Detail of jar of albacore tuna belly. Juan Manuel Sanz / © ICEX
Thanks to the Spanish seafaring tradition and the long history of the Spanish canning sector, Spain is the world's second largest producer of canned tuna fish and tuna-related products and the undisputed leader from the quality point of view. Tuna is currently the star product in the seafood processing sector worldwide, keeping the large Spanish tuna fishing fleet active. It currently accounts for 55% of canned fish and shellfish products.
The high level of utilization, high nutritional value, excellent flavor and culinary versatility of canned tuna explain its worldwide popularity. The main production areas in Spain are Galicia, Asturias, the Basque Country and the Strait of Gibraltar in Cádiz (Andalusia). The tuna canned in Spain usually comes from one of three species - albacore tuna (Thunnus Alalunga), yellowfin (Thunnus Albacares) and Skipjack (Katsuwonus pelamis), although there are others.
In summer, the waters of the Bay of Biscay offer exceptionally high-quality albacore tuna, with its much-esteemed, moist, white flesh. This is where the canning tradition initially developed, enabling tuna to be consumed all year round. The canning sector then converted it into one of the leading Spanish food products, one that enjoys international prestige.
In addition to this gourmet product, there is a large variety of other types of canned tuna, varying according to the species and the part used and the preparation, which may be in brine, in oil, in olive oil, in a pickle sauce, in tomato, etc. The Spanish canning companies offer a broad range of products, in many cases more than 100.
Another area with a longstanding canning tradition is the Cádiz coastline (Andalusia) at the southernmost tip of Spain, where the waters are very rich in top-quality tuna and where the fishing tradition and the skills still in use today date back to the Phoenicians. The canning sector here stems from Roman times, and ruins in several Roman towns in the area testify to flourishing fish-preserving activity. The fishing method used for thousands of years for catching the tuna which cross the Strait of Gibraltar in summer, when they are at peak condition, is called the almadraba or trap-net system. There are three varieties of canned almadraba tuna - belly, tarantello and trunk - usually with olive oil.
Canned tuna can be consumed directly as a tapa or used in a multitude of food ways - in salads, omelets, with pasta, etc.