What Ingredients Actually Make Up Vegan Tuna?

Vegan fish is still a little bit of a mystery — we know all the ingredients are plant-based (so you won't get that fishy smell), but as brands are coming out with new formulas all the time, it can be hard to nail down exactly what they are. Tuna is no exception. While there are a few staple ingredients that show up repeatedly on product labels, the exact recipes vary by brand (and by home cook).

Some of the most common sources of protein in store-bought vegan tuna include soy, lentil, faba, and pea proteins. If you're unfamiliar, faba protein comes from faba beans — it's a complete protein that's also high in iron. In grocery store vegan tuna, you'll also often see plant-based staples like chickpea flour, navy bean flour, and sunflower and olive oil. To mimic the oceanic flavors, cans typically include seaweed or seaweed powder, garlic powder, sea salt, yeast extract, and algal oil. In addition, yeast extract brings salty and umami flavors, while algal oil is an algae derivative and a vegan way to get omega-3 fatty acids.

Ingredients to make vegan tuna at home

When whipping up vegan tuna at home, you may not have access to specialty ingredients like algal oil and yeast extract. However, this shouldn't stop you from making delicious plant-based fish. There are a few fruits you may not expect that can make delicious vegan tuna, like tomatoes and watermelon. The key with both of them is to add seasonings and other ingredients to transform the flavor of your fruit, such as sea salt, onion, ginger, red pepper flakes, lime, white miso paste, toasted sesame oil, green onions, soy sauce, and rice vinegar. Watermelon on its own doesn't taste very tuna-like, but if you marinate and bake it, you'll get a fishy taste and texture. These fruits will give you a tuna that ends up looking more like something you'd find at a sushi restaurant, however. 

If you're looking to make a tuna salad that seems like it uses the fish out of the can, make like the store-bought versions and start off with a chickpea base. After you've mashed them up and stirred in some vegan mayo (or hummus), add some sea-inspired ingredients like soy sauce, chopped-up seaweed, nutritional yeast, and capers. Then include some additions that you might find in a regular tuna salad, like celery, red onion, mustard, and lemon. You'll get fishy flavors, without the actual tuna.