Escolar vs Tuna: The Key Differences

Written by Colby Maxwell
Published: May 5, 2022
© J nel/
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Fish is an important food source for humans globally. Among the most common species of fish that humans eat is the tuna, but did you know that you may be getting scammed at restaurants? Escolar is a common fish that can be found all over the world and is consumed quite regularly. What many people do not know, however, is that they may think they are buying tuna but are actually buying escolar. Today, we are going to be explaining the differences between the two to see what makes them unique. Let’s compare the escolar vs the tuna!

Comparing an Escolar vs a Tuna

Escolar and tuna differ in appearance, culinary uses, and the health risks associated with eating them.
SizeLength: up to 7 feet
Weight: 99 lbs
Length: 1 foot to 15 feet, depending on the species.
Weight: 4 lbs to 1,500 lbs, depending on the species.
AppearanceDark brown or black. Long, sleek fish with small fins on the back half of the body.Varies from species to species, but are generally sleek fish with two dorsal fins and distinct pectoral fins. Often metallic in color.
Health effectsCan cause keriorrhea, resulting in loose stool and stomach cramping.Occasional risk of mercury poisoning when eaten in large quantities.
Culinary usesOften deceptively sold as “white tuna”.Canning, sashimi, sushi, steaks, fillets, and more.
SpeciesLepidocybium flavobrunneum8 true tuna, plus 7 additional tuna species.

The Key Differences Between an Escolar and a Tuna

The key differences between a tuna and an escolar are appearance, health effects, and culinary uses.

Escolar is a commonly found fish that goes by many names, including walu, waloo, oilfish, butterfish, super white tuna, and snake mackerel. These fish are members of the mackerel family and are caught all over the world, either as bycatch or through rod and reel. The escolar is known for its buttery flesh and oil content, giving it a few of its common names. Escolars aren’t able to process the wax from the foods they eat, resulting in a higher fat content in their flesh. As a result, overconsumption of escolar can result in a digestive issue known as keriorrhea.

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Tuna is a diverse group of fish that encompass a total of 15 unique species. They can be as small as a few pounds (like the bullet tuna) or weigh close to a ton (like the Atlantic bluefin). Almost every species of tuna has some usage as food, each with its own price point. In fact, the Atlantic bluefin is one of the most expensive fish in the world, with some fish selling for as much as $3.1 million at auction.

People often confuse these two fish because of deceptive marketing. As a result, people often experience dietary issues as a complication of eating escolar while thinking it is tuna. Additionally, these two fish share some physical similarities, adding to the confusion.

Let’s compare what makes the escolar and tuna unique!

Escolar vs Tuna: Size

Escolar Fish
Escolar is a large fish, growing up to seven feet in length in most cases.

©Unknown author / public domain

Escolars are large fish, often growing up to 7 feet in length. They are quite sleek and snakelike, a trait seen in their common name, “snake mackerel.” Full-grown escolars usually weigh around 99 lbs, but they can be slightly larger or smaller.

Tuna is a group of fish, meaning there isn’t a single measurement that they share. Within the group, there is quite a bit of diversity. The smallest species of tuna is known as the bullet tuna and can grow to a foot in length and weigh up to four pounds or so. On the top end of the scale is where things get really interesting, however. The largest species of tuna is the Atlantic bluefin. These truly massive fish can grow to 15 feet long and weigh up to 1,500 lbs. As such, they are among the largest ray-finned fish in the world.

Escolar vs Tuna: Appearance

Escolar vs Tuna
Tuna are blue, silver, and yellow.

©Al McGlashan/

Escolars are long, thin fish that turn from dark brown to black as they age. They have a jutting lower jaw, large eyes, and small triangular fins behind the large dorsal and anal fins.

The different species of tuna have different appearances, but there are some generalities between them all. Tuna are fast fish with streamlined bodies and metallic scales. They can come in shades of silver, gray, dark blue, and even yellow, but it mostly depends upon the species. Additionally, tuna usually have a darker upper half and a lighter lower half, with some species even having a distinct line separating the two halves of their body.

Escolar vs Tuna: Health Effects

Escolar vs Tuna
Escolars can cause digestive issues when consumed.


Escolars aren’t able to metabolize the waxy substances that they ingest through their prey. As a result, the wax is stored in their tissues and is passed on to whatever eats the fish. Generally, a portion of six ounces will result in a digestive condition known as keriorrhea. The resulting symptoms include loose stool, rapid bowel movements, and stomach cramping. Some reports show that eating small portions near the tail reduces wax intake, but the hazard is still present. Italy and Japan have banned the sale of escolar, with Japan even classifying it as toxic.

Tuna is well known for having high levels of mercury contained within its flesh. As a result, most people know to only ingest tuna occasionally since mercury can take up to a year to exit the body. Although almost all tuna has mercury content, skipjack tuna has the lowest due to its short lifespan. Skipjack is often marketed as “light tuna” or “chunk” tuna.

Escolar vs Tuna: Culinary Uses

Escolar vs Tuna
Tuna is a widely consumed fish.


Escolar is used around the world in the kitchen, despite its dietary risks. It is most commonly consumed as sashimi or in sushi. There is quite a bit of marketing that can confuse a consumer, however. Restaurants often sell “super white” tuna, although what they are really selling is escolar. In fact, a study in 2009 went into nine restaurants in New York City and Denver that all claimed to sell “white tuna.” Of the nine, five were intentionally mislabeling their “white tuna” and were actually selling escolar.

Tuna is a widely consumed fish, with each species having its own use cases in food. In the United States, skipjack and albacore tuna are used in canning, with the two species making up 90% of all canned tuna sold. Yellowfin and bigeye are sold in supermarkets as steaks and in restaurants as sashimi and sushi. Bluefin is rarely seen outside of high-profile dining as it commands an incredibly high price. Most bluefins are sold as sashimi or nigiri.

Escolar vs Tuna: Species


  • Lepidocybium flavobrunneum

True tuna

  • Bluefin group
    • T. alalunga, albacore
    • T. maccoyii, southern bluefin
    • T. obesus, bigeye
    • T. orientalis, Pacific bluefin
    • T. thynnus, Atlantic bluefin
  • Yellowfin group
    • T. atlanticus, blackfin
    • T. tonggol, longtail
    • T. albacares, yellowfin

Other tuna species:

  • Allothunnus fallai, slender tuna
  • Auxis rochei, bullet tuna
  • Auxis thazard, frigate tuna
  • Euthynnus affinis, mackeral tuna
  • Euthynnus alletteratus, little tunny
  • Euthynnus lineatus, black skipjack
  • Katsuwonus pelamis, skipjack

The Featured Image

Large tuna are attracted by the bait in the water, as are the sardines.
© J nel/

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About the Author

Colby is a freelance writer from Charlotte, North Carolina. When he isn't distracted by his backyard birdfeeder, you can find him camping, exploring, and telling everyone around him about what he's recently learned. There's a whole world to learn about and Colby is content to spend his life learning as much as he can about it!

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