Ahi Tuna vs Yellowfin Tuna: What are the Differences?

Written by Colby Maxwell
Updated: November 10, 2022
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Tuna is one of the most widely caught and consumed fish on the planet. Even still, many people don’t know that there are different types of tuna, all with their own habitat, appearance, and culinary uses! Two of the most widely confused terms for tuna are ‘ahi and yellowfin. Today, we are going to be talking about both of these words, plus learn a bit about the fish themselves. Let’s discover: ‘Ahi Tuna vs Yellowfin Tuna,’ what’s the difference?

Is there a difference between ‘ahi tuna and yellowfin tuna?

Ahi Tuna vs Yellowfin Tuna

‘Ahi and yellowfin tuna are often thought of as different fish, but they are actually different names for the same thing.

©Al McGlashan/Shutterstock.com

Ahi tuna and yellowfin tuna are different names for the same fish.

Language is an interesting thing and part of what makes cultures so different! Still, those differences can sometimes result in a misunderstanding of the meaning behind something. As it stands, ‘ahi and yellowfin tuna are confusing words, mostly because of differences in language.

Yellowfin tuna is a large fish that belongs to the true tuna family. Their scientific name is Thunnus albacares, and they are an important food source for people all over the world. When fully mature, a yellowfin tuna can grow to truly massive sizes. There have been documented catches of yellowfin tuna that weigh upwards of 400 lbs! Like all tuna, yellowfin are apex predators in their environment and are highly adapted for speed.

Different cultures have different names for things, and ‘ahi is an example of that! ‘Ahi is simply the Hawaiian word used to describe yellowfin tuna. Native Hawaiians have been using yellowfin as a food source for generations. These fish play an important role economically and as a resource for Hawaiians, as well as people all over the world.

Still, that’s only part of the story. While yellowfin tuna (the English word) only refers to one species of tuna, ‘ahi actually refers to two. ‘Ahi includes yellowfin tuna as well as bigeye tuna, both unique species that are used for food today. Let’s explore a bit more about these tuna (plus the words we label them with).

Where does the word ‘ahi come from?

‘Ahi is a Hawaiian word that encompasses two types of Hawaiian fish, the yellowfin and the bigeye tuna. Although most people use ‘ahi to exclusively refer to the yellowfin, that isn’t always the case, especially when buying or eating ‘ahi on a Hawaiin island. In most supermarkets and grocery stores, however, ‘ahi almost always refers to yellowfin tuna.

What is the difference between yellowfin and a bigeye tuna?

Ahi Tuna vs Yellowfin Tuna

Yellowfin tuna have yellow striping down their bodies and bigeye tuna are more cold-water adapted.

©Al McGlashan/Shutterstock.com

Now that we know that ‘ahi and yellowfin are the same, let’s take a closer look at the two tuna species within ‘ahi. These two species are the yellowfin and bigeye tuna.

Yellowfin tuna are large tuna that are widely caught and sold around the world. These tuna live around the world in tropical and subtropical oceans, primarily in the pelagic zone. They get their name from the distinct yellow color across their long fins on the top and bottom of their bodies.

Bigeye tuna is closely related to the yellowfin but is classified as its own species. Both species are found worldwide, but bigeye has a special adaptation that allows them to tolerate colder waters with less oxygen. As a result, they are usually found in deep and cold waters. They are of similar sizes to the yellowfin, with some individuals growing larger than 390 lbs. Bigeyes get their name from their large eyes that allow them to see in low-light conditions.

What are the different uses for yellowfin and bigeye tuna?

Since both of these tuna species are found all over the world, they are found in a number of dishes as well.

Yellowfin tuna is often regarded as the most versatile tuna in the world. The flesh is mild and firm and used in a variety of popular dishes. Although it does come in a can, cheaper tuna like skipjack and albacore are most commonly used. You can find yellowfin in grocery stores, usually, as a steak meant for grilling or searing. Additionally, it’s a leaner and milder tasting fish than the bluefin and bigeye, making it more palatable for the average western consumer. Yellowfin is also considered sushi-grade tuna and is often found in sashimi, especially as a cheaper alternative to bluefin.

Bigeye tuna is a firm fish with a dark red color. People describe this fish as fatty and flavorful with a superb texture. When compared to the yellowfin, bigeye is quite a bit more expensive but is still cheaper than the bluefin. Bigeye is often used in sashimi, with a single serving often costing upwards of $20. They also carry bigeye steaks in the grocery store, but they will run a pretty penny.

In Hawaii, ‘ahi is an important ingredient for poke. Poke is a national dish that literally translates to cut crosswise into pieces. The dish is usually made up of chopped fish, most often ‘ahi of either species, onions, soy sauce, and sesame oil.

Is ‘ahi tuna found all over the world?

Although ‘ahi is a Hawaiian word, people use it when referring to the two species of tuna all the time. Since both species were (and are) so important to native Hawaiians, Hawaiian culture is often associated with the fish no matter where you are in the world. Today, Hawaiians catch both types of tuna, mostly by rod and reel, to sell fresh to restaurants all over the islands.

Aside from Hawaii, both the yellowfin and the bigeye tuna can be found all over the world. They are regularly used in cuisines and are a highly sought fish, no matter where you are.

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The photo featured at the top of this post is © Al McGlashan/Shutterstock.com

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About the Author

Colby is a writer at A-Z Animals primarily covering outdoors, unique animal stories, and science news. Colby has been writing about science news and animals for five years and holds a bachelor's degree from SEU. A resident of NYC, you can find him camping, exploring, and telling everyone about what birds he saw at his local birdfeeder.

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