Anyone know what makes DELI tuna & chicken salad special?

This stumped me for decades now. There is something that delis and delis in supermarkets add to make that special zing, or in other words flavor that stands out and adds deliciousness whether it be tuna or chicken salad. I just do not know what it is. BUT I can tell you what it is not. It is not:

Celery salt
Pickle juice
Lemon juice
Lime juice
Garlic powder
Onion Powder
Dry mustard
Black pepper
White pepper
There is a mysterious flavor most delis have that I cannot duplicate. Even in potato salad to some extent. A flavor profile unmatched by homemade. Please help !

My best guess is that it is heavy duty mayo that makes the difference.


Hmm, that is interesting. Could it really be as simple as that? Until I try, I will not know. Problem is getting this big gallon container. Then again mayo does NOT go bad if you use a clean utensil each time you take some. The myth of refrigeration on many items is just that - a myth. I have not refrigerated ketchups, mustards, jellies, etc. for years now without problem. As for mayo, the problem arises when a contaminated utensil is introducing bacteria into the mayo. That is how it goes bad.
But I will keep this type of mayo in my mind and try it one day. I do welcome your input and look forward to any other ideas just in case.


Extra heavy mayonnaise is basically just regular mayo made with extra egg yolks, if you have a homemade mayo recipe you like just add a few extra yolks at the beginning and you should get close without having to buy a full gallon.


The one thing missing on your list is capers.

My tuna salad starts with the tuna… Toninno’s filets in olive oil. Then mayo, shallots, celery, garlic, “Del Monte” sweet relish, and chopped capers, with a dash of mustard.


But that’s not a deli tuna salad. It’s a frou-frou tuna salad.

I agree that the heavy mayo is key. Also cheap tuna - chunk light, usually. None of this albacore nonsense.


Toninno’s “tuna” is yellowfin, not albacore. While they do offer albacore, jars marked as tuna are yellowfin.

I didn’t mean that you were using albacore. I meant that deli tuna didn’t, and was speaking generally about what goes into a deli tuna salad.


There was an extremely long thread on this on Chowhound. IIRC, no matter what opinions were given on the reason, the original poster could not be satisfied with the answer. But that’s often the nature of such posts. Indeed, heavy duty mayo was one of the most common reasons given.

As for me, when speaking of tuna salad, changes in the brand of mayonnaise & brand/type of tuna make the most difference. When I make tuna for sandwiches, I use a strainer to force out every last drop of broth or oil in the can. I don’t want to taste that at all. But I don’t throw that liquid away and save/use it for stock when making soup or for use when making tuna noodle casserole.


Yes, that thread on CH came to mind first when I saw this one.


Heavy duty mayo is the answer. And the big container, as you note, need not be stored in the fridge if you are careful not to contaminate it. I buy the gallon of Hellman’s HD and scoop some for general use into a smaller jar (that I store in the fridge), then put the large container back in the darkest/coolest cabinet in my kitchen. Never an issue.

Btw, there are many brands of HD mayo available at restaurant stores, but of those that I have tried, Hellman’s is by far the best and the only one that has that “deli” flavor you’re seeking. Also, homemade mayo, even with extra yolks, will not duplicate the flavor.


I thought there was a thread here too, but I couldn’t find it.


This may be the thread on HO:

I was remembering the discussion and knew that it included DoobieWah (or NotDoobieWah), a local poster, but I though it was part of a thread on tuna salad. Hmm. Anyways…

(ETA: we had a big thread on ‘how do you make tuna salad’ I think).


Sounds logical. I will have to buy that HD gallon. I concur that mayo never goes bad without refrigeration unless it gets contaminated. Your system sounds like a great idea. I plan to store it in the basement. In fact I do have a gallon of regular mayonnaise by Hellman’s that has been sitting for over 20 years. Bought it for emergency after that Y2K scare. Wonder how that held up? If it didn’t I can always use it as some type of fuel or fertilizer for the garden LOL.

I agree that it’s the heavy mayo. Wish it were sold in smaller than 1 gallon quantities.

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I buy Wild Planet at Costco, packed in its own juice, very little. The juice is a special treat for my cat.


I used to use Wild Planet skipjack (good stuff), but after discovering Toninno yellowfin (great stuff) that is now my go to. Plus the olive oil it is jarred in is delicious (so I don’t mind if some of it gets in the salad).

It is pricier, but worth it IMHO.

This is a fascinating subject. I had also noticed the difference between the store-bought products and the home-made, but I never gave it any thought. Now I know.


I agree with the extra heavy Hellman’s mayo suggestion and would also suggest more salt than you’d probably consider needed.