14 Ingredients You Should Be Adding To Your Tuna Melt

You can level up your average tuna melt by adding ingredients that are anything but average. Savory bacon, sweet cream cheese, and crispy sunflower seeds represent but a taste of the complex flavors that have been enjoyed on my favorite comfort food sandwich. But, those only scratch the surface. 

This selection, which comes from years of trying to perfect this go-to lunchtime meal, includes some recipes that offer a juxtaposition of flavors. The following list of 14 sandwich ideas also provides you with suggestions for ingredients that add crunch or other textures to the experience. And, if you adhere to special diets, like keto, or like more international flavors, such as Italian, a few of these offerings should satisfy you, too. Finally, other ideas for some of the suggested ingredients were inspired by favored eateries in places, like New York City or Seattle, where the classic deli tuna salad sets the gold standard for what it takes to make a tuna melt so tempting.

1. Bacon or ham

Grilled vegetables. Charcuterie boards. Tuna melts with bacon or ham. All these foods give our taste buds a savory flavor burst — also known as umami – that foodieblogs love so much. Both bacon and ham are predominately cured meats and while bacon brings more salt to the taste buds than ham might, both meats have that salty, savory quality arising from the curing process. The interaction of the caramelized sugars and the smoked flavors adds a delicious complexity to these two pork favorites. When combined with the salty and sometimes sweet quality of the tuna, you get a sandwich combining the rich, salty taste of bacon or ham with the wholesome goodness of tuna. 

It should be noted that some ham isn't cured. If it's not, it'll be labeled fresh. While an uncured ham and tuna melt would probably also be awfully tasty, you'll get the full effect of these flavor combinations if you combine tuna with cured ham. Sweet pickle relish and a squeeze of lemon or a side of lime potato chips heighten the sweet and sour quotients of this meal, respectively. Try this combo with sweeter tunas, like yellowfin and ventresca, or mild, slightly salty tunas, like albacore.

2. Avocado

If you're a fan of sushi, then you already know the sublime taste experience that comes from combining tuna with avocado. But, there's no need to go to a sushi restaurant to experience the wonder of this taste combo. You can get it right at home by adding a bit of avocado to your tuna melt. As sushi chefs have already figured out, this is one flavorful taste combination.

However, it isn't just flavor that makes this combo such a winner. Home gourmands like to switch out mashed avocado for mayonnaise on sandwiches. This introduces less fat to the mix, as avocados have half the fat that mayo does. A bit of smashed avocado with some lemon juice and water blended together makes a viable mayo substitute. If you don't feel like turning your avocado into mayo, you'll be equally satisfied with adding slices of avocado to your tuna melt or topping it with a layer of guacamole.

3. Cream cheese

Tuna fish, well, any fish really, tastes better when a little acid gets added to it. Most of the time, this comes in the form of lemon, but this little tuna melt hack does you one better. Add cream cheese to your tuna melt to boost not only the acidic quotient in the fish but also the sweet quotient, too. Commercial cream cheese gets its acidic bite from the lactic acid that manufacturers add to make it curdle. And,  lemon serves the same purpose in homemade cream cheese.

Recipes without the acid factor may seem like they lack seasoning. And, it's all about flavor balance when it comes to the acid in cream cheese. But, cream cheese adds a bonus — sweetness — evening out the flavor signature even more. It's mild and sweet in a way that doesn't overpower the flavor of the fish. 

You can also consider making a buffalo dip version of tuna and cream cheese. It's a variation on the buffalo chicken dip – replacing canned chicken with canned tuna. The addition of hot sauce introduces the spicy buffalo flavor that fans of this dip love and makes a sandwich out of it.

4. Olives

Mankind has indulged its taste for the savory stone fruit known as olives for more than 6,000 thousand years, and archaeological evidence suggests that olives were among the first fruits to christen domesticated soil in the Mediterranean. But now, thanks to there being more than a hundred different cultivars of olives worldwide, choosing which one to put on your tuna melt feels a bit like trying to choose your favorite child.

So, here is some info to help make the decision easier. Because olives need to be cured in a salty brine to make them edible, slipping a few olives into your tuna salad usually adds that salty, savory flavor. However, different olives require different treatments to make them edible, so the flavor signatures can differ. For example, the Gaeta olive tastes milder than some other types and is often treated with herbs like rosemary. On the other hand, adding Greek Kalamata olives to your tuna melt makes this version a good candidate for some additional toppings like red onions and feta cheese. But, if you still can't choose, try experimenting with an olive relish or a mixture of different kinds of chopped olives — green, red, and black — to introduce different taste profiles in each bite.

