White Tuna Explained (Escolar vs. Albacore)

I am not the first person on the Internet to tell you that White Tuna is a confusing order at the sushi bar.  While there are a host of fish that can be mislabeled as White Tuna, the two most common ones are the Albacore Tuna and our dreaded and delicious friend, the Escolar.

What Is White Tuna?
I worked really hard to source both fish in a raw form so that I could bring you pictures.  And by 'worked really hard', I really mean: I would keep going to the same fishmonger and ask them if they had Escolar and Albacore.  Escolar isn't very difficult to find but Albacore can be problematic.  Finally, I found some at the Lobster Place in Chelsea Market. So, let's take a quick look:


White "Tuna" vs. "White" Tuna
Now I'm no chromatist, but I am pretty sure I know what the color white looks like.  Although,  technically white isn't actually a color, but the absence of color.  Or wait, is it the presence of all color?  Shitballs, is it the reflection of all the colors of the visible light spectrum to the eye.  Of course, neither of these fish are pure white, but wait... what the fuck am I talking about?   

Not so confusing anymore.
That's right, Albacore tuna isn't white.  While it can be more pale than the one I purchased, it will have a pinkish hue.  Part of me wonders if the Japanese word for white also means pale.  If Inuits have a bazillion words for snow, why wouldn't another culture have one word for 17 forms of white.  Additionally, Escolar is also opaque and shimmery.  Albacore will be more translucent.

Ultimately, we are left with two likely outcomes:  a fish that is a tuna but not white or a white fish that is not a tuna.  

This leads me to my white tuna apocalypse:  White Tuna and Super White Tuna on the same menu.  I have not been able to identify Super White Tuna as anything other than Escolar, but it should be noted that amongst the things I am not, marine biologist ranks up there with chromatist.  

Gratuitous Tuna Porn
If there were a gun to my head, and I had to choose, I'd go for the Super White Tuna.  Its fat content make each bite sublime, while albacore's pleasure is more subtle and closer to the tuna that bombards us at every sushi joint.  The other challenge is that just because the Super White Tuna is Escolar, it doesn't mean that the White Tuna is Albacore.  There are plenty of fish in the sea that look like either of these two fish.  Your best bet is to ask a lot of questions.  If you get something that looks too white, has a buttery mouthfeel and a full, fatty flavor and they are telling you its absolutely a tuna, you are can safely assume that you have no idea what you are eating.

If you follow suit, take it easy and remember:
  1. Assume there is between .5 oz/1 oz of fish on any piece of sushi/sashimi 
  2. Stay under 6 ounces.  
  3. Maybe not so much with the white pants.  
  4. Buy from a reputable source, I recommend:
If you have any experience here or other tips for readers, comment below!
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25 comments:

Alicia said...

Thanks for your hard work getting this up! I just came back from having sashimi at two different places on back-to-back days and I had an unknown, very white, deliciously buttery, want to eat so much more of this, kind of fish at both places. I had to know what it was and I think you answered that.

Pablo Escolar said...

@Alicia:

It could very well be escolar. You should read my other post on the subject of Escolar and why you should be careful consuming Escolar.

Anonymous said...

I work as a sushi chef and we serve both albacore and escolar (which we call white tuna). I think you did a great job helping people differentiate. The are a few main things to look for: 1) color/opacity (escolar is WHITE and opaque); 2) texture, escolar is kinda greasy, tuna is 'dryer,' as in watery wet but not slippery lipid wet, and escolar is very firm for a fish, it is a resilient flesh, if you poke it with your finger it will not dent, albacore is softer and has more of a tendon structure, it will fall apart along the tendon lines and will leave a slight indent if you poke it. When all else fails the flavor will tell you for sure, the albacore will be meaty and have a slight iron taste, like tuna whereas the escolar will have a very buttery mouthfeel and a much richer palette, more like cream cheese than like rare beef. Nice photos!

Pablo Escolar said...

That is the first time I have gotten a complement on any photo on this blog. Thanks!

Chefs Resources said...

First time to your blog. Found it while searching for "white tuna aka escolar". Like your writing style, you speak like someone in the kitchen! Got to say that I have never heard of "white tuna" being the actual name of a tuna. Familiar with Albacore, Yellowfin (aka Ahi), Bluefin, and Bigeye. I guess I need to visit more sushi joints. Thanks for some insight into this miss-named fish.

Anonymous said...

Chefs Resources... "white tuna" is not a tuna, its escolar(aka white tuna)and it is really tasty if you grill it using the Nobu Black Cod recipe, BTW black cod isn't an actual fish either its sablefish.
Sometimes escolar is also marketed as butterfish

jah power said...

call it what you like, to the chef/fisherman in the know ,there is no mistaking the "king of sashimi" escolar......When fishing deep as we have in the cayman islands, or having it flown in fresh from honolulu seafood to san francisco for grilled dishes, this fish is up there with wahoo and snook for me. I think the folks who have had run into issues with the reading materials in the restrooms are not as big as issue as one would lead on.......I am looking forward to a big plate of fresh escolar upon my return to the caymans where my buddy recently held the world record all tackle IGFA......they are simply put "the other white meat"......the eyes don't lie.....

Anonymous said...

Genius!

Bobbi Key said...

Thank you so much for going to so much trouble. Your blog was informative, humorous, witty & fun. I've been to several sushi places & until recently, never had escolar. It was firm yet buttery, had a lovely mouth feel & IMO was the best bite on the plate. When I asked what this tasty tidbit was, they of course said "white tuna". Now never hearing of any such fish, off to the interwebs I go to find further confusion. Thanks again for clearing it up.

Anonymous said...

Great chart and photos. I`ve eaten enough sushi to pretty much be able to name anything that's being served but its still cool to see the types of fish being classified as "white tuna." IMO white tuna is probably the most ambiguous or confusing naming for a fish.

