The Complete Guide to Salmon: Salmon 101
We’ve put together a comprehensive guide on salmon to answer any question on America's most popular fish.
This is part 1 in a series. Here is part 2: The Complete Guide to Salmon: Buying and Storing Salmon and part 3: The Complete Guide to Salmon: Preparing & Cooking Salmon.
Arguably the most popular fish in the U.S., salmon is a versatile fish that’s fairly easy to work with, but it does present a few challenges in the kitchen and on the dinner table. We’ve put together a guide to demystify this ray-finned fish to make it a bit easier for cooks to understand and cook with it.
Is salmon seafood?
Salmon seems to confuse a lot of people with regards to whether or not it’s considered seafood. The Oxford Dictionary defines seafood as “Shellfish and sea fish, served as food.” Salmon hatch in freshwater but travel to the ocean and back to spawn in rivers (the term for that is “anadromous”), which is why salmon is perplexing. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration considers salmon seafood, so it’s safe to say salmon is seafood despite its freshwater origins.
What types of salmon are there?
There are many types of salmon, but there are some that are more commonly cooked and served than others.
King salmon is also known as Chinook salmon and is one of the most commonly bought Pacific salmon. King salmon is (mostly) wild-caught and flow from river systems around the North Pacific ocean. That means you’ll see king salmon from fisheries in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. They’re some of the largest Pacific salmon you can buy — they can grow to be as large as 100 pounds.
Sockeye salmon is another (mostly) wild-caught Pacific salmon commonly found at grocery stores. Sockeye salmon is caught on the West Coast of the continental United States as well as Alaska. It’s quite a bit smaller than king salmon; sockeye can weigh up to 15 pounds. It’s a very common salmon and has dark red flesh (it’s also known as ‘red salmon’). It’s very fatty which is where it gets a lot of its flavor.
Scottish salmon is Atlantic salmon and is one of the biggest (if not the biggest) food exports from Scotland and you can find it at many grocery stores. Scottish salmon is fatty, has a mild flavor, and is higher in Omega-3 fatty acids than wild salmon. It’s known to be some of the best farm-raised salmon in the world.
Coho salmon or silver salmon is another Pacific salmon commonly found in grocery stores. Coho salmon has a deep red flesh and is less fatty than king or sockeye salmon but is considered one of the best tasting of the salmon varieties.
Steelhead trout is the cousin of salmon. It’s the anadromous version of rainbow trout which is a freshwater fish. Steelhead is native to Alaska and the West Coast of the United States. It has a rich flavor but is milder than king salmon.
Chum salmon, sometimes marketed as “keta salmon”, has a light color and it’s not as fatty as other salmon. Typically, it’s canned or smoked.
Pink salmon is the most plentiful of the Pacific salmon. It has a light pink flesh that’s good for roasting and grilling but it’s most commonly sold in cans.
Atlantic salmon is farmed and artificially colored — but any coloring should be indicated on the packaging. However, it is a full-flavored salmon that is probably the most versatile.
Farmed vs. wild salmon
Both farmed salmon and wild salmon are widely available but they come with a few differences worth noting.
Is farmed salmon really that bad?
One thing to note is that farm-raised salmon is fattier than wild-caught salmon (wild ones have to work for their food). That also means their diets are different. Most wild salmon eat smaller fish, krill, and other small shellfish. What farmed salmon eats is where there’s debate about whether or not it’s bad — but it really depends on the farm. Generally, they eat fish pellets that are made of a number of things including smaller fish as well as plant and animal byproducts which can reduce salmon nutritional value. However, just before they’re sent to market, they’re released into their natural habitat to eat marine life and regain the nutrition (e.g., omega-3 fatty acids) they’re known for.
The other concern is antibiotics. Farmed fish are held in aquatic pens and their waste piles up on the ocean floor underneath the pens. To prevent disease, some are treated with antibiotics (Scottish salmon is not), but the amount of antibiotics that are used now are much lower than they used to be. The color is also a concern. Wild caught salmon is naturally pink from eating algae and plankton while some farmed salmon is dyed pink through its food because it’s easier to sell pink salmon than white salmon, but it’s safe to eat.
When is wild salmon season?
About 95 percent of wild salmon sold in the U.S. comes from Alaska where harvesting starts in May and ends in September.
What do salmon eat?
Young wild salmon eat plankton and insects while older (bigger) wild salmon eat other fish, shrimp, and crawfish. Farmed salmon (Atlantic salmon) eat fish pellets made from plant and animal byproducts.
Are salmon endangered?
Some salmon species are on the Federal list of endangered species, but not all of them. The location of the fish and not just the fish affects the status of the species.
Is salmon dyed pink?
Some salmon is dyed pink, but not all of it. Some Atlantic salmon is artificially colored because it’s farmed. The naturally pink salmon comes from algae and plankton that contain a carotenoid (which means it has carotene like carrots) called astaxanthin that wild salmon eat. Some farmed salmon eat fish pellets that contain astaxanthin. Packaging will indicate if fish have been artificially colored.
Can I eat raw salmon?
