Tinned fish is the latest social media obsession (have you heard about the tinned fish date night trend on TikTok?) and it goes way beyond tuna. Here’s a look at the rise of this old-school food.
Your local market’s canned fish shelf looks a lot different these days. Bumble Bee and Chicken of the Sea have been pushed aside to make way for gourmet brands such as Fishwife, Patagonia Provisions, Matiz, Scout, and many more. These colorful tins contain a wide variety of seafood, along with the typical cans of tuna, salmon, and clams.
According to Adam Bent, co-founder and CEO of Scout Canning in Vancouver, the trend began in 2018, when fancy tins imported from Europe made their way onto wine bar menus. This pairing has been popular on the Iberian Peninsula for years, most likely because the oil in tinned fish balances acidity of wine. From there, the cans trickled into boutique grocers, and in 2020, when everyone was stocking up on pantry foods and spending too much time on TikTok, fancy tinned fish became more accessible and more popular than ever.
Gen Z consumers, in particular, have embraced tinned fish on social media. Chef and TikTok creator Ali Hooke (@alihooke) started a series “Tinned Fish Date Night,” where she and her husband add a few tins to a charcuterie board and teach viewers about flavor profiles. Her most popular spread (with over 4.5 million views) included three tins—grilled octopus, sardines packed with chorizo, and fried mussels—alongside tomatoes, pickled mustard seeds, green olives, toasted bread, and hot sauce.
If you didn’t grow up eating tinned fish (or only ate tuna drowned in mayo), trying new varieties—especially those with bones or skin—can be daunting. Start by adding a tin to your own charc board, such as canned salmon, and work up to sardines. Some options are preserved in condiments (like a garlicky escabeche or tomato-paprika sauce), which help take a step out of prep.
“It’s very laissez-faire cuisine. You can create a plate with some toast and olives and have a quick meal without needing to wash any pots or pans,” explains Bent. Tinned fish is also nutritious—a good source of healthy fats, collagen, protein, and vitamins A, B, and E. If you have the option between bone-in or boneless sardines, pick the former: They have four times the amount of calcium (the bones are soft and edible).
Beacon Pantry, Golden Russet Café & Grocery in Rhinebeck, and Kingston’s Black-Eyed Suzie’s Upstate are just a few of the many local shops with great selections, but chains like Trader Joe’s, Whole Foods, and DeCicco Family Markets in New City and Westchester have a lot of options. “Once you get into it, it’s fun to nerd out on all these beautiful products, almost like wine and craft beer enthusiasts,” says Bent, “The trend is definitely here to stay.”