I tried Future Farm's vegan 'future tuna' - but how does it stack up to the real thing?

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Environment and sustainability specialist Amber Allott puts vegan tuna sandwiches to the test

When I was five years old and first started primary school, my mum tells me tuna fish sandwiches were my absolute favourite lunchbox go-to.

However, my tuna days were short-lived. Another student told me they were smelly, and I adamantly refused to ever bring one to school again. I stopped eating meat when I was about 12 years old, and so it's been quite some time since I've had a good, old-fashioned tuna sandwich.

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I grew up in a small town on New Zealand's West Coast, and meat substitutes were thin on the ground. In fact, a few tofu-based sausage varieties and tins of "nutmeat" were all we had at the local supermarket for quite some time.

These products have come a long way since I first went vegetarian, but when I moved to the UK last year the variety was simply mind-boggling. Pepperoni for pizza, deli-slices of turkey and pastrami, meatless (and eggless) scotch eggs, 'lamb' kebabs, and entire briskets - all without a shred of meat in them.

So, I've decided to put some of these products to the test - starting with Future Farm's 'Future Tvna'. As well as sampling them myself, I've recruited some of my meat-eating friends to try them too - to see how they stack up.

How does Future Farm's vegan 'future tuna' compare to the real thing? (Image: NationalWorld/Amber Allott/Getty Images)How does Future Farm's vegan 'future tuna' compare to the real thing? (Image: NationalWorld/Amber Allott/Getty Images)
How does Future Farm's vegan 'future tuna' compare to the real thing? (Image: NationalWorld/Amber Allott/Getty Images) | NationalWorld/Amber Allott/Getty Images

The taste test

Future Farm's 'future tvna' is completely fish-free, while also containing no gluten.

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Instead, the plant-based flakes are made up of soy, chickpea, and pea proteins. The first thing I noticed when opening the packet was its strong, savoury smell - which was pretty convincingly fishy. This likely came from some of the flavouring elements added to the mix, which include a microalgae oil, salt, radish powder, and onion.

I mixed the ready-to-eat flakes through with vegan mayo, and added it to wholemeal bread with a handful of rocket and a dash of hot sauce. For me, it was an instant winner - the texture was great and it had a great umami flavour (honestly the hot sauce really bumped it up to the next level). I'd rate the whole thing an easy 8/10 - and I'd be more than happy to have it again, perhaps even in a sushi roll next time.

I also recruited my meat-eating partner Kiwa to give it a go. While he said the texture was pretty spot-on compared to actual tuna, it lacked the "fishy" ocean flavour of real seafood, he found. He gave it a 5/10 - although he admits tuna mayo is not his favourite sandwich combination at the best of times.

The cost at the till

A common gripe with plant-based meat substitutes is the comparative cost to actual meat products, and with much of the world gripped by a cost of living crisis (with food inflation playing a big part in that) the difference at the till makes a big difference to shoppers.

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Other vegan meat substitute producers have seen their sales plunge recently in response to this, with the BBC reporting Beyond Meat - a major player in the vegan meats game - saw sales fall by nearly a third for the three months to June, compared to the same time last year.

At my local Sainsbury's, a box of Future tvna set me back £2.90, with a single box containing 150 grams - enough for roughly two sandwiches. In comparison, a can of Sainsbury's own-brand tuna in spring water, weighing in at 145g, costs just 72p.

This makes the vegan alternative four times as expensive, although at less than three pounds, it's still not breaking the bank - and it is cheaper than a few of the more premium tuna products. Others on offer at Sainsbury's include John West tuna steak pots (110g) at £2, and Ortiz El Velero yellowfin tuna in olive oil (112g) at a whopping £3.85.

The vegan tuna substitute was quite a bit more expensive that the supermarket's own-brand canned tuna (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)The vegan tuna substitute was quite a bit more expensive that the supermarket's own-brand canned tuna (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images)
The vegan tuna substitute was quite a bit more expensive that the supermarket's own-brand canned tuna (Photo by JUSTIN TALLIS/AFP via Getty Images) | AFP via Getty Images

The cost to your body

Eating fish can have a lot of health benefits, including protein and Omega-3 fatty acids, an important building block for the human body, contributing to brain, eye and skin health.

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While I'm not enough of an expert to do a complete breakdown myself, the plant-based tuna also offers many of the same benefits. It's high in protein at 15g per 100g serving (compared to 23.7g per 100g for tinned tuna), and has two forms of added Omega-3 (183mg per 100g - admittedly quite a bit less than real fish).

It's worth noting the sodium level is also a little high compared to the Sainsbury's own-brand tuna in spring water at 1g per 100g (roughly 17% of your recommended daily intake), compared to 0.77g per 100g (or 14% of your RDI) for the actual fish - although this is not a huge difference.

The cost for the planet

The fishing industry, and tuna fishing in particular, has faced a lot of scrutiny for its environmental impact - a big part of why not eating meat is so important to me in the first place.

Between 75 and 86% of the plastics in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch are waste from the global fishing industry, studies show, while one WWF paper found the tuna fishing industry itself has a lot of room to improve its carbon footprint - with the bulk of its emissions coming from fuelling fishing boats, running canneries, and transporting products by air.

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Tuna are important animals, with the large fish being apex predators that shape entire ecosystems - and fishing for tuna has raised concerns about what it will mean for the oceans' biodiversity, especially if overfishing pushes their numbers down to dangerous levels.

The UK is poised to soon allow commercial fishing for bluefin tuna for the first time in 60 years - but environmentalists fear it may be too soon, with the fish only just returned to British waters after being hunted almost to extinction. Experts told i News the fishery would need to be managed with exceptional care, if it is to survive.

It is a little tricky to get specific info on future tvna in particular from the company's website, but it does not appear to be a locally produced product - which will increase its carbon footprint to account for transport costs.

However, the company itself has a strong environmental record, with its whole mission being to "change the way the world eats". It claims its future burger - also available at my local Sainsbury's - is 100% carbon neutral, and uses 89% less land, 96% less water, and 78% less energy than its beef counterpart to produce.

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The verdict

To me, I feel a meat-free tuna alternative is a win-win, and a product like this successfully navigates around a lot of the things that concern me about fishing for real-life tuna - while offering many of the same health benefits in somewhat lesser amounts.

The price is a bit of a concern. It was not prohibitively expensive for me. But the cost of living crisis is seeing grocery prices creep up for all of us, and it all adds up. For families on a budget, the cost - more on-par with perhaps a gourmet fish product - might just be too much to justify over a lower-cost canned tuna.

I am likely never going to change my mind about eating meat anyway, but it was amazing to be able to enjoy a childhood favourite - a tuna-esque sandwich which offers a very fishy flavour punch - once more.

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