The secret ingredient you should be adding to your tuna salad

While some might find tuna salad a bit on the boring side, reminiscent of sad school sack lunches featuring stinky sandwiches on soggy bread, others consider it to be the ultimate comfort food. Especially when it's smothered in a blanket of melted cheddar or Swiss cheese, perhaps a tomato slice, and served on rye bread — presto, it's a tuna melt! If you're a member of Team Tuna, you may be interested to learn there's a secret ingredient (really, really secret, as in nobody will ever guess it's there) that will absolutely improve your tuna salad to the point where even tuna salad detractors might want to rethink their anti-tuna stance.

This might sound a little weird at first, but the one secret ingredient your tuna salad really needs, is... sugar. Yes, really. An editor with HuffPost found a recipe for tuna salad, complete with sugar, in an issue of Cook's Country magazine and decided to give it a try. What this editor found out was that just a little bit of sugar (half a teaspoon for three five-ounce cans of tuna) could work wonders when it came to making tuna just a bit less fishy-tasting. Adding sweet pickle relish to tuna salad, which is something quite a few people already do, works along these same lines.  

It's not really that crazy a combo

Sugar and fish? You may be thinking that sounds really weird and more than a little gross. Unless, of course, you're a big fan of Asian snacks such as Tazukuri (Japanese candied sardines) or Filipino sweet pusit adobo, made with squid, soy sauce, and sugar. Sugared fish is a thing in Europe as well, as the most popular method in Sweden for preparing the cured salmon known as gravlax involves using a blend of sugar and salt (via Food 52).

Still not convinced? Well, surely you believe the cooking experts at America's Test Kitchen, don't you? A YouTube video of theirs offers tips to make your pan-roasted fish "beautifully browned," and tip number two is to sprinkle a little sugar on your fish fillet before cooking it. The sugar will allow the surface of the fish to caramelize at a temperature of about 100 degrees lower than where it would do so on its own. This not only gives the fish a nice, crispy crust but keeps the interior moist and tender. 

While they weren't exactly making tuna salad sandwiches, the point stands that sugar added to fish does not necessarily equal weirdness, and it is completely suitable for your tuna salad.

Other not-so-secret ingredients to upgrade your tuna salad

Tuna salad actually lends itself to all manner of little tweaks and extras. Some add chopped celery, others prefer pickles. Chopped carrots work well, as do jalapenos for those who like things on the spicier side. Cilantro and lime can add some southwestern flair, and sriracha gives your tuna salad a spicy-sweet sensation. If you're looking to turn that tuna salad into a protein powerhouse, you couldn't do better than to add some chopped hard-boiled eggs. A can of tuna on its own has about 40 grams of protein, and each egg you add will boost the protein total by six more grams.

Canned tuna tends to be fairly inexpensive, so it's often considered to be a staple of meals where frugal cooks try to make tasty (or not-so-tasty) dishes out of the cheapest ingredients. Expert penny pinchers, however, know it's always possible to squeeze that last dime just a little bit harder, so they've come up with some ingenious ways to stretch a single can of tuna into multiple servings with the addition of an extra ingredient. The Fountain Avenue Kitchen blog suggests that a few cups of chopped cabbage (which itself is one of the least expensive veggies) can make a tuna salad go a lot farther, while readers of the Creative Savvy blog contributed tuna salad-stretching ideas which included the addition of rice, pasta, mashed chickpeas, chopped apple, textured vegetable protein, or even dry oatmeal.

​Mayo alternatives for tuna salad

If you're at all health-conscious, the most troubling aspect of a typical tuna salad has to be the hefty dose of mayo needed to keep it together. While some choose to skip the mayonnaise altogether, this gives you a different kind of tuna salad, one that's more like a salad which happens to be topped with tuna, such as a nicoise. Nice, but not really the kind of thing you can make into a melt. If you want to ditch the Hellman's, you could always try making your own mayonnaise, which might not be much better nutritionally but could be much tastier (and it would be sure to make Martha proud). The healthiest option, however, might be to switch out the mayo for Greek yogurt, either plain or lemon-flavored.

No matter how you dress up your tuna salad, don't forget to add that special, secret ingredient — sugar. You won't be sorry, and you'll probably never make it your "regular" way again.