The Condiment You Should Be Adding To Tuna Salad

Love it or hate it, you probably grew up eating canned tuna in some fashion, be that homemade tuna noodle casserole, diner-style tuna melts, or just run-of-the-mill tuna salad. According to the NOAA Fisheries Division, canned tuna is one of the top three most popular seafoods in the U.S. Surprisingly, our love for canned tuna would have been considered silly at best a little over 100 years ago. Speaking with the Washington Post, author Andrew Smith points out that before 1900, few Americans deigned to eat tuna, a hearty family of fish that was nonetheless little desired. But advances in fishing technology and food science coalesced in such a way that tuna could be profitably caught, processed, and packaged in a manner — and at a price point — that would appeal to the average American. 

Tuna salad owes its creation to the great tradition of food conservation, whereby people got the most of every edible morsel. Smithsonian Magazine highlights the history of tuna salad, which was akin to chicken or ham salad that used leftover bits of protein bound with items like celery and olives in mayonnaise. Tuna eventually eclipsed the salmon, white fish, and trout once more common in seafood salads.

A great joy of bound salads is that they are open to interpretation. Often, folks have their own spin or secret ingredient that makes a dish their own. Tuna salad is no different, with a range of ingredients and modifications that make a treat for most any taste.

Add tang and crunch with sweet pickle relish

What was the tuna salad of your youth like? Did you enjoy it with mayonnaise or Miracle Whip? Did it get a crunch from celery or a piquant bite from diced onion? Was mustard added to brighten up the mixture? Were raisins, cranberries, or apples added for a fresh, fruity flavor? A popular tuna salad addition is sweet pickle or relish, which provides sweetness as well as a strong dose of acidity. This condiment counteracts the tuna's strong umami flavor and the richness of mayonnaise, giving you a perfectly balanced spread or sandwich filling with a bit of crunch.

But sweet pickles can be divisive. If you're decidedly sour on the ingredient and its condiment counterpart, but wish to retain its bite in your tuna salad, it may be time to further explore the wide world of relish. 

A variety of relish for different tastes

The addition of dill relish or chopped dill pickle — which honestly is basically just DIY relish — gives tuna salad a wonderfully briny bite. (If you decide to go dill and want to make your own, you can follow our recipe.) Of course, pickles are not a simple binary but a spectrum to choose from. If you're perplexed by the volume of choices, our helpful guide can steer you toward the proper pickle for your tuna salad, such as a crunchy gherkin, a mild half-sour, or even a warmly-spiced cinnamon pickle.

And don't forget about the other fruit and vegetable options if you really want to explore all relish has to offer. Opt for achar if you'd like to give your tuna salad a little kick and vibrant hue, there is also jalapeño relish if you want to go all in on spice. You could also use preserved lemon chutney for a truly unique tuna salad.