Salmon, cherished by seafood enthusiasts worldwide, is beloved for its delicate flavor, lovely pink flesh, and remarkable nutritional benefits. But not all salmon is created equal. There are many types of salmon, each with its own unique characteristics and regional distinctions?
Pacific salmon vs. Atlantic salmon
As you dive deeper into the world of salmon, you discover an intriguing debate: Pacific salmon vs. Atlantic salmon. From the frigid depths of the Atlantic Ocean to the sprawling expanses of the Pacific, these two salmon varieties have their own unique identities. But, other than where they come from, what are they?
In North America’s waters, you’ll find five major wild Pacific salmon species: sockeye, silver, keta, king, and pink. Another species of Pacific salmon — masu — lives in Asia and is a staple of Japanese cuisine, treasured for its bright pink flesh and distinct taste. Ironically, it’s the Pacific salmon species, not masu, that is used mostly in sushi.
Salmon may look similar in the ocean or while packaged, but their transformations while spawning in fresh water are marked. All Pacific salmon are generally dark red, lean, and firm, and they’re usually wild caught, not farmed. They’re prized for their flavor, purity, omega-3s, vitamin D, lean protein, and pink hue.
The five types of wild Pacific salmon in North America are:
- Sockeye: With its striking red flesh, firm texture, and bold flavor, sockeye salmon is a true delicacy best experienced grilled, smoked, or as sashimi. Its pink hue is attributed to a diet of ocean krill.
- Silver: Often known as coho salmon, this variety is prized for its tender and moist flesh and milder taste compared to that of other Pacific varieties. Its versatility makes it ideal for grilling, baking, and poaching. Preferring brief upstream journeys, silver salmon head inland during late fall and winter.
- Keta: Also called chum salmon, keta salmon is distinguished by its pink color, firm texture, and mild flavor, and is often utilized in smoking, with its roe being a delicacy in some areas. They dominate the vast Pacific, from San Diego to South Korea, and embark on extensive upstream journeys to spawn in the heart of Alaska and Canada. Keta salmon from Vital Choice is harvested just north of the Arctic Circle by an indigenous Iñupiat cooperative. Fed by the pristine waters of the Noatak, Selawik, and Kobuk rivers, the nutrient-rich Kotzebue Sound provides an ideal habitat for ocean-caught keta.
- King: This variety, also called chinook, is the largest and rarest of all Pacific salmon, and is renowned for its generous size, intense flavor, and smooth texture. Cherished by chefs and seafood enthusiasts, king salmon boasts rich oil content, tender flesh, and the highest omega-3 levels among salmon, offering a luxurious, buttery texture. While a few grow to almost 5 feet and surpass 100 pounds, most average 3 feet and 30 pounds.
- Pink: As the most abundant of Pacific salmon, pink is known for its delicate texture and mild taste, making it an excellent match for citrus or butter. These fish are the smallest of the Pacific salmon species and are particularly abundant, making them an especially “green” choice. Pink salmon adhere to a two-year spawning cycle, giving rise to separate even- and odd-year populations, and favor river-mouth breeding, leading to shorter spawning journeys. Sustainably caught off Lummi Island in Washington, reefnet-caught pink salmon from Vital Choice is the highest quality pink salmon available, and the passive method of reefnet fishing ensures a gentle harvest with little or no bycatch.
Our favorite salmon recipes
Wild salmon used to dominate the North Atlantic, but, because of declining wild populations, today’s consumption centers on farmed Atlantic salmon. This shift, however, raises sustainability concerns due to intensive farming practices that impact the environment. Atlantic salmon still provides omega-3s, protein, and nutrients but, compared to wild Pacific salmon, has a milder taste, softer texture, and lighter pink color, and the flesh has larger flakes. And unlike Pacific salmon, Atlantic salmon is commonly referred to by its country of origin.
Here are three types of Atlantic salmon you’ll regularly see at your local grocery store.
- Norwegian: Salmon farming emerged in Norway in the 1960s as a response to overfishing and dwindling wild salmon stock. Now a dominant force globally, this Scandinavian nation owes its success to its long coastline and cold waters. Norwegian salmon, known for its tender texture and subtle taste, has also encountered criticism due to intensive farming practices that have raised concerns about environmental ramifications.
- Scottish: Scottish salmon has a lengthy history linked to its many coastal communities and traditional fishing methods. Over time, commercial fishing in Scotland flourished, and salmon farming emerged in response to declining wild stocks. Today, while a vital industry, it grapples with sustainability and environmental concerns. However, Scottish salmon remains legendary worldwide due to a centuries-old history of salmon fishing.
- Faroe Islands: Originating in the North Atlantic around the lush archipelago located halfway between Norway and Iceland, Faroe Islands salmon has earned a solid reputation for its careful cultivation. These Danish islands produce a quality product while also employing sustainable practices.
Taste the authenticity of wild salmon from the Pacific
Despite the wealth of choices now available, many still regard wild Pacific salmon as superior to Atlantic, owing to its exceptional taste, ecological importance, and nutritional richness. Crucially, its life cycle maintains aquatic ecosystem balance by transporting vital nutrients from the ocean to fresh water during spawning migrations, fostering biodiversity. Bolstered by their journey through the cold Pacific Ocean, these wild salmon have a gorgeous color and robust flavor, varying from buttery to bold. They also have higher calcium and iron levels.
Not only does Pacific salmon offer better nutrition due to its natural diet and oceanic journeys, but it also benefits from lower contaminant levels in Pacific waters. These advantages and their ecological significance establish Pacific salmon as a premium choice that satisfies palates when grilled, smoked, or raw and supports overall health and environmental welfare.