Saturday, April 4, 2009

Article: Salmon Types/Varieties

A beautiful batch of wild Alaskan sockeye salmon

There are five main species of wild salmon in the Pacific Ocean, and really just one in the Atlantic. Hopefully, this article will help you purchase the tastiest salmon available in your area.

Note: If you've already purchased your salmon and are looking for a way to eat it, see my recipe for Pan Seared Salmon or Charcoal Grilled Salmon.

IMPORTANT NOTE: My friends and family consider me a salmon snob.

Highly Recommended

Sockeye Salmon - By far the best-tasting and most tender, I think. Also called Red Salmon. The meat of this fish is (not surprisingly) a vibrant red-orange color. While there are runs of sockeye salmon outside of Alaska, the vast majority of Sockeye salmon that makes it to U.S. grocery stores is from Alaska.

Silver Salmon - A close second, but not quite as good as Sockeye in my opinion. Also called Coho Salmon. Silver salmon meat is bright orange in color. Most silver salmon comes from Alaska, although the species was introduced in the Great Lakes in the 1940's, and is also farm-raised in Canada and elsewhere.

King Salmon - Darn near as good as Silver, but often a bit tougher and not quite as flavorful. Still a very good fish. Also called Chinook Salmon. King salmon meat is orange-pink in color, but not as vibrant as Sockeye or Silver. Primarily from Alaska, but also farm-raised in New Zealand, Canada, and elsewhere.

Wild Atlantic Salmon - I don't know how easy this stuff is to get these days, or what the geo-political and eco-moral implications are of eating it, but it's pretty good stuff. From what I am told, there are still wild runs of Atlantic Salmon in Iceland, Norway, and other parts of the North Atlantic. If you can get your hands on wild-caught Atlantic salmon and have good reason to believe you are not eating the last one on the planet... go for it!

Not Recommended
Pink Salmon - In a pinch, I would use canned pink salmon in a salmon burger if I could add enough other ingredients to mask the bland, fishy, generally lame taste of this fish. I wouldn't just eat a hunk of it. Also called Humpy. The flesh of pink salmon is pale pink. Again, this fish is primarily from Alaska and Western Canada, but is farmed as well.

Dog Salmon - There is some debate as to whether this salmon is called dog salmon because of its appearance, or because it was considered most suitable for dog food by prospectors during the Gold Rush years (and by native Alaskans before and since). When I worked in a cannery in Ketchikan, this stuff went straight to the dogfood and catfood "mince line". I wouldn't eat it unless I was starving. Also known as Chum Salmon (read: fishing bait). In the past few years, I have seen this variety marketed as "Keta" Salmon and even "Silverbrite" salmon. The flesh of dog salmon is dull pink and even a bit yellowish. Taste is bland. Happily, as far as I know, no one is stupid enough to farm-raise dog salmon.

Farmed Atlantic Salmon - This is pretty much the sewer rat of salmon. It is farmed off the East Coast of the United States and Canada, as well as in Norway and other North Atlantic locales. Farmed Atlantic salmon are fed a nasty mix of ground up waste animal parts, corn and corn byproducts, artificial colors (to make it vaguely pink) and God knows what else. The health benefits normally found in cold water fish are dubious at best in farmed Atlantic salmon, and there is mounting evidence that they are laced with PCBs, organochlorine pesticides, mercury and other toxins. Unfortunately, farmed Atlantic salmon is by far the most common salmon variety available in United States grocery stores.


  1. Hi -

    Do you know what kind of salmon is used in sushi commonly?

    1. Hi there,

      Most salmon used in sushi is Coho (also known as Silver), Sockeye (also known as Red), and King. From my own personal/anecdotal experience, it seems as though most "sake" sushi is Coho, is it is a vibrant orange color. King salmon can also look orange, sockeye is a deep red. I would recommend asking the sushi chefs what kind of salmon they are offering, as a reputable sushi bar should always be willing to offer this information.

      Hope that helps!



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