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Tasting Lab: Tuna in a Pouch

Curious to try these new products, we purchased the three brands of tuna now available in a pouch -- Bumble Bee, Chicken of the Sea, and StarKist -- along with the winner of our tasting of canned tunas -- StarKist solid white tuna. (All four products consist of white albacore tuna.) The results of the tasting were quite clear. All of the pouch tunas scored higher than StarKist canned, and StarKist pouched tuna was the standout. Tasters described it as "the freshest tasting," "moistest," and "most flavorful" of the lot.

Experts we spoke with identified two key factors in the processing of pouched tuna that account for its superior flavor. First, the pouch is made from a heat-stable plastic polymer film that is laminated on the inside with a layer of aluminum foil. (The military uses this technology to produce MREs, or meals-ready-to-eat, for its troops.) The heat applied during the processing of the tuna to kill bacteria penetrates this super-thin pouch -- and thus kills bacteria -- much more quickly than it does a can filled with an inch-thick slab of tuna. This limited exposure to heat helps to preserve the flavor and texture of the tuna. Second, the pouch is vacuum-sealed. Before a can of tuna is sealed, it must be filled to the top with water or oil to eliminate the headspace-the air surrounding the tuna. In the pouch, the minimal fluid that collects during processing is from the tuna itself. Nothing is added that can dilute or alter the tuna's flavor.

To get this fresher flavor, you do have to pay more. A 6-ounce can of StarKist solid white tuna costs $1.39, or 23 cents per ounce. A 7.06-ounce pouch of StarKist chunk white tuna costs $2.99, or 42 cents per ounce.

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