Types of Salmon: A Comprehensive Look at the Varieties of Salmon
When it comes to seafood, few choices are as popular and beloved as salmon.
With its rich flavor, succulent texture, and remarkable health benefits, salmon has earned a prominent place on menus and dinner tables around the world.
However, what many may not realize is that not all salmon is created equal. The world of salmon varieties is incredibly diverse, with a range of different types of salmon offering unique characteristics, flavors, and even hues.
Dive in and discover the remarkable array of salmon varieties that grace our plates and palates.
Types of Salmon
Here are some of the most well-known types of salmon
1. Chinook Salmon
Chinook salmon or King salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) is highly prized for its large size and rich flavor.
It the largest species of Pacific salmon, with adults typically ranging from 20 to 50 pounds (9 to 23 kilograms) in weight. They have a streamlined body shape, a silvery-blue to greenish-blue color on their backs, and a silver belly. Their flesh color can range from pale pink to deep red, depending on their diet and maturity.
Chinook salmon are native to the Pacific Ocean, often along the coasts of North America (Alaska and British Columbia) and Asia (Russia and Japan). They experience long migrations, traveling thousands of miles upstream to spawn in freshwater rivers and streams.
Like other salmon species, Chinook salmon follow an anadromous life cycle. They are born in freshwater rivers and streams before migrating to the ocean. In the ocean, they grow and mature, feeding on other fish and marine organisms. After several years at sea, adult Chinook salmon return to their natal rivers to spawn, typically between the ages of three to seven years.
Taste-wise, Chinook salmon is rich, buttery, and firm. Its high fat content produces a luscious texture and flavor. Chinook salmon’s versatility makes it suitable for many cooking methods, including grilling, baking, broiling, and smoking. Its robust flavor pairs well with various seasonings and sauces.
Unfortunately, Chinook salmon populations face various challenges, including habitat degradation, overfishing, and dams that obstruct their migratory routes.
2. Sockeye Salmon
Sockeye salmon or Red salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) is notable for its deep red flesh and distinctively rich flavor.
It has a streamlined body shape with a bluish-green back and a silver belly. Sockeye salmon is popularly known for its red coloration, developed during their spawning migration and due to their plankton and krill diet. Males also develop a hooked jaw, called a kype, as they prepare to spawn.
Sockeye salmon are common in Alaska, with Copper River variants being the most prized.
Like Chinook salmon, Sockeyes hatch in freshwater streams, preferring watersheds with lakes before migrating to the ocean.
When prepared, Sockeye salmon has a rich, full-bodied flavor with a pronounced earthy and robust taste. Its firm texture holds up well to grilling, baking, and smoking, making it a popular choice for various culinary preparations, including sushi, sashimi, and salmon roasts.
Unfortunately, Sockeye salmon populations are subject to habitat loss, pollution, overfishing, and impacts from climate change.
3. Coho Salmon
Coho or Silver salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch), as its name suggests, is a silvery fish that turns red when it migrates upstream to breed. Unlike most salmon, Cohos become inedible after breeding. You’ll know to avoid Coho salmon once they develop their recognizably crooked post-breeding mouth.
Unlike their Chinook and Sockeye variants, Coho salmon is smaller, ranging between 8 to 12 pounds.
Because they are less in demand, Coho salmon are often more affordable.
Taste-wise, Coho salmon has a mild, delicate flavor compared to other salmon species. Its flesh is firm with a medium fat content. You’ll typically see Coho salon in the form of burgers or salads.
4. Atlantic Salmon
Atlantic salmon or Salmo salar is the only salmon species not endemic to the Pacific Ocean. Instead, you’ll find them in rivers and coastal areas of North America, Europe, and parts of Asia.
Historically, they were more abundant in the Atlantic Ocean, particularly in the North Atlantic region. However, due to overfishing and habitat degradation, wild Atlantic salmon populations have declined in many areas. Today, Atlantic salmon are also extensively farmed, primarily in countries such as Norway, Scotland, Canada, and Chile.
Compared to other salmon species, Atlantic salmon boasts a milder flavor but larger size. While not as fatty as the Chinook, the Atlantic is firm and oily. Flesh color may vary depending on the salmon’s primary diet, though is often orange or pinkish-orange.
The best way to cook Atlantic salmon is to bake, broil, grill, poach, or smoke it.
5. Pink Salmon
Pink salmon, scientifically known as Oncorhynchus gorbuscha, is the smallest salmon species, averaging at only 18 inches long. Occasionally, you may find a pink salmon at the 30-inch mark. Weight-wise, pink salmon range only from two to six pounds.
This smaller salmon is occasionally referred to as a “humpback” or “humpie” because of the distinctive hump that develops on its back after spawning.
Pink salmon has a mild and delicate flavor compared to other salmon species. Its flesh is light pink in color and has a softer texture. Pink salmon is often canned and used in various processed products such as salmon patties, salads, and spreads. While it may not be as commonly served as fresh fillets, it is still enjoyed for its affordability and versatility in cooking.
Unlike other salmon, the Pink variety spawn only every other year in Washington and BC. On even years, they travel to Alaska.
Pink salmon populations are generally considered to be abundant and not at immediate risk of extinction.
6. Chum Salmon
Chum salmon (Oncorhynchus keta) have a distinct appearance with a streamlined body and a metallic greenish-blue color on their back and upper sides. They have irregular vertical striping along their sides, ranging from pink to purple, and their bellies are silver in color. During the spawning season, both male and female Chum salmon develop more vibrant colors, with the males often displaying prominent vertical bars and hooked jaws.
This medium-colored fish is low in fat, smaller in size, and often sold canned or frozen. However, it is a rich source of roe (fish eggs), which is a delicacy in many cuisines. Flavor-wise, Chum is firm and oily. Most chefs will smoke, grill, bake, or broil Chum, typically pairing them with a marinade to enhance flavor.
Chum salmon are known for their tenacity and strength during spawning. They are capable of leaping over obstacles and traveling upstream against strong currents. Once they reach their spawning grounds, they dig nests, known as redds, in the gravel, where the female lays her eggs, and the male fertilizes them. After spawning, both male and female Chum salmon typically die, and their carcasses contribute essential nutrients to the ecosystem.
Other Types of Salmon
For the adventurous angler or culinary enthusiast, consider the following lesser-known types of salmon:
- Masu salmon (sea trout): This species found in parts of Asia is a delicacy in the U.S. Its flesh is soft orange or pink and boasts a tender texture and refined taste similar to tuna.
- Danube salmon (Hucho Hucho): Found primarily in European countries, Danube salmon is a massive fish weighing an average of 100 pounds and reaching five feet long. They have a slender body but longer and wider head.
- Siberian salmon (Hucho taimen): This olive green fish endemic to Russia and adjacent countries is the largest of the salmon species. On average, a Sibeian salmon weighs between 33 and 66 pounds.
- Black Sea salmon (Salmo Labrax): Compared to other salmon species, the Black Sea variant is relatively small, weighing only seven pounds. They have a white and tan-colored body with black spots.
The world of salmon is a treasure trove of variety, offering an array of distinct types that cater to diverse palates and culinary preferences. From the rich, buttery flesh of the King or Chinook salmon to the delicate and subtly flavored Pink salmon, each variety brings its own unique characteristics to the table. Exploring the different types of salmon not only allows us to appreciate their remarkable flavors and textures but also deepens our understanding of the intricate ecosystems and habitats that sustain these magnificent fish.
Whether you're a seafood aficionado or simply looking to diversify your culinary experiences, the diverse types of salmon in the world offer an exciting range of options to choose from.
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