Navigating a veritable sea of tuna salads

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Navigating a veritable sea of tuna salads

February 3, 2010

For many people, tuna salad is the ultimate lunch, spread between hearty slices of toast, tucked inside a sub roll, or scooped onto shredded lettuce. It’s filling and deliciously old-fashioned.

Eight people tasted prepared tuna salads from the deli departments of four supermarkets and one delicatessen. Of the five sampled, only Barry’s Village Deli in Newton is made daily on the premises. Roche Bros.’s prepared tuna salad is made in Haverhill and delivered four times a week; Whole Foods Market delivers six days a week from their commissary in Everett; Shaw’s does a cross-county trip from Oregon three times a week; Stop & Shop did not answer calls to tell us where theirs was made.

Textures range from chunky to pureed. “I like chunks of tuna,’’ one taster said. It turned out she was eating Buck’s tuna from Whole Foods. Stop & Shop offers a creamy puree. Tasters found Barry’s sweet, Roche Bros. zesty. A constant in all the salads is mayo and celery, but after that each entry is different. They include pickle relish and onions. An unexpected add-in is matzoh meal. What’s matzoh meal doing in tuna? Stabilizing, probably.

Colors range from shades of white to pinky tan. Barry’s, Roche Bros., and Whole Foods Market use white albacore; Shaw’s and Stop & Shop use light tuna.

Roche Bros. was the winner. It’s made by food purveyor Hans Kissle in Haverhill. Barry’s was a close second. “We sell at least 200 pounds of the stuff a week,’’ says Barry’s manager Scotti Leslie. It’s a popular item elsewhere too. “It’s one of our top sellers in prepared foods,’’ says Robin Rehfield of Whole Foods Market North Atlantic region.

Each of the candidates got at least one favorite vote; Shaw’s got three. When all the tasting was done, the crew topped whole wheat bread with their favorite spread, added tomato and lettuce and sat down for a classic lunch, sweet pickles and chips on the side.

Barry’s Village Deli
$8.99 a pound

If you like your tuna on the sweet side you’ll love his version. Some tasters didn’t: “Very sweet and relishy – not a big fan. The tuna flavor is mild and consistency is OK.’’ Then: “Sweet! I love it! You can feel the freshness.’’ “What’s that seasoning? Sugar? Spice? Something nice,’’ another wrote. (In fact, it’s sweet pickle relish.) “Pleasant taste and smell, grainy texture but a distinctive flavor.’’ “Low mayo ratio,’’ said another. Scotti Leslie of Barry’s says the shop uses a high-quality low-fat mayonnaise. Several noted the texture, “I like the chunky tuna in this one, tastes fresher, but a bit too sweet.’’

$6.99 a pound

The creamiest of the lot. “The tuna is so pureed it is practically a spread. A very smooth texture and noticeably light color; you can definitely taste the mayonnaise in this one.’’ “Run of the mill, ’’ announced another. “Tastes a bit processed. Not enough lemon or onion.’’ “Salty and not appetizing.’’

Stop & Shop
$5.99 a pound

The other creamy entry. This is the salad that lists matzoh meal in the ingredients. “Looks like flesh-colored mayonnaise. Too creamy and mushy feeling. Slight fishy taste.’’ “Tuna puree is more like it,’’ said another. “Far too processed. No lemon, no onion, just sugar.’’ One thought the consistency was a plus: “Very creamy but with a nice addition of pickles. Distinct shiny color and perfect for spreading.’’ Another: “Looks gooey, pinkish, and tastes good.’’

Roche Bros. Winner!
$6.99 a pound

This is the salad that the tasters found most balanced and interesting, without sweetness. Ingredients include white tuna, celery, mayonnaise, garlic salt, lemon juice, and Dijon mustard. “Good taste, texture, and the balance between tuna and onion is good. Perhaps a bit more lemon would be good.’’ “This one tastes the most fresh! Not too sweet.’’ “Good honest tuna salad. Just crunchy enough, not sweet, like homemade.’’ “Smooth texture, with nice crunchy bites mingling with the tuna.’’ The lone detractor said, “No imagination, not particularly snazzy, but you know, it’s fish.’’

Whole Foods Market’s Buck’s Tuna Salad
$7.99 a pound

A Whole Foods team member named Buck submitted her favorite recipe for an in-house contest and Buck’s tuna became a favorite among many consumers. It’s simple: albacore tuna, mayo, red onion, and celery. Many noted that onion taste: “Lots of red onion and lemon (not sure about that), but slightly dry. Strong fishy smell and taste, which is not nice.’’ “Onion?’’ was the single comment from another. Several noted the size of the tuna chunks: “Very creamy in both taste and texture, the large-ish pieces of the tuna still manage to feel dry. I don’t find any flavor.’’ (The store uses dry-pack albacore.) “You can actually taste tuna meat in here, not tuna puree like most others. Problem is there is no other flavor.’’ “Tastes OK, but very dense mouth feel.’’ “I like the chunks in this one, tastes fresh.’’

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