Anyone who has the vaguest knowledge of marine biology or ichthyology knows the color of tuna meat – bright red. So when I tried a piece of white tuna off my friends chirashi platter a couple years back, I was curious what I was actually eating. I knew it wasn’t tuna, and I know that many many restaurants mislabel the fish they serve (even though its illegal). “Last year, 186 restaurants in the state were cited by the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation for mislabeling their fish, including 24 that involved tuna substitutions in sushi or sashimi.” You may never know what you’re actually eating, which is a bit frightening.

Anyhow, my friend Chris just sent me an article from the Sun Sentinel, which you can read HERE, about white tuna. Bascially, a class of Nova Southeastern University genetics students (under the direction of amazing scientist and friend of sharks, Mahmood Shivji) tested the species ID of white tuna from 10 local sushi restaurants and found 8/10 were not tuna at all, but actually a fish called escolar (see below). This fish is not even in the same family as tunas. Its meat is buttery and delicious, but many people experience diarrhea after eating it.

From a quick Wikipedia search: “Escolar cannot metabolize the wax esters (Gempylotoxin) naturally found in its diet. This gives the escolar an oil content of 14–25% in its flesh. These wax esters may cause gastrointestinal distress in humans called “steatorrhea”, the onset of which may occur between 30 minutes and 36 hours following consumption. Symptoms may include stomach cramps, bright orange oil in stool, diarrhea, headaches, nausea, vomiting, and anal leakage.” Ew. Also, “Because of the possible effects of consumption, escolar has been banned from consumption in Japan since 1977, as the Japanese government considers it toxic.” I think I’m done eating white tuna.

Photo from fda.gov can be found HERE.

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About Tricia

I am currently a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Miami studying the taste system of mammals. For my doctoral work at FAU, I studied olfaction in sharks and their relatives. I am a science geek who loves traveling and anything to do with the ocean!

10 responses »

  1. Tricia says:

    I agree. It was one of my favorites too! Just to be consumed in moderation, apparently. :)

  2. Shawn Bierau says:

    I have eaten ‘White Tuna’ on several occasions and never had an issue.
    It should not smell fishy at all, should taste very clean, buttery, almost do not have to chew it. Oddly one of my favorites.

  3. Tricia says:

    It’s nice to know that at least some of the people in charge of what is served in restaurants are conscientious of these issues. Also, the status of the escolar stocks haven’t yet been properly evaluate, but they are being fished like crazy – surely a recipe for success…

    I remember talking with you about a fish you serve called basa, or pangasius. I just looked again and its stocks have been evaluated. they have been classified as a species of least concern. In other words, the harvest of that species is sustainable for now and they are a responsible choice to serve and eat!

  4. Uncle Tim says:

    I always avoid Escolar or white tuna sushi. I hear people often complain that they got food poisoning from eating sushi recently. When purchasing fish for my restaurant I had the opportunity to buy Escolar known as “white tuna”. I researched it a bit and there it was, the correlation between sushi and frequeny complaints of diarrhea. Apparently the Escolar’s diet contains food high in wax esters which the fish has difficulty digesting causing a build up in the flesh. The diarrhea is referred to by experts as “keriorrhoea”, literally translated it means ‘flow of wax’. (Oily orange droplets pouring out your pooper)- sorry. Keriorrhoea occurs because the wax esters in the flesh of the fish pool up in your intestine. Escolar is sometimes mislabeled as Albacore and various others. I tried to input an cool illustration of the mislabeling but will e-mail it to you instead.

  5. Tricia says:

    Definitely delicious!! I was just always curious what the heck I was eating because, as a fish biologist, I know no actual tuna has white meat.

  6. Renob Henderson says:

    I can say one thing about Escolar, it’s VERY buttery and good raw. Just don’t over eat it.

  7. Tricia says:

    I know! That’s exactly what I thought when I saw a picture of escolar…. Maybe even the reason they started calling it tuna in the first place? Glad you liked the blog! Its good for my family to keep tabs on me. :)

  8. Tricia says:

    They also say that many restaurants substitute cheaper fish for what they label as snapper and grouper. Maybe I’m delusional, but I feel like knowing about fish a little bit, I could determine whether the fish I’m served was at least from the same family as what they call it. But if they gave me Bonita instead of yellowfin, I probably couldn’t tell to look at it.

  9. Christine Bedore says:

    kinda weird, that escolar actually looks a little tuna-ish. and pretty bad if japan of all places has outlawed this fish….good decision to stay away from the white tuna

    nice blog by the way, i don’t think i’ve seen it since you first started it with the manatee photos! i’ll have to check it out more often

  10. Is it only white tuna that’s being substituted?

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