18 Ways To Upgrade Your Tuna Salad

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Tuna salad has been part of the American diet since the 19th century, and while the reasons we eat it and the way we make it have evolved, the rules we follow for making it are largely unchanged (fish, mayo, and celery were common ingredients 200 years ago, and they're common ingredients today). Originally made with leftover salmon or halibut, it wasn't until 1903 that canned tuna entered the American consciousness.

With the advent of canned tuna came several choices of tuna types at the grocery store. Solid white albacore tuna is a light-colored tuna with mild flavor. Chunk white albacore is similar to the solid version but comes packaged in smaller chunks. Chunk light tuna is darker in color and has a stronger flavor than its paler counterparts. You can also choose between tuna packed in water or oil, and even purchase line-caught canned tuna.

Today, we love tuna salad because it's quick, easy, and inexpensive to make. As a recipe creator and food blogger, I've been creating healthy recipes with tuna for nearly a decade. Let's look at fun ways to upgrade your tuna salad from average to spectacular.

1. Add dijon mustard

Tuna salad is traditionally made with mayo. But you can give your tuna a kicky flavor boost by cutting the mayo in half and replacing it with Dijon mustard. If that's too much spice, cut it by a tablespoon instead. Cutting the mayo with Dijon adds a little tanginess to the flavor and can significantly reduce the fat in the recipe.

Dijon mustard is usually made from brown or black mustard seeds – the hottest the mustard plant produces. White wine is commonly used as the liquid in Dijon. The liquid activates the enzymes in the mustard seeds and makes it spicy.

If you're prepping your tuna salad for a crowd and want to add Dijon but don't want to overwhelm anyone with a sensitive palate, try adding a teaspoon or two without reducing mayo. Add the Dijon one teaspoon at a time until you have the perfect flavor profile.

2. Add diced pickles

Cucumber relish, a condiment made from cucumbers and vinegar, is a popular ingredient in traditional tuna salad. But if you don't have any relish on hand, you can make a delectable replacement by substituting diced pickles.

Pickles add a juicy and satisfying crunch aspect to your tuna salad. You can use any pickle, but if you want to mimic the flavor of cucumber relish, you might try a sweeter version, and a sweet gherkin (sometimes called a bread and butter pickle) is the perfect candidate. It doesn't need to be sweet, though. You can also use dill pickles or spicy pickles, or even cornichons.

Dicing up any pickle around the kitchen is easy to dress up your tuna salad. But if you have extra time, try making a sweet pickle relish, as it's a great way to add a little snap and crunch to your tuna salad.

3. Add avocado

Nutrient-dense avocados are good for your skin, can strengthen your bones, and contain healthy fats that have even been proven to aid in weight loss. Avocado amakes a great addition to your tuna salad, introducing a rich and creamy texture and boosting your meal's healthy fat content.

You can replace some mayo in your tuna salad recipe with mashed avocado. Or, add it as an extra ingredient by lightly stirring in some avocado chunks. 

A note about adding avocado, though. Avocados will oxidize, which means they will turn brown when exposed to oxygen. There are several things you can do to reduce avocado browning, like adding lemon or lime juice to the avocado before mixing. It's fine to eat if it's brown, but brown avocado can make your tuna salad look a little sad. Another option is to mix the avocado in right before you eat, which will keep it looking fresh.

4. Add onion

A finely diced red onion will add color, crunch, and a little kick of flavor to your tuna salad. Onions, which contain antioxidants and flavonoids, have been proven to help with digestive health and potentially lower your risk for Alzheimer's. They're also full of vitamin C and potassium.

While many people like the bright color and mild flavor of red onions, you can use any color or type of onion in your tuna salad, depending on your mood or what you have available. Finely dice your onion and add a small amount to the recipe. Keep adding it until you get the desired flavor. If you're worried about picky eaters, withhold it from the recipe and sprinkle it over the onion lovers' servings.

You probably won't need an entire onion unless you are feeding a crowd. There are many ways to use leftover onion so all those healthy nutrients don't go to waste.

5. Add celery

If you're looking for something crunchy but don't want the bold flavor of onion, try adding chopped-up celery to your tuna salad. Celery is a classic tuna salad ingredient that has been used since its inception. 

Celery is low in calories (a cup of chopped celery has just 14 calories) but high in fiber, vitamin C, vitamin A, and potassium. Celery is crisp and refreshing with a crunchy texture. Because it's a hearty roughage, it doesn't get soggy, making it a useful ingredient if you're prepping a large batch of tuna salad for an event or want to meal prep for the week.

You can also use celery as a way to serve your tuna salad. Scoop the tuna salad into the celery boat and serve. Celery is very low in carbs, so serving your tuna salad in celery is a great choice if you're following a low-carb lifestyle.

6. Add apples or grapes

Apples and grapes aren't just for chicken salad. They can also add a hint of sweetness, juiciness, and exciting textures to your tuna salad.

