Food & Health

For Tinned Fish Obsessives, ‘Affordable Luxury’ Comes in a Can

Last month, Robert McGinnis came across a series of TikTok videos about tinned fish featuring people holding handfuls of colorful cans, opening them and paring them on charcuterie boards.

Recipe: Green Anchovy Butter

Anchovies are a natural introduction to the world of tinned fish because they’re already an ingredient in other popular dishes like Caesar salad. This green anchovy butter has many uses on steak, vegetables and as a spread.Credit…Armando Rafael for The New York Times. Food Stylist: Cyd Raftus McDowell.

Mr. McGinnis was so intrigued that the next morning he went out and spent about $60 on about 30 tins to try himself. Then, he turned his quest into a series of tasting videos on TikTok to help others navigate the broad world of tinned fish.

“I’ve had tuna all my life, and some of those flavors looked incredible,” said Mr. McGinnis, 34, of Orlando. Since he began posting videos on Aug. 19, he’s tasted more than 80 kinds of tinned fish, from sardines in mustard to barnacles in brine. “It was a whole new world that was exciting, with new flavors to try.”

Since the pandemic, Americans like Mr. McGinnis have added more canned fish to their diets, even though the tins have been popular elsewhere for centuries.

TikTok has fueled interest, with videos for tinned fish date nights, reviews and meals. Restaurants are adding it to menus, a tinned fish market opened in Times Square and there are now vegan options, subscription services and cookbooks. Tinned fish brands like Scout have said they’ve seen a bump in sales after being featured on TikTok. Their products are now in 6,000 stores in the United States and Canada, up from 1,500. Many brands sell cans for as low as about $2, but some enthusiasts are willing to pay more than $20 a tin.

The Fantastic World of the Portuguese Sardine store, which sells various types of tinned fish, opened in August in Times Square.Credit…Lisa Corson for The New York Times

Ali Hooke began posting her tinned fish date nights to the social media platform last year. She opens up a few cans from her collection of more than 200 tins and arranges them on a board along with toasted sourdough, cheeses and pickled mustard seeds.

“It really just spurred out of the need for quality time together,” said Ms. Hooke, 32, who lives in Seattle with her husband, Sathya Prakash, and their toddler, Alden.

Both economical and convenient, tinned seafood fits into a shift in eating habits for many who are turning snacks into meals, said Anna Hezel, the author of “Tin to Table: Fancy, Snacky Recipes for Tin-thusiasts and A-fish-ionados.” “Tinned seafood is an approachable form of luxury,” she said.

Designs on the tins, similar to the art on craft beer cans, also contribute to the appeal. They make excellent travel souvenirs, Ms. Hezel said, because they typically cost less than a bottle of wine and take up less luggage space.

People are also interested in the seafood’s umami flavors and the sustainability of the canned fish, said Nick Pontacoloni and Anastasia Pontacoloni, the husband and wife who run Tinned Fish Club, a subscription box service for imported canned seafood. A monthly membership for the annual subscription is $30.

“It gives you an identity,” said Mrs. Pontacoloni, adding that she ate canned fish at parties as a child in Ukraine. “A lot of people are willing to pay more and appreciate the weird.”

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