While most consumers have learned that wild salmon is preferable to farm-raised, there are many other variables to consider. Even after ruling out Atlantic Salmon and Steelhead Trout, there are still 5 species of Pacific Salmon, and each goes by several names. Additional factors such as environment, fat content, and processing can make all the difference between top shelf and bottom of the barrel salmon. This article will summarize the key parameters involved in locating the finest of the family.
With seafood in general, higher fat content is highly beneficial (yes!) because fattier fish can survive being frozen and thawed without becoming mushy. While certain types of salmon rank among the fattiest of all fish, don’t worry: it is the “good” fat. Along with offering half the recommended daily allowance of Vitamin A and Vitamin D in a single serving, the oil in Salmon features two otherwise rare compounds known to offer highly protective cardiovascular and neurological benefits: EPA. (Eicosapentaenoic Acid) and DHA. (Docosahexaenoic Acid).
The Antioxidant Astaxanthin
The deep reddish orange color (called `salmon pink`) that occurs in real salmon is a natural result of their traditional diet featuring krill (and/or fish that eat krill). This pigment, the carotenoid Astaxanthin, is a powerful antioxidant with many known health benefits:
* Helps prevent bladder cancer
* Stimulates the immune system
* Protects the retina from oxidative damage
* Easily crosses the blood brain barrier
* Useful to treat Alzheimer`s disease, Parkinsons disease and other nervous system disorders
The Pacific Salmon Family
The five species of the Salmonidae family are highly unique and each deserves a careful look. Note that fish contain much higher body fat percentages during the early spawning process.
*King Salmon (Chinook)
[Oncorhynchus tshawytscha] – The largest of all salmon, the King Salmon is the most desirable species for several reasons: it has the highest percentage of body fat, the most Omega 3, and (many feel) the best flavor. Only a few fish, such as Mackerel and Herring, contain a higher percentage of fat than “Chinook Salmon.” King Salmon is available in several pigment variations including red, white and marbled flesh.
(5 out of 5 stars) 15-35% fat
*Red Salmon (Sockeye)
[Oncorhynchus nerka] – Red Salmon eat only Krill and Phytoplankton, as opposed to fish, so they have the most Astaxanthin and obtain a noticeably deeper orange hue than other species. “Sockeye Salmon” are unique in that they require a lake for spawning.
(4 out of 5 stars) 10%-22% fat
*Silver Salmon (Coho)
[Oncorhynchus kisutch] – Though having a lower fat content, the smaller Silver Salmon can taste close to Sockeye if they come from a reliable source, but they normally do not contain the same amount of Omega 3 or Astaxanthin. “Coho Salmon” were first introduced to the Great Lakes in 1873 and then successfully in the 1960’s.
(3 out of 5 stars) 5%-15% fat
*Pink Salmon (Humpback)
[Oncorhynchus gorbuscha] – The smallest and most abundant of Pacific Salmon, the Pink Salmon have a distinguished humpback. “Humpback Salmon” were more popular in the early 20th century until stocks declined drastically in the 1940`s and 1950`s. Bright silver when in the ocean and turning gray and yellow during spawning, “Humpies” are not as flavorful as premium kinds of salmon, due to lower fat content. Pink Salmon are generally only found canned, though at a fraction of the cost of premium species.
(2 out of 5 stars) 3%-9% fat
*Chum Salmon (Dog)
[Oncorhynchus keta] – Chum Salmon is the type found at discount grocers in the frozen section. The outer skin of Chum Salmon is unusual and resembles tie-dye. “Dog Salmon” do not naturally obtain the same intensity of orange as the others. “Spring Chum” is said to taste great when obtained fresh.
(1 out of 5 stars) 2%-5% fat
The primary salmon naming convention is somewhat puzzling. While the last four species were named after their color: Red, Silver, Pink and Chum (which means varied color), the first one (King) doesn`t follow the pattern. It`s like enumerating them A, B, C, D and 5. Meanwhile, the stories behind the Native American names (Chinook, Sockeye and Coho) are anyone`s guess.
Alaskan Salmon Habitat
Salmon are born in fresh water, migrate to salt water, and later return to fresh water to spawn, and the life cycle repeats (this type of fish is called Anadarous). Salmon spend their adult life in the ocean, where they must put on enough body weight to make their return journey, since migrating salmon do not eat along the way. All other things being equal, the longer salmon have to travel in order to spawn, the higher the amount of body fat and the tastier the fish.
While some areas of the Pacific Northwest and British Columbia are experiencing declining stocks of salmon along with problems from fish farming, wild Salmon are still abundant in much of Alaska, where laws protecting salmon are stricter. It is still important, however, to find small fisheries that practice sustainable harvesting methods.
There are several popular salmon hangouts in Alaska:
*Kodiak Island – Said to feature so many salmon during mid-year that the bears get noticeably bigger from eating them, Kodiak Island turns a special shade of emerald green in late spring – hence its other name: “Emerald Island.”
*Copper River – The pristine Copper River in Alaska is 287 miles long and empties into Prince William Sound. Wild salmon travel through rapids on their return trip, so only those in top shape live to reproduce. The Copper River is the most popular source of gourmet salmon.
*Yukon River – The longest and northernmost river in the salmon`s habitat is the Yukon River that stretches 2300 miles. Yukon salmon must have enormous reserves of body fat to make the journey, containing up to twice the oil of Copper River Salmon (34% versus 17%).
While the Copper River continues to be compromised by logging and roads, pollution in the Yukon is mainly due to the mining of metals. Both rivers are still relatively clean compared to other U.S. rivers and are not listed as contaminated waterways by the Environmental Protection Agency. As with any water source, some areas are cleaner than others, so it`s best to find a retailer that regularly tests its fish for heavy metals. Mercury is a neurotoxin, and although wild salmon are known to be among the purest of all ocean fish, wild and crazy salmon should be avoided.
Threats to Wild Salmon
There are several dangerous trends that threaten the salmon itself, its habitat, the consumers who enjoy them and the communities based on them:
1) Genetically Modified Salmon – GMO salmon are kept in fenced areas in the ocean, and ultimately some will escape, where they could multiply and overcrowd native fish out of existence, after which they would certainly die off themselves. Bred to grow faster, GMO salmon eat everything in sight (some even eat each other!), and this would eventually mean no salmon at all.
2) Sea Lice– A naturally occurring pest, Sea Lice only become a problem in areas where fish are overcrowded into fenced areas. The lice swim through the fence into the ocean where they infect young, nearby wild salmon.
3) Counterfeit Wild Salmon – Superstores often use deceptive marketing techniques, selling “Wild Salmon” that is artificially colored. Some is actually not wild at all. The tell-tale sign of farm-raised salmon is that it does not stay pink after it is cooked (artificial colors fade under heat, unlike real salmon pigment). If a restaurant doesn’t tell you the salmon is wild, it’s farm raised.
4) Globalism – Some fish caught in the Pacific Northwest are actually shipped to China for processing only to be later shipped back and sold in the US! So much for catch of the day. Some even want a new (NAFTA) superhighway to get the fish back here faster!
Chum Salmon, Pink Salmon Nutritional Content:
Sea Lice Threaten BC
Genetically Modified Salmon