Salmon and trout can be confused with one another – not surprising given that they originate from the same parent family. Confusion is more likely by fishermen who are actually trying to identify them than by seafood-loving consumers, but they can sometimes also taste similar.
Whether you want to know which is healthier, how to spot the difference between them in the wild, and how else they fair against one another, we’ll dive into all you need to know about each fish.
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What are the differences between salmon and trout?
They are both parts of the Salmonidae family of fish and originated from the same group at some point, so it’s no surprise they have certain things in common, but they have also grown apart in their differences over time. Salmon can sometimes be confused with trout, particularly when salmon are spawning and upstream.
Let’s compare them more thoroughly, looking at multiple factors.
Salmon are born in freshwater, but after they have hatched, they head to the ocean, returning every year to freshwater to procreate. Known as a salmon run, this is a worldwide phenomenon in areas where salmon occur naturally. They love cold water, usually being found in the north Atlantic and north pacific oceans.
Pacific salmon are found everywhere from Southern California to Northern Alaska, while Atlantic salmon are endangered and rarely found in the wild, but can be located in the northern Atlantic and rivers feeding into it, in North America, Greenland, Iceland, Europe, and the Baltic (Russia).
Salmon are longer, more slender fish than trout, with sharp, angled heads. Their tails look similar to those of trout, though, and are broad and square-shaped, so their heads and bodies are what helps to distinguish them from trout and other types of fish. Though some species have spots of flecks on their bodies, this is not as common a feature among salmon and not a defining feature.
Salmon flesh is usually orange in color and ranges from a light pink-orange to a deeper red-orange, depending on the species.
Salmon has a more gamey taste, with higher fat content, but is not a particularly ‘fishy’ flavored fish, and so appeals to a wide variety of people. It can be prepared in a number of ways, from smoking to grilling or pan-searing, or even eating raw, a popular method of preparation in the Japanese culture. Using bold flavors and spices can accentuate the richness of this fish, and salmon pairs well with several flavors.
Living four to five years on average, different species of these fish have developed various reputations for being caught, some more challenging and rewarding than others. If you’re a fisherman aiming to catch your own salmon, the best time to do this is during their annual salmon run into the rivers. Nutritionally, salmon have a higher calorie content and are fattier than trout, but they are packed with healthy omega-three fatty acids and relatively high in protein too.
Salmon can be both wild and farmed. Atlantic trout, which is endangered in the wild, with limited populations, is farmed, and all commercially available Atlantic salmon is farmed.
Trout are freshwater fish. They are usually found in cool, clear streams or lakes, though some species have also adapted to live in saltwater and spend some of the earlier time in their lives there before moving to freshwater. Because they enjoy cooler climates, they are primarily found in Northern America, Europe, and Asia, though they have been located all over the world.
They like to live in mountainous areas or other places with lakes or large bodies of freshwater and can be caught year-round due to their ability to withstand cold water temperatures throughout the winter. Fishermen can often find them in clear, shallow water, hiding in rocks or vegetation.
Some trout species can look similar to salmon and even be caught in the same waters. They are usually smaller in size than salmon and can weigh up to 30 kg, though most are smaller. They tend to be round and thick with a round head and a broad square or convex tail.
Their bodies are often spotted, which is one of their defining features. Trout flesh is usually lighter in color, with more white-pink-colored meat.
Trout has a light, delicate flesh that is less fatty and can dry out easily, so if you are preparing this yourself, be sure not to overcook it! It has a delicate and subtle flavor that can easily be overpowered by spices and sauces, so using a more neutral seasoning or herbs is a good idea if you still want to honor the taste of the trout. This mild flavor also means that it soaks up the flavors of seasoning relatively easily, taking on the tastes of what is on and around it.
For those who don’t want to get too experimental, a basic combination of salt, pepper, lemon, garlic, butter, and white wine is always a winner with trout.
Trout live for about seven years and are known to be fun fish to catch. The two most popular ways of catching trout include fly fishing or ice fishing. The fish are high in protein but lower in fat and are a healthy part of a balanced diet.
Trout can be farmed, as well as being found in the wild. In general, these practices are environmentally friendly, the quality of trout produced in farms is good, and the fish is healthy to eat. All rainbow trout available commercially on the US market is farmed.
Which is healthier: salmon or trout?
Both salmon and trout are excellent sources of protein and have very little trans-fat but are rich in omega-three fatty acids. Salmon has a higher fat content than trout and a higher calorie count too. Both fish have high levels of vitamins A, C, D, and E, though those in trout are slightly higher.
They have similar levels of vitamin B, iron, and calcium too. Salmon is richer in terms of potassium and omega three and omega six content.
Overall, both of these fish are an excellent source of vitamins, minerals, and healthy fats. While salmon has a higher calorie content, it is a richer source of all the above that your body needs. If you are looking for a leaner option but with much the same nutritional content otherwise, then trout is the fish for you.
Both are very versatile and can be used in multiple ways to cook with, making them a favorite among professional chefs and home cooks alike. They are easily prepared in several ways and also very easily accessible, with both of these species being relatively populous fish.
Can you substitute trout for salmon?
The flavors of trout and salmon are quite different, with salmon being sweeter and having a more distinct flavor. In terms of seasoning, you will probably season them differently, with more mild flavors paired with the trout, but if you’re looking for a substitute fillet on the plate to serve with sides, then it is definitely an option to switch them out!
However, each fish has different properties and cooks differently, as well as different flavor profiles, so it just depends on the dish or manner of preparation involved in which you want to make the substitution.
Salmon and trout may be confused in the rivers at times by fishermen but have distinctive tastes and flavors. Because both can be used in a number of dishes and don’t have particularly strong fishy tastes, they are popular, as well as being nutritious. Personally, I only marginally prefer the stronger flavor of salmon and enjoy it either smoked, raw, or pan-seared with a squeeze of lemon and a side of green vegetables.
Hopefully, you’ll experiment with both to figure out which is your personal favorite. Whether you’re a fishing fanatic or just a lover of seafood, these two species are an important part of the fish world all around the globe.