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6 Types of Salmon to Know
King, Sockeye, Coho — what’s the difference?
Salmon is the most popular seafood species in the U.S. with a commercial value of $688 million in 2017, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The fish is prized for its health benefits, especially its omega-3 fatty acids. But not all salmon is created equal, in fact there are six different types of salmon that are sold commercially in the U.S.
If you’ve ever noticed names like Sockeye or King floating around the seafood section of your grocery store, we’re here to clarify the differences. But first, what’s most important to understand about salmon is how it’s raised.
Wild vs. Farmed Salmon
Wild salmon is salmon that is caught in natural environments like oceans, rivers, and lakes. But much of the salmon sold worldwide today is farmed salmon. Fish farms use a process called aquaculture to breed fish, which are often given a processed feed that’s high in fat and protein to produce larger fish.
Because they have different diets, the nutrient composition of wild and farmed salmon is very different. Wild salmon contains more minerals, while farmed salmon is higher in vitamin C, saturated fat, and calories.
Some studies have also shown that farmed salmon may have higher concentrations of contaminants than wild salmon. Both are still excellent sources of omega-3s, but wild salmon is overall better for your health if you can afford to spend a little extra on it.
If you’re looking to stick to wild salmon, you’re going to want to go with Pacific salmon, of which there are five types: King, Sockeye, Coho, Pink, and Chum. It’s not that Atlantic salmon is bad, it’s just that there are very few Atlantic salmon found in the wild today, due to overfishing and habitat destruction. So most Atlantic salmon is farm-raised. Read on to learn about the six common types of salmon.
Read more: Wild Salmon Vs. Farmed Salmon: What’s the Difference?
This salmon is deserving of its royal title. Many consider it to be the best salmon you can buy. High in fat, rich, and large in size, King salmon (also known as Chinook) is loaded with omega-3s.
King salmon have reached up to five feet in size and over 100 pounds in weight, showing up everywhere from the Pacific waters of southern California to the freezing rivers of northern Alaska.
Sockeye salmon, or red salmon, is known for its striking red-orange flesh and strong scent. It’s said to have a richer flavor, or what some might describe as “fishier.”
They’re smaller and leaner than Kings, and a lot cheaper too. Sockeye salmon is often sold smoked, and are a favorite among chefs across the country. Not only do they get their name for bright red flesh, but their skin also turns a deep red as they swim upstream to spawn. They’re mostly caught in Alaskan waters.
Coho or silver salmon get their name for their bright silver skin. Although they don’t get the attention that massive Kings and flavorful Sockeyes do, Coho has a medium fat-content and a more subtle flavor.
Because of their small size, Cohos are often used when cooking a whole salmon. Their flavor is similar to Kings, but Cohos are more delicate in texture. They’re commonly found in Alaskan waters and much of the northern Pacific.
This salmon goes by pink, humpback, or even “humpies” because they have a distinctive hump on their back that develops when they spawn, as well as a light-colored flesh. They’re mild in flavor and low in fat and size, typically weighing between two and six pounds.
Although they can be found fresh and frozen, they’re typically processed and sold in cans or pouches. Most pink salmon is harvested from Alaskan fisheries, but they can also be found on the coasts of Washington and Oregon. Fun fact: U.S. fishermen harvested more pink salmon than all other fish in 2017, all 495 million pounds of them.
Chum salmon goes by many names. This light to medium-colored fish has a lower fat content and smaller size. It’s flesh is often sold canned or frozen.
However, it does have one big thing going for it: its roe. Roe, or fish eggs contained in the ovaries of a female fish, is considered a delicacy in many cuisines. Chum’s roe is often bigger and tastier than other types of salmon. It’s often used for Ikura (salmon caviar).
Chum salmon is mostly harvested from Alaskan waters.
6. Atlantic/Salmo Salar
And finally, the only salmon that doesn’t hail from the Pacific ocean is, of course, Atlantic salmon. However, all commercially available Atlantic salmon is farmed. This is because only small, endangered populations live in the wild today. Atlantic salmon tends to be more mild in flavor, but often larger in size due to their specialized diet.
