A Buyers Guide to Salmon

Many consumers love the orange-reddish meat of the salmon, but how many of those consumers know what they are paying for when they step in front of a supermarket case, or fish market cutting board. Here we discuss a few of the factors that determine the price, the taste, and the overall quality of the beloved salmon.

The first step in making sure you are receiving the highest quality fish and produce available to you is to find a market or grocery store that you can trust. With time and experience, you can meet the curators behind the counter and build a rapport with them. Just like your favorite teller at the bank, your fishmonger should be someone you can trust. Find a reputable place and be consistent. Seafood is about getting the produce while the produce is at its freshest.

The first thing to remember is there are many species of salmon, but only a few you will see in a super market or fish market on any given week. If you have a high quality fish market near you, you may have the option of a wild caught salmon. Most commonly you will see Coho and Sockeye and maybe ever Pink salmon advertised and sold wild because they are more abundant. This keeps their price relatively low compared to higher quality wild salmons such as King (Chinook) Salmon. While Coho and Sockeye can fetch around $25 a pound at your local Whole Foods, you wont see ‘real’ wild King salmon for less than $35 per pound. A word of wisdom: when something seems like it is a very good price, there is a reason. If you are getting real wild King salmon for less than $35 a pound than it more than likely has been previously frozen, or is a farm-raised salmon sold as a wild product. Also don’t be alarmed to see fresh wild king salmon priced at $45-$75 a pound…. no really…..

I’m not kidding

Now there is nothing wrong with previously frozen salmon, but take warning. The mix of chemical preservatives to ensure a longer shelf life can affect your health long term. Fresh salmon, especially wild, has the LEAST amount of manufactured chemicals inside of it. Wild salmon will have a rather large color variance between filets of different fish because the fish aren’t fed on a daily schedule to ensure a steady growth rate. Their color comes directly from the foods they eat. If you have ever wondered where a salmon gets its color, it comes from a pigment found in tiny crustaceans that are a favorite snack of most wild salmon. This pigment is called Astaxanthin, and when a salmon eats more of these colorful little crustaceans, their flesh exudes a beautiful red and ruby colored hue.

Wild Salmon Quick Hits

  • expensive (especially when fresh / never frozen)
  • Organic
  • large variance in color, size
  • highest in Omega-3 fatty acids

That brings us to our next category of Salmon: Farm-Raised. Farm-Raised salmon is one of the most consumed seafoods in our country. The increase in demand for “healthy” meats has led to an explosion of salmon farms and fisheries spanning up and down the Atlantic and Pacific coasts of North and South America. Farm Raised salmon is most commonly Atlantic Salmon, but all other species of salmon are farmed, including King Salmon, due to its perceived higher health benefits. All salmon produce a very healthy grouping of Omega-3 fatty acids, which is linked to benefits to heart health.

Farm Raising a salmon is a multi-year endeavor. Massive “pens” (usually round or square nets) are submerged in the waters off the coasts of inter tidal zones in cooler waters in places like Greenland, Chile, Canada, Washington, and Alaska and even England, Ireland, and Scotland. The inter tidal zones keep “fresh” water moving through these pens, and ensure that these fish are getting a well circulated “tank” of water. These fish live in these pens and grow to desired market size. They are fed a scientifically designed “fish food” that sometimes contains natural or artificial food coloring to “dye” the flesh of the fish to resemble what the coloration of a wild salmon would be. Some of the higher quality “organically” farmed salmons are given a feed of 100% organic materials, and are never given growth hormones, food coloring (besides natural carotenoids), or antibiotics. Some of the lower quality farmed salmons are given all three. Although these fish are given a diet of human made feed, the net pens they live in are large enough for natural sea life to enter and be consumed by our friendly farm-raised salmon meaning although they get a large portion of their diet from humans, they eat natural food in their nets while living and growing. Within 3 years of entering the outdoor pens, some of the fish are ready to be harvested, tagged and sent to markets all around the world.

Some of the benefits to a farm raised salmon are actually the opposite of what you might expect. One of the benefits of the farmed salmon is actually lower numbers of worms, and parasites because these fish are monitored by workers every single day. Their color and their taste is usually more consistent as well. Atlantic salmon tends to be a fattier product than its pacific coast counterparts. The fattiness of a salmon is what gives off that wonderful umami flavor. Despite what you may think, when you go to a very high quality sushi restaurant, you may be served regular farm-raised salmon due to safety to the consumer, and the overall flavor of the filet.

Farm-Raised Salmon Quick Hits

  • lower priced
  • diet of human made feed
  • food colorings added
  • less parasites / worms than wild
  • fattier (more savory flavor)

With this newly acquired knowledge of salmon, you should be confident to make the right choice at your grocery store or fish market.. Stay tuned for more articles referring to different cuts of salmon and which one is best for you! Thanks for reading! – Filet To Table

Published by Filet To Table

Answering all of your most curious questions about seafood fare, and giving you a new confidence or curiosity about culinary flavors from our ocean.

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