5. Creamy artichoke dip

There is an old adage that has circulated around foodieblog tables for years: Do not mix seafood with cheese. The belief arises from the fact that some seafood has a delicate constitution and flavor. This is worth mentioning because most artichoke dips contain cheese, with a few bold dip recipes pairing this nutty-flavored bulb of goodness with cream cheese and tuna. But, as far as delicate tastes and constitutions are concerned, tuna doesn't qualify. If anything, artichoke tuna dips make for an interesting addition to the tuna melt recipe canon. This has largely to do with the strengths of all of the flavors therein.

While artichokes bring a bit of bitterness to this mix, there is an acid in the vegetable called cynarin that's worth noting here. This compound enhances the flavor of anything sweet, usually by contrast, and thus makes the follow-up bite seemingly sweeter. Therefore, many artichoke dip recipes include sweet cheeses, like cream cheese. This combination in your tuna melt not only provides a symphony of flavors, ranging from umami to sweet but adds an extra texture due to the artichoke hearts that go into these creamy dips.

6. Eggs

If you've ever eaten a tuna sandwich from a deli, you may have noticed the presence of eggs in the salad. Given that tuna salad and egg salad often contain the same ingredients – think mayo, pickles, olives, and onions — it's not too big a reach to think that these two salads would also marry well together in a tuna melt. The egg yolks introduce a creamy texture that the tuna salad alone doesn't have. Eggs also allow you to stretch the tuna recipe a bit in a way that won't break the bank.

If you like the idea of adding eggs to your tuna salad but don't want to do hard-boiled eggs, think about experimenting with a fried egg on your tuna melt. Those who grew up eating fried egg sandwiches know what a satisfying meal they can be. The addition of tuna makes this sandwich all the more satisfying and filling, giving you enough fuel to make it through the rest of the afternoon until dinner time.

7. Eggplant

Keto diets require their practitioners to forego carbs like sandwich bread, making the consumption of comfort foods like tuna melts, if not impossible, at least very difficult. Savvy keto aficionados find workarounds. These include breads like Ezekial bread. That said, those who suffer from a gluten intolerance should keep Ezekial bread at arm's length because it does contain wheat.

However, grilled eggplant can be included on this list because it offers a low-carb alternative to keto-friendly bread. Fortunately for cheese lovers and keto practitioners alike, some of the most popular cheeses for a tuna melt, like cheddar, feta, and gouda, taste good with eggplant, too. Although this doesn't exactly replace the chewy goodness of bread, it does introduce an alternative that could grow on you, given the flavor profile and texture of eggplant. Finally, because of the flexibility of eggplant, you might find it easier to eat if you create an eggplant and tuna roll from the ingredients. It's still a tuna melt, only a little rounder in shape.

8. Green apples

Making a tuna melt with green apples is a great way to spruce up this familiar favorite. The tartness of green apples provides a great complimentary accent to the natural umami profile of tuna as well as adding a satisfying crunch to the texture. In addition, if you combine these apples with soy sauce you can create a common marinade that works well with tuna, which, in this case, will deepen the flavors in your regular tuna melt.

Green apples do more than just add a sweet and tart crunch to a tuna melt. They bring the power of the enzyme amylase, which is the same enzyme in saliva that breaks down carbohydrates.  As the carbs — the bread in your tuna melt, in this case — break down, they taste sweeter. Meanwhile, the salts from the soy sauce tenderize the tuna. The effects of both of these elements together produce an aftertaste of salty sweetness. 

9. Almond slivers and sunflower seeds

As it turns out, humans are hard-wired to love the crunchy crackle bombs that accompany foods like nuts. When foods pack a hefty crunch, something in the human brain perceives a freshness factor. Crunch also tells us that food contains fat, and while a tuna melt, with its dollops of mayo in the salad mix and the cheese it's topped with, certainly contains fat, there's just something about augmenting the crunch factor that makes us like it all the more.

Certainly, plenty of tuna salad recipes contain crunchy ingredients, like pickles, onions, and celery, as a matter of course. However, since these ingredients often appear in tuna salad, the average tuna melt is in danger of becoming a bit passé. So, the taste buds and the ears welcome a new crunch experience, and this is where slivered almonds, sunflower, and pumpkin seeds come into the mix. Nuts and seeds add both a dose of healthy unsaturated fats and crunch to your tuna melt. Nuts also deliver fiber and magnesium to your system. Almond silvers are a delicious way to get some more calcium into your lunch, while sunflower seeds are packed with B vitamins, and pumpkin seeds bring zinc to the table. 

