Which salmon species should I choose?
Ultimately, it's a matter of taste, but there are culinary and nutritional distinctions.
King is the fattiest salmon, while sockeye features the strongest flavor and firmest texture, and cooks more quickly than the other species — usually in just 6 to 7 minutes.
Silver is generally milder and softer than sockeye and king, while keta and pink are generally the mildest and softest salmon.
Nutrition numbers for wild salmon vary by harvest season, year, and location. These are average quantities:
- King (Chinook) — 18 grams of fat • 3,830mg of omega-3s
- Sockeye (Red) — 10 grams of fat • 1,194mg of omega-3s
- Silver (Coho) — 10 grams of fat • 2,238mg of omega-3s
- Keta (Chum/Dog) — 11 grams of fat • 3,600mg of omega-3s
- Pink (Humpback) — 9 grams of fat • 1,146mg of omega-3s
For thousands of years, salmon have defined the culture and livelihoods of the Pacific Northwest's native peoples.
Wild Pacific salmon are very high in omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D and low in omega-6 and saturated fats, which makes them extraordinarily healthful, sustainable sources of protein.
Salmon is the name applied to several species of Pacific Ocean fish in the genus Oncorhynchus, and to Atlantic salmon, which belong to the genus Salmo. Both salmon genera belong to the family Salmonidae, which includes trout.
Unlike most trout species, salmon and other "anadromous" fish (e.g., shad and steelhead trout) are born in rivers, migrate to the ocean, and then return to their birth rivers to reproduce or "spawn".
The North Pacific hosts six species: King/Chinook (O. tshawytscha) • Silver/Coho (O. kisutch) • Sockeye/Red (O. nerka) • Chum/Dog/Keta (O. keta) • Pink/Humpback (O. gorbuscha) • Cherry/Seema (O. masou).
Sockeye, Pink, and Chum salmon are found on both sides of the Pacific, while King and Silver salmon occur only in British Columbia (Canada), Alaska, and the northwest U.S. coast. Cherry salmon occur only in Japan, Korea and eastern Russia.
Salmon in the wild ... and in industrial fish farms
After hatching in rivers and streams, millions of salmon migrate to the sea to mature, living there for one to six years before they return home to spawn in fresh water.
The fat content of salmon is linked to the length of their fresh-water migration, because salmon stop feeding after they start upstream. Some salmon — such as Yukon and Copper River king — swim hundreds of miles upriver to spawn.
Salmon in the trees
It's hard to overstate the importance of these keystone species to trees and wildlife, including birds, bears, and wolves ... and to coastal peoples for whom the fish are a vital food and cultural touchstone.
The waste left by creatures that feed on dying salmon spreads nitrogen and other nutrients into the forests, fertilizing the surrounding plants and trees.
Scientists routinely find a form of nitrogen unique to the ocean — nitrogen 15 — in trees near salmon streams, and they can tell how well a salmon run is doing by looking at the surrounding forest!
The region’s grizzly bears, who gorge on salmon ahead of their long winter nap, often top 1,000 lbs. And, fed by the nutrients from wild salmon, regional Sitka spruce soar 150 to 225 feet into the sky.
How mining, logging, and salmon farms can hurt
Salmon return to the exact spot where they hatched, and this homing behavior depends on olfactory (smells) memory.
Even small changes in the mineral or metal content of streams can keep salmon from finding their way home, which is why — in addition to banning salmon farms — Alaska's state constitution prohibits contamination of salmon rivers by mining and logging operations.
Atlantic salmon are industrially farm-raised in many parts of the world, including British Columbia, which borders Washington State and Alaska.
Reams of research show that salmon farms harm wild salmon, because they spread disease and sea lice to wild salmon migrating past the aquaculture pens.
of wild Pacific salmon
Our selection usually includes four popular species: sockeye, king, silver, and keta. And, when possible, we offer scarce Copper River king salmon and (in odd-numbered years) rare reefnet pink salmon.
King salmon is the fattiest species, followed by keta, sockeye and silver. Sockeye has the firmest texture and strongest flavor, and is loved by many Alaskans.
Salmon is very rich in healthful omega-3 fatty acids, with king and keta offering the highest average levels.
NOTE: While farmed salmon has comparable omega-3 levels, its unnatural diet gives it high, pro-inflammatory levels of omega-6 fats. See Farmed Salmon's Diet Yields Unhealthful Cardiovascular Effects and our Omega-3/6 Balance page.
Wild Pacific salmon (especially sockeye) offers much more vitamin D than any other food, including farmed salmon. See Wild Salmon Beats Farmed for Vitamin D (Again).
Wild salmon is also the richest food source of astaxanthin (as-tuh-zan-thin) … a carotene-class red-orange pigment with strong antioxidant, anti-inflammatory properties.
Sockeye salmon has the highest astaxanthin levels, which explains the species' deep red-orange color and its other common name: "red" salmon.