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Should I drain the canned tuna?

Whether or not to drain the liquid from canned tuna is a common question for home cooks. The liquid inside the can is called tuna packing liquid or tuna broth. Some people find it unappealing and drain it immediately, while others keep it for added flavor. There are pros and cons to draining or keeping the liquid that are explored in this article.

What is tuna packing liquid?

Tuna packing liquid, also called tuna juice, tuna broth, or tuna water, refers to the liquid inside the can that the tuna is packed in. When tuna is canned, it is cooked while raw and then sealed in the can with the liquid it was cooked in. This liquid essentially becomes a tuna broth during the cooking process.

The main components of tuna packing liquid are:

  • Water or oil from cooking the tuna
  • Juices that are extracted from the tuna during cooking
  • Added ingredients like salt, flavorings, or preservatives

The liquid varies in color from clear to cloudy brown and has the flavor of cooked tuna. Many brands also add salt, vegetable broth, or soybean oil to the canning liquid.

Should you drain or keep the liquid?

Whether or not to drain the tuna liquid comes down to personal preference. Here are some pros and cons to consider:

Pros of draining the liquid:

  • Removes excess sodium, fat, and preservatives
  • Prevents tuna salads or sandwiches from getting watery
  • Ideal if using tuna in a recipe not calling for liquid
  • Provides a “cleaner” tuna flavor

Cons of draining the liquid:

  • Loses added flavor from broth ingredients
  • Can dry out the tuna, making it flaky
  • Wastes some of the protein and nutrients in the liquid

Pros of keeping the liquid:

  • Retains moisture to prevent dry, flaky tuna
  • Adds extra protein and nutrients from the broth
  • Provides more flavor from cooking liquid
  • Needed for some recipes like tuna casserole or tuna noodle dish

Cons of keeping the liquid:

  • Can make tuna salads or sandwiches watery
  • Adds extra sodium, fat, and preservatives
  • Alters flavor of tuna in recipes not intended for broth

Overall, keeping or draining the liquid comes down to your taste preferences and how you intend to use the tuna. Many recipes will specify drained or undrained tuna.

Nutrition differences in drained vs undrained tuna

Draining or keeping the tuna packing liquid can impact its nutritional value. Here is a comparison:

Nutrient 3 oz drained tuna 3 oz undrained tuna
Calories 93 108
Fat 1g 2g
Sodium 262mg 327mg
Protein 21g 22g

As shown, undrained tuna contains more calories, fat, sodium, and protein. Draining removes about 15 calories, 1g fat, and 65mg sodium per 3 oz serving. However, it also loses about 1g protein.

Whether this nutritional difference matters depends on your dietary needs. People limiting sodium or fat intake may want to drain tuna. Those wanting higher protein or calories may prefer to keep the packing liquid.

When should you drain or keep the liquid?

In most cases, the recipe you use will specify whether to drain the tuna or keep the liquid. But in general:

Drain tuna when:

  • Making tuna salads, sandwiches, or wraps
  • Adding to pasta salads or grain bowls
  • Used in baked dishes like tuna casserole or tuna patties
  • Cooking tuna steaks or tuna in oil/spices
  • Marinating raw tuna like for poke bowls
  • Prefer less sodium or fat in diet

Keep tuna liquid when:

  • Making creamy tuna noodle casserole
  • Adding to soups, chowders, or fish stews
  • Making tuna melts or hot open-faced sandwiches
  • Preparing tuna wonton soup
  • Want extra protein and nutrients from liquid
  • Need moisture to prevent dry tuna

Follow recipe instructions or use your best judgment based on the flavor and texture you want in your dish. Add liquid to coat drier tuna when needed.

Tips for draining tuna

If you opt to drain your canned tuna, here are some tips:

  • Open can and pour contents into colander in sink
  • Let liquid drain for 2-3 minutes, shaking colander to remove excess
  • Transfer drained tuna to bowl, breaking up large chunks
  • Rinse tuna under cool water for 30 seconds to remove residual sodium
  • Gently press tuna with paper towels to absorb excess moisture
  • Use hands to flake tuna to desired texture

Draining over the sink prevents liquid mess. Rinsing removes extra sodium and flavors for a milder taste. Paper towels absorb excess moisture so tuna isn’t watery. Flaking by hand prevents dry, crumbly tuna.

Can you save and reuse the liquid?

The tuna packing liquid contains nutrients and added flavor, so you may wonder if you can save and reuse it after draining the tuna. There are a few ways to reuse it:

  • In tuna casseroles or pasta: Adds moisture and maritime flavor
  • In seafood soups or chowders: Provides fish broth base
  • Reduced into glaze: Cook until thickened into sauce
  • Added to rice: Enhances flavor of rice or grain side dishes
  • Used to cook grains or beans: Adds subtle tuna taste

If reusing liquid, transfer it to an airtight container and refrigerate up to 4 days or freeze up to 3 months. Avoid using if smelling or looking spoiled.


Whether to drain or keep tuna packing liquid comes down to your recipe needs and personal taste. Draining removes excess sodium, fat, and wateriness while keeping the liquid provides more protein, nutrients and moisture. Follow recipe cues or make your choice based on your nutritional needs and the flavor you prefer. Reuse the liquid to add tasty tuna flavor into soups, casseroles and sides. With some simple tips, you can easily drain canned tuna and use it how you desire in your cooking.