10. Sesame oil and seeds

A teaspoon of sesame seeds dropped into your tuna melt sprinkles micro bursts of nutty, almost almond flavor and specks of color throughout your sandwich, particularly if you opt for black sesame seeds instead of white ones. Paired with tuna, whose flavor normally dominates a sandwich, the strength of black sesame seeds' flavor allows the seeds to get a word in edgewise, so to speak. As a result, your taste buds get a nuanced flavor combination as both ingredients contribute to the gustatory experience.

That said, you'll still taste mostly tuna in each bite, so the trick to enjoying both the crunch of sesame seeds and their nutty flavor is to add ½ teaspoon of sesame oil to your tuna melt. Or replace the mayo in the recipe with tahini paste, which is made from crushed, untoasted sesame seeds. You'll get a creamy mayo-like texture but a different flavor.

You're not limited to black sesame seeds here. You may not care for black sesame seeds as much as their white counterparts because the darker seeds can taste a little bitter due to the hulls being left on them. If that's the case, stick to the lighter, hulled sesame seeds for all the taste and texture benefits and none of the bitterness. 

11. Green peas

Adventurous foodieblogs often combine two seemingly unrelated recipes to create an entirely new one. It's a bit of tasty inspiration that is well-grounded in both culinary theory and reality. Such is the case for tuna and pea salad casserole being the inspiration for a new kind of tuna melt. From the tuna and pea casserole recipe comes the understanding that ingredients like tuna, pasta, and peas go well together. Mayo's also in the mix, so that box is checked off. And, like many salad recipes, crackers sometimes get positioned on the side for extra flavor and crunch.

To turn this pasta and tuna salad into a sandwich, replace the pasta or crackers with the bread and add the cheese or cheeses of your choice. The peas are sweet and are an easy way to add more vegetables and fiber to a basic tuna melt. All we are saying is, give peas a chance.

12. Butter beans

Why not add a little Mediterranean influence to the standard tuna melt? Butter beans are among the more unusual but possibly underrated additions to the tuna melt canon. But, combinations of beans, salad, and tuna mixed together are popular in the Mediterranean, with popular recipes calling for beans, tuna, olive oil, and capers. Aside from the flavor harmony, using this combo in your tuna melt adds more fiber, without damaging the taste of a perfectly good sammy.

While butter beans, due to their mild flavor and soft, creamy texture are the preference for this recipe, other beans, like garbanzos or flageolets, also complement it nicely. Additionally, this version of the tuna melt does away with the heavy mayo that you normally fill your tuna salad with and adds olive oil instead to give it a more Mediterranean flavor signature. For something different, consider serving the melt on an open-face crostini. Then, crumble some feta cheese on top before popping it into the oven to heat up.

13. Raisins and raisin bagels

As it turns out, a spoonful of sugar makes your tuna melt go down less fishy, and raisins, with their plump sweetness and a 60% sugar content, bring the same anti-fishiness remedy to this sammy but with a whole bunch more flavor and texture than sugar alone can. But, unlike processed sugar, which is deficient in the nutrition department, raisins are dried naturally and not processed, making them a better ingredient choice than their white granular counterpart. Iron, antioxidants, calcium, and fiber sneak into your tuna melt when you add a scoop or two of raisins to the mix or stuff the tuna salad and cheese between two raisin bagel slices. 

And, as it turns out, eating raisins with a bit of fat and protein makes their flavor shine. You already know that adding some sweetness reduces the powerful fishy taste in your sandwich, but you shouldn't stop there. Cinnamon raisin bagels, plus a scoop of raisins combined with a can of tuna, and maybe some granulated garlic, make for a sweet and savory combo. This creates a juxtaposition of flavors that together make for a more balanced sandwich, at least from your taste buds' perspective.

14. Sriracha

Spicy tuna rolls count are a staple item in the grocery store's sushi section, with the spicy part coming from that delectable chili sauce favorite, Sriracha. And, just a little dabble of this Thai sauce turns the spicy tuna roll into the slightly hotter version of the tuna melt you always knew you deserved. 

To give this tuna melt recipe a sushi-inspired flavor, mix in sesame seeds and sesame oil. Switch out your mayo for some homemade avocado mayo to replicate the plump chunk of avocado that lines the interiors of spicy tuna rolls. You have a couple of choices when it comes to how you introduce the Sriracha to the mix. Make a spicy mayo from either your avocado mayo or real mayo blended with Sriracha. For some additional sizzle, swap out the cheddar cheese for some spicy Jack cheese. Cool your palate by including some chilled pickled ginger on the side.

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