Bluefin's a Sushi Nightmare. But Is So-Called Albacore Really the Answer?

Albacore or escolar? And how can you tell?
​We started reading Bon Appétit after Condé Nast began sending it as a sort of sop after Gourmet's demise. In the January issue, Andrew Knowlton addresses sustainable seafood at sushi restaurants, and in his most riveting turn of phrase, likens eating bluefin tuna -- "the holy grail of fish aficionados" -- to tucking into a panda steak. He suggests domestic albacore instead.

Bluefin is a controversial fish, simultaneously sought after and avoided around the world. Last week, Mark Rumminger of Berkeley-based blog Mental Masala popped up on The Ethicurean to pass along a big dose of tuna trouble. Rumminger highlighted someicky findings in a new paper by scientists from Columbia University and the American Museum of Natural History, who analyzed tuna sushi from 31 restaurants in New York City and Denver.

Among a litany of bluefin travesties (both the fish's protectors and avid consumers should be alarmed), the study reveals something particularly disturbing: Much of what passes for so-called "white tuna" -- albacore, typically -- is not tuna at all, but instead the very curious and somewhat threatening finned thing called escolar. Now, despite the vaguely sinister name (we think of a deceased Colombian drug lord), escolar happens to be a firm, fatty, deep-water ocean fish with an intense flavor and flesh the color of dirty snow. It bears little resemblance to the tuna it's often required to emulate.

We know because -- like you, perhaps -- we've eaten it, seared and drizzled with lemon and cumin brown butter. We suffered no adverse effects, though the wax esters in escolar have been known to cause keriorrhea, a collection of vile gastrointestinal woes on which food blogs -- in the interest of preserving appetites for upcoming holiday repasts -- should not elaborate on. Just keep this in mind this weekend, when you're wandering down to your neighborhood nigiri depot, desperate to sush-orcise all the prime rib you ate.

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