Food for Thought, the truth about salmon


I believe that we all love salmon. But what is your preferred salmon? Is the salmon in fact a salmon? Is it wild caught or farmed? Do you care? Should you care? Just a few questions, there are so many more about this fish which is a staple in most diets.

Let me raise a few issues as food for thought.


To quote from Wikipedia, Salmon is actually ‘the common name for several species of ray-finned fish in the family Salmonidae. Other fish in the same family include trout, char, grayling and whitefish. Salmon are native to tributaries of the North Atlantic (genus Salmo)/ and Pacific Ocean (genus Oncorhynchus)’ commonly known as Atlantic and Pacific salmon respectively. So salmon is not just one fish and one should be clear of this. To emphasize, last year, the Chinese government announced that rainbow trout would be classified as Salmon for the purposes of import and tariffs. Farewell rainbow trout. And again, to confuse, rainbow trout in the Pacific coast is known as Steel head.


I have to say, I prefer the wild caught salmon, which is now predominantly from the Alaskan and Canadian Pacific. These salmon are seasonal and in fact only run periodically, once every four years as in the case of the Sockeye. But there are many wild salmon in addition to the Sockeye, such as king, coho, pink and chum. They are of such different quality so for a starter, when you buy ‘wild caught’, ask what it is. You don’t want to be paying king prices for chum.


Most of the farmed salmon is Atlantic salmon, and in many cases, it takes on the name of the country where it is farmed, i.e. 'Norwegian salmon.' It is now farmed around the world, Chile and Norway being the big producers. They are even farming it on the Canadian Pacific coast which I have discussed before. This really is ‘No No’ but let’s save that for another day.


Atlantic salmon should have bright silver skin and with its black cross spottings, it closely resembles coho salmon. The flavor is milder than wild salmon and the flesh coloration ranges from a deep orange to a pinkish-orange. Wild salmon get their ruddy shade by eating krill and shrimp, which contain a reddish-orange compound called astaxanthin. (That shrimp-heavy diet is also what turns flamingos pink.) The spectrum varies with the species. Since Alaska’s sockeye salmon are closer to the Bering Sea’s teeming krill, they’re the reddest of all. Salmon further south—Coho, king, and pink, for instance—eat relatively less krill and shrimp, giving them a lighter orange hue.


So distinctive is salmon’s orangey-pink hue that Crayola named a crayon after it. It’s an accurate representation of the flesh of wild salmon, but not that of farmed salmon, whose meat is naturally gray. Or at least, it would be if salmon farmers didn’t spike their artificial diets.


Like their wild cousins, farmed salmon come in a spectrum of pinks and oranges, depending on diet. But it’s the farmers—and not the food chain—that determine the salmon’s color.


Since farm-raised salmon live in a pen, they’re fed kibble made from a hodge-podge of ingredients. An essential ingredient in these pellets is astaxanthin. Sometimes it’s made “naturally” through algae or pulverized crustaceans; other manufacturers synthesize the compound in a lab, using petrochemicals. While it provides the salmon with some of the vitamins and antioxidants they’d get in the wild, salmon health isn’t the selling point.


It’s the “pigmenting,” to use feed industry parlance, that really matters, letting salmon farmers determine how red their fillets will be. (Thanks to a 2003 lawsuit, they have to alert customers to the fact of “added” coloring.)


In saying all this, there is no doubt that Salmon is one of the most nutritious foods on the planet. Salmon is undeniably delicious. It has a unique, delicate flavor with a less "fishy" taste than many other fatty fish, such as sardines and mackerel. It is also extremely versatile. It can be steamed, sautéed, smoked, grilled, baked or poached. It can also be served raw in sushi and sashimi.


Salmon is a nutritional powerhouse that provides several impressive health benefits. It is tasty, satisfying and versatile. Eat it, please. But give some thought to what you are eating, as always.



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