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Southern Tuna Salad Recipe

Are you looking for a new twist on tuna salad? My Southern Tuna Salad Recipe is packed with flavors like sweet pickle relish, apples, and mayo. It’s a unique blend of sweet and savory flavors!

I’ve been sitting here staring at my computer screen for about thirty minutes now, trying to think of something to say about tuna salad.

Tuna salad on a bed of lettuce.

Tuna salad. Seriously?

It’s one of those things that most of us throw together without much thought. And I’d bet that almost every person reading this makes theirs just a little differently.

Maybe you like pickles in yours, and maybe you don’t. Maybe someone else likes a bit of mustard stirred in or some finely chopped scallion.

BeeBop definitely likes a savory tuna salad. His version includes finely chopped dill pickles, finely chopped green onion, a touch of mustard, and a bit of mayo to bind it all together.

I, however, prefer this sweet-savory version. It has just the right amount of sweetness from the apple and pickles and just the right amount of savory from the tuna and mayonnaise.

Must be my Southern roots. Southerners love their “sweet and salt,” you know. Give us a biscuit with a pat of butter, a slice of salty ham, and a spoonful of sweet peach preserves, and we’re in heaven. Or some perfectly cooked field peas or butter beans with a bit of pear relish on the side. It’s as much a part of us as “please and thank you,” “yes ma’am and no ma’am,” and “y’all.”

So, with a nod to my fellow Southerners who no doubt understood the previous paragraph perfectly, here’s my favorite Southern Tuna Salad recipe.

❤️ Why You’ll Love Southern Tuna Salad

  • This version with apples and sweet pickle relish strikes the ideal balance between sweet and savory, creating an overall balanced taste.
  • You’ll need just a handful of simple ingredients and less than 10 minutes to mix them together.
  • Enjoy it in a sandwich or simply pair it with crackers; the choice is yours.


“Love the apples! And gotta have sweet pickles in tuna, it’s the best.”

— Feast on the Cheap

🛒 Ingredients Notes

Ingredients needed to make the recipe.

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  • Canned tuna – Choose a good quality tuna packed in olive oil for the best flavor. I most often use the Genova brand, but Star-Kist and Bumble Bee are good options as well. You’ll need two five-ounce cans of tuna. 
  • Apple – Choose a tart, crisp apple such as a SweeTango or Honeycrisp for great contrast to the tuna.
  • Celery – Adds even more crunch and fresh flavor to the salad.
  • Sweet pickle relishMt. Olive is my brand of choice for sweet relish. Use your favorite or homemade if you have it.
  • Mayonnaise – The mayonnaise binds all the elements of the salad together. If I don’t make it from scratch, we use Duke’s in our household. Of course. It’s made in the South by people who know what mayonnaise should taste like.

The complete ingredient list with detailed measurements is included in the printable recipe card at the bottom of this post.

🐟 Tuna Packed in Water vs. Tuna Packed in Oil

I specifically call for tuna packed in oil for this recipe. And, yes, I know. Everyone pushes tuna in water these days, but let’s get real. Tuna packed in water tastes, well, watery. Tuna packed in beautiful rich olive oil tastes rich! “But what about the calories!” you say? What about them? Tuna packed in oil has only 32 calories more per ounce than tuna packed in water. That huge difference in flavor is well worth 32 calories, in my opinion.

🥄 How to Make Southern Tuna Salad

  1. Begin by draining and discarding the excess oil from the tuna.
  2. Place the drained tuna in a medium mixing bowl. Using a fork, gently stir (flake) the tuna until it’s loose with no really big chunks.
  3. Add the diced apple, celery, sweet pickle relish, salt, black pepper, and mayonnaise.
  4. Gently stir all the ingredients until well combined. 
A sandwich on a white plate.

🍽️ How to Serve

Serve as tuna salad sandwiches using your favorite bread and potato chips on the side. It’s also delicious in a lettuce wrap or as a salad on a bed of lettuce with fresh, sliced, ripe tomatoes and your choice of crackers or melba toast. Or use it as the base for a delicious tuna melt!

🔀 Recipe Variations

  • For a strictly savory tuna salad, incorporate finely chopped dill pickles or dill relish, green onions, and a touch of yellow mustard.
  • Finely diced capers are a nice addition.
  • For a lighter version, substitute Greek yogurt for mayonnaise.
  • Experiment with different apple varieties to discover your favorite flavor combination.
  • Try adding fresh herbs such as dill or parsley.
  • Include a dash of cayenne pepper or diced jalapeños for some heat.
Tuna salad on a bed of lettuce.

🍚 How to Store

Store any leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Enjoy within 2-3 days for the best flavor and freshness. Freezing is not recommended.

❓ Questions About Southern Tuna Salad

Can I make tuna salad with fresh tuna?

It’s possible to make tuna salad with fresh tuna that you’ve cooked, but the texture and taste will be significantly different. This recipe, like most you’ll find, is intended for use with canned tuna.

Can I use something other than mayo in the recipe?

Sure. Try using plain or Greek yogurt, sour cream, Miracle Whip (salad dressing), or even mashed avocado.

