The Fish Sandwiches That Lead To Tuna Salad

Unless you're vegetarian, vegan, or plain can't stand the stuff, chances are there is a can of tuna somewhere in your pantry. Despite its popularity waxing and waning over the century or so it's been available, canned tuna is nevertheless a staple of many homes, per The Washington Post. There is a simple reason for this: it's easy. All you need is a can opener, mayonnaise, two slices of bread, and voila! You have yourself a tuna fish sandwich. 

Let's consider the creation of this phenomenon for a moment. Until the 20th century, most Americans had absolutely no idea what tuna even was, as companies focused mainly on catching and packing sardines. However, after a poor sardine catch in 1903, certain California fishermen began to go after fish thriving in abundance off the West Coast. One such fish was the albacore tuna. Its mild flavor earned favor with everyday Americans, and albacore soon became a regular part of the national diet (via Taste). 

That still begs the question: How exactly did the tuna salad sandwich, as we know it today, come into being? The answer lies in the 19th century. American women, who had until then been in charge of the home, and, therefore, the food, were beginning to enter society at large. Their needs, coupled with the familiarity of recipes inspired by their kitchens, gave rise to the tuna salad sandwich. 

Here's to the ladies who lunch

In the 19th century, food waste wasn't even remotely considered. According to Smithsonian Magazine, part of this no-waste mentality amongst Americans was to devise creative ways to use extra food. One way was to make salads. Food scraps, such as chicken, fish, and leftover vegetables, would be mixed with mayonnaise and served on lettuce, thereby creating a sort of salad.

As the decades wore on, women of moderate wealth began appearing publicly to shop and learn. As a result, department stores started operating cafeterias that catered to women's preferences. The familiar fish or chicken salads were on the menu, much like the ones they prepared at home. The sandwich came about as a way to speed up preparation and consumption. As women began to populate office buildings, a fast lunch was necessary. What better solution than to take the salads and put them on bread? Much easier to take with you (via Vital Choice).

According to Taste, the arrival of canned tuna simplified the whole process. Chicken or fish no longer needed cooking beforehand, and cans of tuna could be opened and mixed with the other ingredients. The method is so efficient that tuna is fish you will find at a delicatessen. And it's all thanks to those all-American women who decided to go out for lunch once in a while.