@ Jah Power:
I'm not a chef/fisherman but I'm sure the "king of sashimi" isn't escolar, that title goes to the bluefin tuna specifically "toro" or the belly section. The fish has been know to sell for upwards of $100k in Japan's fish market. Regardless you are right in that the negative stories surrounding escolar are probably just exaggerations, the fish is so good it`s worth eating even if you do get sick.

shartstains said...

As one who has been unfortunate to have experienced the end results (pun intended) of "white tuna" (Escolar), I am very careful in how much I consume.

Anonymous said...

At my two neighborhood sushi places, "white tuna" has replaced flounder and other white fish on the sushi special plates. I didn't like the taste or texture and, therefore, googled "white tuna" to see what they were pawning off on us. Since it's the luncheon bargain special, I can't believe they're giving us the best of the best. Any idea what other opaque,white, firm textured fish can be labeled "white tuna?"

Pablo Escolar said...

It could really be anything, but the top of the blog post does have a chart of fish often labeled as white tuna. Any reason to think it isn't escolar?

Anonymous said...

The texture sounds like escolar, but it doesn't have a buttery, rich taste. But you may be right--it could be escolar. If so, while many on this blog like it a lot, I do not! Thanks for the chart and all the info.

Anonymous said...

Japan and Italy have both banned escolar due to health concerns. Many other countries have issued advisories regarding its consumption.

Sun said...

I bumped into this site this morning since I am a traditionally Japanese trained sushi chef, not one that works in a Chinese all-you-can-eat sushi bar (no offense to Chinese sushi bar workers) and a one time sufferer of escolar.

Six years ago, I researched escolar ad nauseum. With more exposure lately given to deliberately mislabeled fish, it reawakened my interest in escolar. Unfortunately, this article taught me nothing new. But, I do see a stream of misinformation, here, too. And there's no modernist reasoning, either. I hope you have more substantive articles in your archive and in your future. So far this site has been a flat disappointment.

Escolar, is not the king of sushi. That distinction is carried by blue-fin tuna and carries its own tragedy (worldwide depletion by Japanese consumption) in its elevation as such. It seems to be extremely popular at Korean owned sushi places and Korean markets like HMart. They change the name to command a higher price for an inferior product - same thing with red snapper replaced by tilapia - and commit fraud upon the public.

I worked and learned under great Japanese masters and before we elevate them, keep in mind they are solely to blame for the onset of this fraudulent behaviour, as well as the illegal importing of whale meat - but that's another story.

We need more information, education and awareness. Flimsy articles are not what is expected from a modernist kitchen. We need substance, not fluff, or making things up as they sound good, creatively. Write a novel if those are your ends. Leave information to the informed.

Pablo Escolar said...

Sun:

Hey if I got something wrong here, I'd love to fix it. What misinformation am I providing?

Anonymous said...

Wow, some harsh words from Sun. I thoroughly enjoyed your article (and writing style) and appreciate your effort in posting this for all to see. Time to go eat some sushi.

Doug Waterman said...

This is some great investigation and information - thank you!

FYI - Oceana did DNA testing on samples from various fish retail outlets (groceries, restaurants, and sushi venues) across the US and report that 84% of fish samples labeled “white tuna” were actually escolar.

http://oceana.org/en/news-media/publications/reports/oceana-study-reveals-seafood-fraud-nationwide

Anonymous said...

" technically white isn't actually a color, but the absence of color."

ACTUALLY WHITE IS THE COMBINATION OF ALL COLORS ... BLACK IS A ABSENCE OF ALL COLOR ...

Kei said...

As far as blaming the Japanese,Sun, a few bits of information are obsolete. You must have trained either in the previous generation or generation before that. No Japanese that I know eats Whale meat. The only reported eaters of whale meat are dying out.. those were mostly World War 2 era people. Do the Japanese still catch whales, yes, but fact is, its a dying business, as nobody here eats it. If you want to point fingers, look no further than China. They are the largest consumers of Whale, Turtle, Shark Fin and many of the foods abandoned by the Japanese. I felt that I could not over look this bit of obsolete information. Current is always better than outdated, except for Wine, Sake and Cheese. This was a great article, and points out differences. I only wish there was a release so Americans know what canned Tuna is real and what is escolar.

Kei said...

@ Anonomous, Agreed, just like "tinting" windows is making them lighter, and Shading makes them darker. I find it funny in paint shops and auto shops. -Graphic Designers laugh at ignorance, not at the people.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I enjoyed your blog and wish I'd read it BEFORE I tried the fish!

I wanted to use your photo on Urbanspoon here
http://www.urbanspoon.com/r/47/1513312/restaurant/Nashville/Hana-Sushi-Hendersonville
. If it's not OK lemme know at tommy atomic salami (all one word) at gee mail... I'll remove it quickly. I did put photo credit to you and a link to this blog there. Good job on the blog! #3 result on Google after Wikipedia and one other!

Aaron Pangle said...

The only bad thing about Escolar is that if you eat more than a few pieces of the raw flesh it can give you explosive bowel movements. Every fisherman that I know including myself will tell you this so no haters please. I still eat "white tuna" from the sushi bar just for spite. :D

Anonymous said...

I find your blog informative. I've read different informations about "white tuna aka escolar". I got curious about it since I've served once. It doesactually taste great and I liked it. I went back 2-3 times in that sushi Resto for that "white tuna", though I have this gut feeling, something isn't right. So I start reading informations about white tuna. When I read about escolar, I didn't visit that sushi Resto anymore. I was disappointed. With photos on your blog, clearly I understood the difference.

For those who have different opinion, it's ok. Maybe you can do your own research and blog it too.

Buy for me, I find this blog informative. Thank you for your research. :)

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