Should canned tuna be rinsed before use?

No, don’t rinse canned tuna. Especially not tuna packed in oil. However, you do need to press out or drain the excess oil to prevent a greasy, soggy salad.

Lana Stuart.

Questions? I’m happy to help!

If you have more questions about the recipe, or if you’ve made it and would like to leave a comment, scroll down to leave your thoughts, questions, and/or rating!

Thanks so much for stopping by!

📖 Recipe

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Tuna salad on a bed of lettuce.

Southern Tuna Salad

For a new twist on tuna salad try my Southern Tuna Salad Recipe. It's a unique blend of sweet and savory with sweet relish, apples, and mayo.
5 from 3 votes
Print It Rate It
Course: Salads
Cuisine: American
Prep Time: 5 minutes
Total Time: 5 minutes
Servings: 4 servings
Calories: 264kcal
Author: Lana Stuart


  • 10 ounces tuna in extra virgin olive oil
  • ½ medium apple finely diced
  • 1 rib celery finely diced
  • 3 tablespoons sweet pickle relish lightly drained
  • teaspoon salt
  • teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 cup mayonnaise


  • Drain and discard the excess oil from the tuna.
  • Place the drained tuna in a medium mixing bowl. Using a fork, gently stir (flake) the tuna until it's loose with no large chunks.
  • Add the diced apple, celery, sweet pickle relish, salt, black pepper, and mayonnaise.
  • Gently stir all the ingredients until well combined.


  • Store leftovers in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Use within 2-3 days for the best flavor. Freezing is not recommended.

Nutrition Information

Serving 1 | Calories 264kcal | Carbohydrates 8g | Protein 21g | Fat 16g | Saturated Fat 3g | Polyunsaturated Fat 8g | Monounsaturated Fat 4g | Trans Fat 0.03g | Cholesterol 19mg | Sodium 556mg | Potassium 204mg | Fiber 1g | Sugar 6g | Vitamin A 258IU | Vitamin C 1mg | Calcium 16mg | Iron 1mg

Nutrition information is calculated by software based on the ingredients in each recipe. It is an estimate only and is provided for informational purposes. You should consult your healthcare provider or a registered dietitian if precise nutrition calculations are needed for health reasons.

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— This post was originally published on February 15, 2012. It has been updated with new photos and additional information.

My slightly sweet, slightly savory version of Tuna Salad made with diced, crispy apple, and sweet pickle relish. Serve it with crackers on as a sandwich. https://www.lanascooking.com/tuna-salad/
5 from 3 votes (3 ratings without comment)

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Recipe Rating


  1. Laura Beth says:

    Seriously. Walmart Brand Tuna. They win hands down if you haven’t tried it. I like their canned Salmon better than the other brands too.

    1. Lana Stuart says:

      Seriously? I would have never guessed that! Is it water packed or oil packed?

      1. Laura Beth says:

        Well I use the water packed. I’m not sure if they have oil packed or not, I’ve never looked. It’s hit or miss, but a lot of times it’s not that mashed up stuff you get with the name brand stuff – it’s chunky. The canned Salmon is more pink than the name brand stuff I’ve found. Of course I have to take out all the bones, skin and dark stuff before I can do anything with it, but I’ve bought the $$ brand and it’s the same way.

  2. Sounds like you have this recipe right. This is everything that I put in mine with a few exceptions. As you know, we have always added apple. Of course that comes from Polly. She learned it from her Mother so–it’s a family thing.

    1. Lana Stuart says:

      I didn’t know where that came from! I really like that crunchy, sweet apple in it. Bill likes his with dill and onion. I just make two different ones – one for him and one for me :-)

  3. DessertForTwo says:

    I was just craving a tuna melt!

    I hear ya on the sweet-salty Southern thing! I think we invented the trend, but we’ll let Yankees take credit with their fancy fleur de sel caramels. We’ll eat Velveeta fudge, thankyoumuch.


    1. Ha! That Velveeta fudge is really good, too.

  4. I was stumped on what to write in my most recent post too, sometimes it is just okay to share a fun recipe I guess:-) Your tuna salad sounds yummy, love putting pickles with tuna salad! Hugs, Terra

  5. The ultimate sweet and savory combinations: PayDay candy bars and pineapple casserole (which gets extra points for cheese). Yep. Can’t beat ’em.

    Miss P

    1. Now you’ve done it. I’m suddenly craving a PayDay. I bet I haven’t had one in ten years. I’m on the verge of getting in the car and going to the store just to get one. Dang it.

      1. I bet you could make one. Nougat + peanuts. Sounds great!

        Miss P

        1. BeeBop saw our comments and brought me one home from work. I think I’ll keep him :-)

  6. Feast on the Cheap says:

    Love the apples! And gotta have sweet pickles in tuna, it’s the best.

    1. And, of course, celery. Gotta have that crunch.

  7. Nancy@acommunaltable says:

    I have never had apple in my tuna salad – so see, you did have something different to say about it!

    1. Nancy – you must try a little apple in your tuna salad sometime. It’s different, unexpected, and altogether delicious!