But, like avocados, apples can turn brown quickly when exposed to oxygen. However, mixing the chopped apples into your tuna salad quickly can help alleviate some of the browning, as the ingredients will coat the apple chunks and keep them from being exposed to air. You can also choose apples that turn brown at a slower rate, such as Honeycrisp, Pink Lady, or Empire.

When it comes to choosing grapes, aim for those at peak crispness. Use your personal preference when choosing the type and color of grape. Red grapes will add a splash of color and sweetness, but green grapes can add a refreshing tartness to the mix. To get you started, why not try a tasty tuna salad recipe with grapes and tarragon?

7. Add pecans

Pecans make a unique addition to tuna salad. Chop them up into small pieces and mix them with the tuna for a pleasant nutty flavor and some added crunch. Plus, they add a splash of golden brown to the dish.

You can buy pecans already chopped or cut into halves. To really level up your tuna salad, try roasting them first. Roasting nuts at home is easy, and the flavor of roasted pecans will elevate any recipe. The trick to roasting nuts is to keep a close eye on them so they don't get too hot. They can go from done to burnt in the blink of an eye, so watch the temperature when roasting your pecans.

You can also try walnuts or pine nuts if you don't have pecans. Pine nuts have a strong flavor, and roasting them beforehand will yield the best results for your tuna salad.

8. Add fresh herbs

Adding some fresh herbs to your tuna salad will make it more interesting. After all, Martha Stewart's secret ingredient for her famous tuna salad recipe is fresh basil, and we can't argue with Martha, can we?

Dill, oregano, chives, and parsley are popular choices, but you can get creative and try any herbs you have in the kitchen. Don't be afraid to try something a little different. Mint is a fun twist on a traditional tuna salad, and rosemary is another herb that could take your tuna up a notch.

Are you short on fresh herbs? Dried herbs will work fine. When converting from fresh to dry herbs, you'll generally use about ⅓ of the herbs in the recipe. So, if your recipe requires one tablespoon of fresh dill, that would be one teaspoon of dried dill. And don't forget to freeze any leftover herbs for later use!

9. Add paprika

A sprinkle of paprika can add a sweet, smoky, or hot twist to your favorite tuna salad recipe. This versatile spice is a favorite for deviled eggs and chicken, pork, or beef stew. It is also a very common ingredient in barbecue sauce recipes and pairs well with beef.

Paprika comes from ground peppers. The flavor of the paprika is determined by the type of pepper used (bell peppers and chili peppers being the most popular varieties). Certain variations of paprika can be very spicy, but paprika is generally known for its smoky flavor.

Mix the paprika into your tuna salad or sprinkle it over the finished product for a tasty garnish. Just like with any spice, use sparingly and add a bit at a time until you get the desired flavor. This savory spice will do wonders for your tuna salad, boosting it from average to spectacular.

10. Add Greek yogurt

Are you looking to add protein, reduce fat, and bring a tangy new flavor to your tuna salad? Replace the boring old mayo with Greek yogurt for a healthy twist.

One serving of unsweetened, low-fat Greek yogurt has 20 grams of protein per serving. It's also rich in riboflavin, vitamin B12, calcium, and vitamin A. If you're following a low-carb, high-protein, or keto-style diet, you're probably a Greek yogurt pro. But, if you find the flavor of Greek yogurt to be a little intense, you can replace half of the mayo with Greek yogurt for a milder flavor while still getting a protein boost and the extra flavor layer.

Greek yogurt is a great substitute for mayo when you're making a tuna recipe with ingredients like apples or grapes. Tuna, which has around 30 grams of protein per serving, packs an even bigger protein punch when paired with Greek yogurt.

11. Serve in a lettuce wrap

Tuna is a low-carb, high-protein food. Keep it low-carb by serving your favorite tuna salad in lettuce wraps. Lettuce wraps are fantastic because they add some vegetables to your meal while keeping the additional calorie count low.

Popular lettuce choices for wraps are the romaine and butter varieties, both of which have large leaves and are sturdy enough to withstand a little tuna salad between the leaves without breaking apart. Butter lettuce, in particular, is easy to manipulate, with a texture that is a little more wrap-like than other lettuces, such as the crispier romaine.

You might not use all the lettuce if you're making wraps to eat yourself. With the leftovers, be sure to keep your butter lettuce fresh so you can use it for other recipes later in the week.

Another bonus to eating lettuce? It's 95% water, so it will help you stay hydrated.

12. Serve on a croissant

Just like its chicken counterpart, chicken salad, tuna salad pairs extremely well with a flaky croissant. Serve your tuna salad on a lightly buttered croissant for a hearty and filling meal. It's comfort food at its finest!

A croissant works well for any flavor of tuna salad you create, but they go particularly well with sweet, fruit-inclusive recipes. The savory flavor of a croissant is just the right match for your grape –  or apple-based tuna salad recipe. Apple chunks also offer a nice crunch, contrasting with the soft croissant. If you're hosting a baby shower, bridal shower, or brunch party, adding tuna salad sandwiches on a croissant to your menu is sure to please your guests. But, be sure to add your tuna salad to your croissant just before you serve it. If you prep your sandwich early and let it sit too long, you'll have a soggy croissant.