However, fish farming is starting to see improvements as fisheries moved towards more plant-based feeds. Because it’s farm-raised, Atlantic salmon also tends to be cheaper than most wild salmon.
Wild vs Farmed Salmon
Now, let’s first address wild vs farm salmon, and what is the difference.
Most wild salmon are Pacific salmon, and are caught in a natural environment like oceans, lakes, and rivers. Wild-caught salmon are more nutrient and mineral rich than farmed salmon thanks to their rich natural diets. Specifically, wild-caught salmon has higher omega-3 levels.
All Alaskan salmon are wild salmon, because Alaska banned fish farms.
And on other hand, there’re fish farms that raise salmon in a controlled environment. Farmed salmon are fed with high fat and high protein diet to produce larger fish. Also, farmed salmon has lighter color than wild salmon.
Wild Salmon Varieties
Now, let’s talk about the nitty gritty of different varieties of salmon. There’re 5 Pacific salmon types, and each of them have unique characteristics.
- King Salmon (Chinook) – Rich and buttery, King salmon is the highest in fat and omega-3 fatty acids. Due to its large size (average King salmon weighs about 40lbs, and some are even over 100lbs!), it comes in thick filets! And since they’re rare species, they’re quite expensive. It totally worth the splurge though!
- Coho Salmon (Silver) – Coho salmon have delicate texture and subtle flavor. This type of salmon has moderate amount of fat, but it’s still rich in omega-3 fatty acids.
- Sockeye Salmon (Red) – Sockeye salmon are slimmest salmon, therefore they have lower fat content than King and Coho salmon. And it has the most salmon-y flavor (fishy, in the best way!). Due to its unique diet, there’s no farmed version of Sockeye. Plus, it’s more affordable than King and Coho salmon, which makes it the most popular choice among salmon lovers!
- Pink Salmon (Humpback) – These pale pink colored, small salmon are mild in taste and low in fat. They’re mostly processed into cans, but they’re also available frozen.
- Chum Salmon (Dog) – Chum salmon is also small, low fat salmon. They’re the most popular for their egg roe, those beautiful bright orange balls served with sushi! If you’ve ever had ikura sushi, then you’ve tasted a part of chum salmon. Fun fact: The name of this type of salmon comes from their dog-like teeth.
There’s one more wild salmon species: Atlantic. However, as mentioned above, all Atlantic salmon on the market is farmed salmon, because wild Atlantic salmon are now rare species.
What is Steelhead Trout?
Ok, before we wrap up this post, I want to mention one more species that is very close to salmon – steelhead trout.
Steelhead trouts are related to rainbow trouts, but behave like Pacific salmon. Rainbow trouts (small, white fish) remain in fresh water for their entire life, but steelhead trouts travel into the ocean, similar to salmon.
Atlantic vs. Pacific Salmon
Atlantic salmon and Pacific salmon both live in regions around the northern United States. However, any Atlantic salmon you find in your local supermarket likely comes from a farm.
The Atlantic salmon and Pacific salmon sold throughout the United States were all once wild-caught. However, wild Atlantic salmon is now considered endangered because its population is declining. Catching wild Atlantic salmon is consequently banned.
Farmed Atlantic salmon are considered substantially different from their wild counterparts. It’s fine to eat farmed Atlantic salmon, though most people don’t consider this the best salmon to eat.
Choosing the Healthiest Salmon
The main difference between farmed and wild salmon involves how the fish is raised. Farmed salmon are raised in pens and fed fishmeal, fish oil and other protein-rich foods. In comparison, wild salmon roam between freshwater and the open ocean. They consume a varied natural diet of zooplankton and smaller fish.
The differences in how these fish are raised influences their nutrition. According to Harvard Health Publishing, both wild and farmed salmon are rich in healthy unsaturated fats known as omega-3 fatty acids.
However, the exact nutritional benefits that farmed salmon can provide you with vary based on the food your salmon consumed. Farmed salmon typically have higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids. Unfortunately, they also have larger amounts of unhealthy saturated fats compared to wild-caught salmon.