If you want to eat salmon raw, it’s ok to eat farmed salmon, but there is a risk for eating wild salmon raw. If you buy frozen raw fish, you have a reduced risk of eating fish with parasites because parasites die during the freezing process. The best way to get salmon that’s ok to eat raw is to buy it from a market that you trust.
What are the health benefits of salmon?
Is salmon healthy?
Salmon is a healthy alternative to other proteins like beef, pork, and chicken. Most people eat it because it’s very high in omega-3 fatty acids which are good for your heart, joints, and brain function. It’s also a good source of potassium — the same amount as a banana. Salmon also contains B vitamins which are good for energy as well as selenium which may ease thyroid problems and may protect against some cancers.
Can you eat too much salmon?
You can eat too much salmon if you’re on blood-thinning medication because the omega-3 fatty acids that salmon contain help keep blood thin (which is generally good). But for it to be harmful you’d have to consume about two pounds of salmon per day, which is a lot.
How much fat is there in salmon?
Fat content of salmon depends on what type it is and if it’s wild or farmed. Three ounces of sockeye (wild) contains about 6 grams of fat. Three ounces of Atlantic salmon (farmed) contains about 10.5 grams of fat. Farmed salmon has a higher total and slightly higher saturated fat content, although this can vary. Farmed salmon nutrition depends on the food pellets the farmer chooses. In the wild, salmon eat what they naturally find in the waters and this often includes algae, plankton, and other small fish. As a result, wild salmon tends to be leaner, and richer in inflammation-fighting omega-3 fats. In both cases, the healthfulness of the salmon is subject to the health of the water and what the fish eats. Responsibly farmed salmon can be an affordable and healthy choice.
How many calories are in salmon?
Three ounces of sockeye (wild) salmon contains 143 calories and three ounces of Atlantic salmon (farmed) contains about 177 calories. Like fat content, how many calories in salmon depends its type and if it’s wild or farmed.
How much protein is in salmon?
Salmon is an excellent source of protein but the amount of protein varies, depending on the type and whether it’s farmed or wild-caught. Three ounces of sockeye (wild) contains about 22 grams of protein. Three ounces of Atlantic salmon (farmed) contains about 17 grams of protein.
Does salmon have carbs?
Salmon contains no carbohydrates making it excellent for people following low-carb diets like the keto diet and gluten-free diets.
Is salmon kosher?
Salmon is considered a kosher food. There are questions about whether animals that eat “unclean” food like shellfish is kosher, but that does not preclude them from the kosher designation.
Does salmon have vitamin D?
Salmon is an excellent source of vitamin D. Three ounces of farmed Atlantic salmon contains more than 100 percent of the daily recommended value of vitamin D based on a 2,000 calorie diet.
Does salmon have mercury?
Salmon contains mercury at very low levels. That means you should eat salmon in moderate amounts if you’re concerned about the harmful effects of mercury.
Is raw salmon healthy?
Raw salmon is a healthy alternative to other meat and poultry. However, cooking salmon will not cut the nutritional value of salmon unless it’s deep-fried. If you’re concerned about parasites, most raw salmon that you find at the grocery store has been frozen and freezing fish to a temperature of -4 degrees Fahrenheit for a week kills parasites.
Is farmed salmon really that bad?
Farmed salmon is quite good for you. It still contains all of the same nutrients that wild-caught salmon has but it is slightly fattier and contains more calories. One issue some have a problem with is the use of antibiotics. With the exception of Scottish salmon, antibiotics are used on farmed salmon to protect it from bacteria.
Is salmon healthy to eat everyday?
Salmon is healthy to eat every day but, like with anything, you should eat salmon in moderation to get the most out of it.
Can you eat salmon skin?
Yes, you can eat salmon skin and, depending on its preparation, it can be quite delicious.
Is salmon skin healthy?
Salmon skin is healthy. There’s actually more omega-3 fatty acids in the skin than the rest of the fish.
Is smoked salmon as healthy as fresh salmon?
Smoked salmon is as healthy as fresh salmon, but there are a few differences. Smoked salmon has fewer calories and less fat than fresh salmon, but there’s about 13 times as much sodium in smoked salmon than fresh salmon, so it really depends on what your dietary needs are.
Salmon nutrition information
Omega-3 fatty acids are a type of unsaturated fat found naturally in salmon, and other fatty fish like sardines and trout. They are classified as essential fatty acids - that is, our bodies cannot make them and they must be obtained from either food or supplements.
Research suggests that consuming adequate omega-3 fats offers a number of health benefits:
Omega-3s have been shown to help reduce triglycerides and boost heart health. Some studies indicate that Omega-3s may help lower blood pressure and reduce triglycerides by as much as 20-50%!
Fish oil has anti-inflammatory properties and may help alleviate joint pain amongst people with rheumatoid arthritis and other inflammatory conditions
One form of omega-3s called docosahexaenoic acid (DHA for short) is the most abundant fatty acid in the brain and plays a vital role in brain development and function. Some but not all studies suggest that omega-3s may protect against cognitive decline as we age.
Salmon is one of the most popular sources of omega-3 fats, other omega-3 rich foods include sardines and trout, walnuts, and chia seeds.