13. Serve on crackers

Serve your tuna salad on crackers for an easy and delicious party snack, or a quick lunch for yourself. If you're feeding a group, whip up a large batch of tuna salad and serve it with a selection of crackers. Some classic cracker favorites that pair perfectly with tuna salad are Ritz and Triscuits. You can branch out and pair your tuna with specialty crackers, too, like rice or almond crackers. You can even toast some crostinis for an irresistible (and sturdy) mini bread plate for your tuna salad. If you have leftover croissants, try making your own crispy tea crackers.

Crackers are also a quick and easy option when you're making a single serving of tuna salad or if you want to meal-prep some lunches for the little ones. Store the crackers separately from the tuna when meal prepping so they don't absorb moisture and get soggy. 

14. Serve in a cantaloupe bowl

It might sound weird, but tuna pairs exceptionally well with melon. Cantaloupe, in particular, makes for a surprisingly pleasant pairing with tuna salad. The juicy and refreshing cantaloupe is the fruit you didn't know you needed with that can of tuna.

First, you need to make sure you pick out the proper cantaloupe. An unripe cantaloupe lacks flavor and has a hard, unpleasant texture — those vaguely yellow and orange chunks left over on a buffet table. On the other hand, an overripe cantaloupe will be watery and mushy and have a sour taste.

Once you've collected the perfect cantaloupe for the job, cut it in half and scoop out the seeds. Fill with your favorite tuna salad recipe and enjoy the unexpected flavors. If you're serving a large crowd, cut the cantaloupe into chunks and mix it with the tuna salad. Chill before serving.

15. Add to pasta

Adding pasta to your tuna salad gives you a painless dish perfect for potlucks. This combo is well-suited as a side dish (put it next to the pasta, potato, and egg salads at your gathering), or you can beef it up a little and turn it into its own meal.

What's wonderful about this recipe is that you can get creative and customize it to your tastes. Take your favorite tuna salad recipe, add your favorite pasta noodles, and mix them all together. Voila, done! You might need to add more mayo to coat the noodles and keep them from tasting too dry. Serve cold. If you've never made tuna salad with pasta, a macaroni salad with tuna is a great place to start.

Alternatively, you can make a pasta and tuna salad casserole to serve warm. Casseroles can feed the whole family, are usually very filling, and make nice leftovers.

16. Make a tuna melt

Tuna is great, but tuna served between two pieces of toasted bread with a slice of perfectly melted cheese is even better! Enter the tuna melt. The tuna melt is a beloved lunchtime favorite, popular at diners across the country and probably in your grandmother's kitchen. They're also extremely simple to make at home.

The tuna melt became popular in the 1960s, infiltrating restaurants and home kitchens. Sharp cheddar is a tried-and-true cheese choice you won't regret. If you want to jump outside the box, try using Swiss, Havarti, mozzarella, Monterey Jack, or pepper jack cheese. While you can use any bread for your sandwich, you can't go wrong with sourdough.

You can keep your sandwich super simple (tuna, bread, cheese) or add various ingredients to your tuna melt to make it stand out from the crowd. Try beefing it up with diced avocado, or add some sriracha for added spice. 

17. Make stuffed peppers

Make tuna salad stuffed peppers for an all-in-one meal that checks off all the daily food groups in one delectable dish. Stuff carved-out bell peppers with tuna salad, then cover with your favorite shredded cheese. Next, add some healthy grains, and bake until tender. Dinner is served!

Bell peppers are chock full of healthy nutrients and loaded with health benefits. While all bell peppers have health benefits, red bell peppers stand out. One red bell pepper has 169% of your daily Vitamin C requirements. Bell peppers are also rich in potassium and vitamin B6 and can help protect eye health. You can increase the healthy impact of vegetables and kick up the flavor by adding chopped green onions as a garnish to your stuffed bell peppers.

Another garnish idea is smoky paprika. Made from bell peppers, paprika brings it full circle and pulls the whole dish together.

18. Make a tuna salad bowl

Combine your tuna with a green salad base for a filling, protein-packed tuna salad bowl. This easy recipe can be customized to your tastes and loaded with healthy ingredients for a scrumptious, nutrient-rich meal. 

Tuna salad bowls are easy to make. Take your favorite lettuce or store-bought salad mix and layer on tuna salad, the vegetables of your choice, and nuts or seeds. For healthy carbs, you can add grains like quinoa, couscous, or brown rice. Raisins, dried cranberries, and your favorite fruits are also great flavor-enhancing options. Needless to to say this is also a good way to use up any leftovers in the fridge.

Depending on the tuna salad, you may or may not want to add salad dressing. You can always add a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a squeeze of lemon juice if you feel it needs something extra but don't want to get carried away with dressing.