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Potato Salad - Unknown Ingredient

I used to purchase a deli potato salad that had a very distinctive taste to it. This was at a Wawa in Philadelphia in 1982. I found a similar (if not the same) potato salad in the Harrisburg area in 1997. Both places no longer carry this particular potato salad. At the second place it was labeled their 'Classic' potato salad.

Anyway, in addition to the taste of mayo and some mustard, vinegar and some sweetness there was a flavor that had a bit of a tang and a bit of a burn. Not hot (piquant) but almost a tingle. This is hard to describe.

When trying to replicate it (I've tried a lot of things...) the thing that came closest was probably juice from a jar of pickled banana pepper rings, but it still was not it.

I'm thinking it might have been sodium benzoate? or another preservative? or monosodium glutemate? It did enhance my flavor experience of the potato salad (umami). And as much as I crave that taste, my wife has an equally strong aversion to it.

Any ideas?

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  1. Could it have been Horseraddish? Many years ago I used to buy a deli coleslaw with a very distinctive horseraddish flavour which I absolutly loved.

    2 Replies
    1. re: justlizikaria

      Interesting thought. I will try that. A small amount (just enough) would certainly add those properties...

      1. re: justlizikaria

        I was going to suggest horseradish too. I spike a lot of things that have mayo with a bit of horseradish sauce. That's a bit lighter and smoother without the risk that someone will bite directly into a larger piece of raw grated horseradish.

      2. I don't know about chemical preservatives and taste, but I wonder if you can find a piccalilli to match that flavor profile. Many are both hot and sweet.

        Proustian memories of that potato salad, no? From 1982---wow!

        1 Reply
          1. In the old days, potato salad had a lot more vinegar. Also gherkin pickle juice was often used to punch it up.

            1 Reply
            1. re: coll

              I've also heard of brining the potatoes in pickle juice.

            2. Whole grain mustard? I use it in a fish sauce and my 6 year old daughter always says "those little red things burn".

              1 Reply
              1. I noticed that eggs mixed in to potato salad can change the flavor profile quite a bit and what you are describing sounds like deviled egg flavor. Maybe cayenne and relish with egg?

                1. I'm fairly satisfied with the deviled egg potato salad I get from the deli, but realized there was something missing from "the way Mom used to make it".

                  Paprika. There are quite a few varieties, but some would add a tang and a burn (since the spice comes from the pepper family).

                  I haven't tried it yet, but oddly enough had been planning to buy some tomorrow to see if that made the difference...

                  1. I use a liberal squirt of Sriracha in mine.

                    1. Savory. the herb. look for summer savory, but winter savory is fine as well.

                      1. MSG? Lots of that stuff was put in foods back then.

                        1. Maybe they used Japanese mayo rather than standard mayo?
                          Japanese mayo has MSG in it and I loved the potato salads in Japan as they had a definite tang and to my palate aren't as cloying as other potato salads.

                          1. It may have been Durkee's Famous Sauce, which was quite popular some decades ago and became difficult to find outside the South for years, but is now more widely available again.

                            It's tangy and a bit spicy as described. Great secret ingredient for potato salad & deviled eggs and very good on certain sandwiches. IMO the absolute best condiment for a BLT.

                            Well worth trying if you can find it. Comes in a jar with a distinctive blue and yellow label.


                            1. My guesses are gherkin pickles (that's my secret ingredient) or wasabi