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It's clear that eating fish is great for you and one of my favorites is salmon. This is both because I love the flavor and because there are remarkably high levels of Omega 3 fats found in this delicious and versatile fish. I have a lot of folks write in and ask about all the different choices in the market and which is best for their recipes.
When you step up to the fish counter the salmon you find won't necessarily be clearly labeled. You can, however, fairly easily tell a lot about it. Firstly, salmon is divided into two broad categories – Atlantic and Pacific.
The Atlantic salmon is a species unto itself (Salmo salar). Wild Atlantic salmon are found in the waters of the North Atlantic on the coast of the U.S. to the coasts of Europe, the United Kingdom, Iceland and Russia. They migrate to the ocean waters of Greenland and after hanging out for a year or more near Greenland they return home to the rivers of their origin. By then, they vary in size and flavor with their pink flesh coming from a diet mostly of small crustaceans.
Because many rivers in New England are now blocked to migrating salmon, for the most part wild Atlantic salmon now run only in a very few Maine rivers. Some Atlantic salmon have, as a result, become landlocked and make their migration from deep cold water lakes into warmer tributary streams.
Atlantic salmon will generally be lighter pink in color than most Pacific varieties. It is less common to find wild Atlantic fish in the markets, with most of the species now being farmed. The majority of Atlantic salmon that you will find in the market today is farm raised in Maine, Canada, or Washington state. Scotland. Norway and Chile are also major producers. Farm raised salmon is higher in Omega 3 fats, with a 4 ounce serving having about 3,000 milligrams (mg) in a 4 ounce serving. Wild salmon will vary but has generally less than half the amount (about 1,200 mg in 4 ounces).
There is some controversy because farmed salmon has been shown to contain more pollutants. While mercury is a concern in many fish, this is not as much of an issue with salmon. It is the industrial contaminants PCBs and dioxins that have been found in many fish, especially farmed salmon. The amounts of PCBs are far below the “FDA Action Level” of 2,000 nanograms per gram (ng/g) of fish, however, and studies have shown the range to be between 15 and 51 ng/g in farmed salmon. This is similar to the amount found in many foods, including beef, butter, chicken, eggs and cheese.
Pacific salmon is a wholly different species and there are five types – Chinook, Coho, Sockeye, Chum and Pink. Pacific salmon is not farmed to the extent of that Atlantic salmon is.
Chinook is also known as King salmon and is a large fish with dark red flesh. Many people feel that this is the best quality of the wild salmons, with its high fat content and rich wild flavor.
I particularly like Coho salmon (also called Silver salmon). The flesh is not as dark as King salmon and the flavor softer, but it still has a wonderful wild salmon taste. Small pan-size Cohos are a lighter pink and their flavor is even more subtle than other salmon varieties.
Much of the wild salmon available is Sockeye. It is usually a dark pink color and early in the season (which begins in June) is the best time to buy it.
Both Chum and Pink salmon are available. They are much leaner and don't have as much flavor, but the wild fish caught early in the season can be quite good.
Wild salmon contains PCBs in amounts under 5 ng/g. While this is far less than farmed fish, the amount of dioxins are similar between wild and farmed fish.
The best way to begin is with Atlantic salmon. With its milder flavor this fish appeals to more people than its wild Pacific cousins. After a time begin using wild salmon in your recipes. You'll be happy with the results.
4 ounces farmed Atlantic salmon = 205 calories, 12 g fat, 2.5 g sat fat, 4 g mono fat, 23 g protein, 0 g carbohydrates, 67 mg sodium, 67 mg cholesterol, Vitamin K 0 mcg.
4 ounces wild Chinook salmon = 200 calories, 12 g fat, 3.5 g sat fat, 5 g mono fat, 22 g protein, 0 g carbohydrates, 53 mg sodium, 56 mg cholesterol, Vitamin K 0 mcg.