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6 Different Types of Salmon

grind up some wasabi and turn on the torch as we browse through the different types of salmon and their various characteristics that separate them from the others along with habitat.

This is a large piece of salmon fillet on a dark surface.

Salmon are anadromous, meaning they live in both fresh and saltwater. They are born in freshwater, live there for anything from a few months to a few years, before heading out to the ocean, and then go back to freshwater when it comes time to spawn. As North America’s favorite seafood, we’ll take a further look at the six different kinds of salmon you get and what sets them apart from one another.

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What are the different types of salmon?

Before making any distinctions between the different types of salmon you can get, it is important to note that as an umbrella differentiation to all types, you either get wild or farmed salmon. But the different kinds of salmon themselves? There are six. A distinction can be made between Pacific and Atlantic salmon.

There are five different types of pacific salmon, each known by various names, and then there is Atlantic salmon, of which there is only one type, but once again, it can have multiple names.

Pacific Salmon

Pink/humpback

This is a fisherman with a humpback salmon he caught.

A lighter-colored salmon, Pink derives from its color, whereas humpback comes from the distinctive hump that these fish get on their backs when they spawn. A small fish that is mild in flavor and low in fat, this salmon is typically sold as a canned product.

Found on the West coast in Northern USA and in Alaskan waters, this is the most common type of salmon. A white mouth with dark gums, a pink tinge to their bodies, and oval spots on their tails help to identify these salmon.

King/Chinook

This is a large chinook salmon swimming underwater.

Considered by many to be the best salmon you can buy, this truly is the king of all the salmon. They are large, reaching up to five feet in size, rich in flavor, and high in fat. Found in waters from southern California to northern Alaska, their flesh can range from white to red and shades of pink in between.

They are distinguishable by their gums and inside of their mouths being completely black, and also by the small round spots on their backs and tails.

Sockeye or red

A sockeye salmon swimming with head above water.

Mostly found in Alaskan waters, these salmon are known for their bright red-orange flesh. (Fun fact: When they swim upstream to spawn, their skin also turns a deep red color). With a rich flavor and strong scent, Sockeye salmon is a favorite among chefs and is often sold smoked. With no spots on them and white gums and mouths, these salmon are easily identified by their bright golden eyes, which are larger than those of other salmon.

Coho/Silver

This is a large wild silver salmon caught by fisherman.

With a bright silver skin and subtle flavor, similar to that of Chinook salmon, these small salmon are often cooked whole. They have a delicate texture and medium fat content and are typically found in the Northern Pacific or Alaskan waters. Unless they are spawning, Coho salmon have similar markings to King salmon, but they are distinguishable by their white gums and spots only being found on the top half of their tails.

Chum salmon

These are spawning chum salmon underwater at the river.

Also known as Silverbrite, Keta, or Dog salmon, this is a slightly smaller salmon with a light to medium color. Mostly found in Alaskan waters, this fish has a lower fat content and is most often sold as frozen or else canned salmon. While this doesn’t sound very impressive, the big pro of this type of salmon is its roe. Often used as salmon caviar, the Chum salmon has bigger and more flavorful roe than other varieties.

Not the easiest to distinguish, Chum salmon have subtle bands of color on their bodies and large teeth. However, when they spawn, they turn green with purple markings on their body and are very easy to spot.

Atlantic Salmon

This is a solitary atlantic salmon swimming in the ocean.

Sometimes also known as Salmo Salar, these fish are few and far between in the ocean these days. All the Atlantic salmon that is available commercially is farmed, as the populations still living in the wild are small and endangered. This type of salmon is usually larger than its pacific counterparts and has a milder flavor.

Because it is farmed, and therefore the production is relatively controlled, this salmon is usually cheaper than wild salmon.

With dark spots above their gills and unusual x or y shaped spots on their upper bodies, these salmon are most easily distinguished from others because of their geographical location! However, they can be confused with Brown Trout when spawning, as they turn a bronze/brown color.

What is the most common type of salmon?

While pink salmon are the most common salmon that you will find in the wild, Atlantic salmon is what you will find most frequently in the supermarket. This is because it is farmed and sold at a slightly lower price than wild salmon.

What is the best type of salmon to eat?

This is a raw salmon filet with salt and pepper.

Wild and farmed salmon both have different nutritional compositions. While both are excellent sources of omega 3’s, wild salmon will typically have higher mineral content, while farmed salmon has more saturated fat and vitamin c, as it is fed on a high fat, high protein diet in order to breed larger fish. As such, farmed salmon usually has a higher calorie content than wild salmon.

Farmed salmon can have higher contaminants in them, so wild salmon, while usually priced slightly higher than farmed salmon, is often healthier.

If you’d prefer to eat wild salmon, Pacific salmon is your best bet, as there is more of it. Atlantic salmon is harder to find in the wild, and so all of what we find in the shops are farmed these days. This also makes it less good in terms of sustainability ratings, but farming practices are improving, and it’s always good to check the source of your fish, particularly if you buy Atlantic salmon.

As we’ve seen, different types of salmon have different fat content, but how healthy they also depend on how you prepare the fish, so there is no one definitive answer to this, aside from wild Pacific salmon.

How is salmon used?

This is a big chunk of salmon sliced by a chef.

Salmon is a cold-water fish. They are hugely versatile to cook with and are used in dishes across the world, from the USA to Norway to Japan. Eaten raw in sushi, cooked as fillets, canned and added to salads and other dishes, or smoked and used for everything from breakfasts to main dinner dishes, salmon is a very popular fish to eat.

Caught by both commercial and private fishermen in rivers and lakes as well as the ocean, these fish have a broad appeal and are widespread in their accessibility.

Salmon roe, or caviar, is a delicacy in many cultures and gleaned from the ovaries of spawning female salmon. Used both decoratively and for flavor, these salty bubble-looking eggs are a treasured foodstuff.

What should I look for when buying salmon?

This is a whole raw salmon surrounded by various herbs and spices.
  • If you are buying Atlantic salmon, make sure to check where it came from and how sustainability it has been farmed. Finding out about the supply chain of your produce is important in supporting good practices.
  • Moist salmon is better than dry salmon! It is an indicator of how fresh the salmon is and how well it has been handled. If the skin has brown spots on it or is curling up around the edges, it is not a good sign.
  • Frozen salmon can sometimes be fresher than fresh salmon and should not be avoided out of fear of an inferior quality of fish. Depending on where you are and how close it is to the source of the salmon, fresh salmon may be of worse quality if it has had to be transported over long distances. Frozen salmon, on the other hand, is frozen immediately after being caught and doesn’t have a chance to deteriorate first.
  • Buying a whole salmon is often cheaper than buying certain parts and is also more sustainable. You can learn to prepare the salmon yourself and make sure that none of it goes to waste.
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