Why Does Tuna Salad Taste Different From The Deli?

Tuna salad wasn't created intentionally. No one walked into their kitchen one day, pulled tuna and mayo out of the fridge, and said, "I'm going to throw these ingredients together and call it tuna salad." (Although, if they did, that would be pretty innovative, wouldn't it?)

Instead, tuna salad was an accidental creation that came from a desire to be resourceful during economic tough times. In the 1800s, Americans would commonly throw together leftover bits of meat and veggies with mayo, slop it on some lettuce, and call it a salad, according to Smithsonian.

As time went on and women began to enter the workforce, they would stop for lunch at restaurants serving these same types of salads. To make the dish easier to eat on the go, says Taste Cooking, restaurants started serving it on bread. Voila: The tuna salad sandwich was born.

Of course, many Americans still enjoy tuna salad today. However, if you happen to pick some up from the deli rather than whipping up some homemade tuna salad, you might notice that it tastes a little different. But why is that the case?

Deli-style tuna salad takes time

Tuna salad aficionados know there are plenty of extra ingredients you can throw into a tuna salad. Some people swap celery for pickles, add carrots, or even include some jalapeños. Others add bits of hard-boiled egg, while still others mix in sriracha.

And yet, none of these ingredients are why deli tuna salad tastes so good. What's the secret, then? As it turns out, the answer is simply time. According to The Practical Kitchen, deli tuna salad typically wasn't made minutes ago; it's had time to hang out in the fridge overnight. This means "the flavors have time to meld together. The mayo and seasonings absorb into those individual components — the celery, in particular — creating a more cohesive tuna salad experience."

Makes a whole lot of sense, right? If you eat tuna salad right after making it, the flavors haven't had time to come together. You're pretty much just eating tuna and crunchy vegetables drowned in mayo, not a yummy tuna salad. To make a truly memorable tuna salad, let your creation sit in the fridge for a night or two. It'll taste even better — and you might never go back to eating it right after you make it. 

Mix your salad up with some different textures

A standard tuna salad gets its texture from celery and tuna. And let's be honest: This texture combo gets a little boring after a while. One solution is to introduce a variety of new textures into your recipe.

LifeHacker suggests adding fresh lettuce for extra crispness or even tossing in potato chips or Doritos for a crunch like no other. You might even consider mixing in other crunchy ingredients like chopped apple, toasted sesame seeds, bacon, nuts, or even fried capers, suggests Reddit. Adding something crunchy breaks up the monotony of an otherwise soft tuna salad, and actually is backed by science.

Because the experience of crispness is closely tied with freshness, says NPR, it appeals to our hardwiring. And there's just something extremely satisfying to our senses about eating something crunchy. Throwing a new texture into a familiar dish makes it all the more exciting and rounds it out, from a culinary standpoint.

Not convinced? Think of all the cooking competitions you've watched on TV. Chances are, you've seen someone get points knocked off or even sent home for a dish that wasn't texturally diverse enough for the judges. Texture is important. 

Experiment with new flavor combinations in your tuna salad

Another way to spice up homemade tuna salad is with different flavors. Sometimes you just need to try something new, and experimenting with different seasonings and ingredients can liven up a tired recipe.

In addition to (or instead of) mayo, try a bit of Dijon mustard, sriracha, tabasco, hummus, Greek yogurt, salsa, or soy sauce. One Redditor even recommends using guacamole in place of mayo. Switching out the creamy base can make a huge difference, but you could also just throw in some raisins, lemon zest, or avocado to change the taste more subtly.

Once you've got your tuna salad whipped up, you can still add another element of surprise with how you serve it. Per Garlic Delight, some fun ways to eat tuna salad include lettuce wraps, crackers, pitas or croissants, tortillas or taco shells, or serving it over a bed of pasta or fresh leafy greens.