect that the oil spill was what caused them to change. Not having a crowd of oyster lovers for a year or two could be hard on the profits… Still looking for a replacement place. Up here the nice places charge $3 for ONE oyster… That’s $36 for the dozen. Why I miss Florida…


    Why bother with the tuna? Since screaming in pain and tasting nothing from a numb tongue tends to mask any other flavor…. ( I suspect I’m a “supertaster”. I can eat very hot food, and even impressed some Mexicans fresh over the border once with Mama Celerina’s chile verde sauce – they did 1/2 tsp, I did 2 tsp – but it just kills the flavors for me. All the subtle tones fade away and you have fire and salt. But people vary in how they taste things.)


    I think it got a big boost then, but it started with Hershey’s in America. They wanted a nickle candy bar in the theaters, but how to control for variation in cost of inputs then? So they started making all kinds of fractional ounce changes. Down to 1/64 ounce IIRC.

    It was used as an example in my MBA Marketing class. It’s now taught as a known and desired strategy, so every single MBA is going to be prepped to do it. (Never finished the MBA – life, wife, and a kid happened).


    Used to be the same in Monterey “cannery row” a lifetime ago before it became a tourist trap of expensive restaurants.

    Thanks for the pointer to COSTCO. I have a card for them, but have got out of the habit of shopping there since the kids moved out. Bulk Buys for 2 folks tend to “have issues”… (Ever try to get through a 96 ounce jar of mayo? ;-) But canned goods, I can go for that.

    Generally their tuna was all water pack, IIRC and that’s why I didn’t buy it. Just a bit bland and washed out for my tastes. Now packed unadorned by diluent, that I’d go for!

  16. Zeke says:

    According to the label, one can of StarKist tuna in water contains “3 lbs drained”.

    We drained it to a good dryness by hand, and the tuna (minus the can) came to 2.7 lbs.

    To get it to 3 lbs would require adding back @2/3 cup more water.

    (The tuna water is not valueless to me. I can feed it to the hens with stale bread. Hens are not vegetarians and I worry that the chicken feed is not enough.)

    The Text of the Constitution:

    “The Congress shall have Power To…coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin….” Never mind that.

    “The Congress shall have Power To…fix the Standard of Weights and Measures….”

    Hopefully the environmentalists have not taken over the standards of weights and measures through an alphabet soup agency and then shrunk them.

    Onions and celery and mayo, we are good to go for several days. Cheers, to life!

  17. gallopingcamel says:

    I agree with Chiefio’s opinion on canned kippers. I used to like Brunswick “kippered snacks” but then I found Polar kippers which are tastier and cheaper.

    However “Adam West” rules among canned kippers if you don’t care about price.

  18. E.M.Smith says:


    When it comes to kippers, price is not a barrier… I pay something like $2.50 for the 3 ounce? can of sprats… just because it is deeply smoked and the fish are not watery… I’d buy it much more often at $1 and a bit less at $4, but I’d still buy it…

  19. p.g.sharrow says:

    The only thing you get to take with you is what you eat and drink. The tax collector gets the rest. So don’t be afraid to ignore the cost and enjoy! …pg

  20. Verity Jones says:

    Mmmm my mouth is watering. @GC I’m with you that freshly caught mackerel is one of my favourites.

  21. catweazle666 says:

    ” freshly caught mackerel is one of my favourites.”

    It used to be mine too until I ate some freshly caught bonito!

  22. Zeke says:

    And I like red herrings! :

    The Text of the Constitution:
    “The Congress shall have Power To…coin Money, regulate the Value thereof, and of foreign Coin….” Never mind that.“The Congress shall have Power To…fix the Standard of Weights and Measures….”

    (I was trying to see if Gail Combs was reading this thread.)

  23. Jason Calley says:

    Hey PhilJordan! “It could just be my age, but it seems to me that the practice of cutting the size and maintaining the price got its big start back under Nixon’s wage price controls.”

    That little trick of reducing size goes back to at least Roman times. As the coins were recalled and debased, price inflation ensued. The bakers began to reduce the sizes of bread loaves. The governmental response was often to draw a circle on the wall next to the bakeries. “A loaf of bread must be as large as this circle!” I would assume that the bakers began to make loaves that were thinner and thinner… Hey! Maybe monetary inflation sparked the invention of pizza!

  24. philjourdan says:

    Since then I have been buying Tuna and other canned fish from a variety of canners in Washington by mail order. I highly recommend the TUNA GUYS by mail order http://www.tunaguys.net/dda/b/tg/build.asp?page=Groups&dpt=1&cat=3&view=Canned%20Tuna .

    @Dan Kurt – I will give that a try. I do not care for Tuna in oil or water (but love the fresh stuff). Thanks for the link and suggestion!

  25. philjourdan says:

    Hey! Maybe monetary inflation sparked the invention of pizza!

    Leave it to Jason to find the silver lining!

  26. E.M.Smith says:

    I was thinking Ciabatta myself, as a semi-flat bread, but the date of creation is known and well later than Roman Empire days:

    “Ciabatta is an Italian white bread made from wheat flour, water, salt, and yeast, created in 1982 by a baker in Verona, Veneto, Italy, in response to the popularity of French baguettes.” From Wikipedia

    Might be amusing to figure out the earliest date of flat breads in Rome ;-0

  27. E.M.Smith says:

    Well, I’ve “run the numbers” for Walmarts house brand “Great Value”. It looks to me like it is a match to the Star Kist brand numbers.

    Whole can, 6.0 (so 0.1 less than Chicken O.T.Sea and 0.2 less than Star Kist)

    Lid removed: 6.0 (or again 0.1 less than CotS and 0.2 less than Star Kist)

    48 oz weight for 30 seconds: 4.5 (in between the 4.7 of CotS and 4.2 of SK.)

    Full squeeze drain: 3.8 (just 0.1 more than SK and 0.4 below CotS)

    Drained tuna, net, out of can: 2.9 (identical to SK and 0.5 less than CotS)

    Empty can, 0.8, same as the others.

    So overall, Chicken Of The Sea retains the lead, but the Walmart house brand is a much lower cost equivalent of Star Kist. I guess I need to look at cost / ounce to know if it is a better bargain despite the lower tuna content than CotS. It certainly beats SK on cost / oz.

    The tuna mass ratio is 1.17, so IF the price of CotS is over 17% higher, it isn’t worth it. As the Walmart can was something like 79 cents, that’s about 92 cents. I’m pretty sure the CotS was running about a $ and some cents. So that would mean the Walmart brand was the best “value” for the $, but the CotS gives you more tuna / can at a close price/oz.

    So for now, I’m buying either CotS or Walmart’s brand, depending on where I’m at and what I want to use it for. (i.e. does the extra tuna matter, or not).

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