Oil boom — Americans catching on to health ingredient's benefits, versatility

Published: Wednesday, May 16 2007 12:43 a.m. MDT

But don't forget the fat and calories. A 2-ounce serving of oil-packed Genoa tuna, drained, is 130 calories, with 70 of those calories coming from fat. By comparison, a 2-ounce serving of water-packed tuna is 70 calories, with five of those calories from fat. Most people don't drain off the olive oil that's in the can; they toss it in with the pasta or use it in a salad instead of adding extra oil for a dressing. (Considering the price, this tuna isn't really meant for cream-of-mushroom soup casseroles.)

"The most common use is to take nice greens, squeeze a little lemon juice over it and top it with tuna, right out of the can," said Caputo.

Kalyn Denny, a West Bountiful schoolteacher who writes a food blog called Kalyn's Kitchen, got wind of the trend while reading other food blogs.

"It made me realize there was a whole world of tuna I didn't know about," she wrote in her blog. "Did I love the Italian tuna packed in olive oil, even though it was a lot more expensive than the cans I usually buy at Costco? My wallet is sorry to report that I took one bite and never looked back."

"We've carried this product in a variety of brands and sizes for a long time, and we have a strong demand for it in our retail markets," said Alan Marshall, warehouse manager at Granato's Importing Co.

In the United States, most of the oil-packed tuna contains soybean or vegetable oil. But to keep up with the trend, Chicken of the Sea sells an olive-oil packed, premium yellowfin tuna under the label Genova. The name, as well as the packaging, gives the false impression that it just came off the boat from Italy. But, on the bright side, the Genova product is priced at a more reasonable $2.49 per 6-ounce can.

One brand, Angelo Parodi, enjoyed an almost cult-like following. "But the demand became so high that they have stopped shipping to America anymore, because there's not enough fish to meet the demand," said Caputo, who still has a few cans hidden away. "They said they are going to take care of their European market first."

Caputo said the Angelo Parodi label was prized because it only contained ventresca, the meat from the center of the tuna's belly, which is considered the best. Other factors that are likely to raise the price: if the tuna is yellowfin or white meat; if the tuna is in large, solid strips rather than chunks; and if it was caught by the hook-and-line method instead of with a net.

"The common method for harvesting is with a net, so the fish get a lot of lactic acid buildup and the flesh is more acidic," Caputo said. "If it's hook-and-line-caught, the flesh is also supposed to be softer."

For instance, the 7-ounce, $9.95 glass jar of Callipo's solid light yellowfin tuna from Italy has four large, chunky strips of meat and is certified to be hook-and-line-caught. Spain's Ormaza brand Bonito del Norte, which features solid chunks of white meat tuna, runs around $4.49 for a 2-ounce can.

"When people ask if they're insane to spend $4 on a can of tuna, we tell them if you don't think it's worth it, we'll give you your money back," said Caputo. "And then they come back and fill up a whole cart full of it. I have been really surprised at what the Salt Lake market will support."

MACADAMIA CRUNCHERS

2/3 cup pure or light olive oil

1 1/2 cups powdered sugar

2/3 cup brown sugar, packed

3 tablespoons milk

1 large egg

2 large egg whites

1 1/2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract

1 teaspoon butter extract

2 cups flour

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

3/4 cup macadamia nuts, chopped

1 cup crispy rice cereal

1 cup vanilla baking chips

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Coat cookie sheet with olive oil cooking spray.