Which Salmon Should I Buy?

Loaded with heart-healthy and brain-boosting omega-3 fats, salmon is among the healthiest, tastiest, and most popular fish. However, there are certain types of salmon you should try to stay away from and certain questions you should always ask before buying. Here are 7 tips to help you buy the best salmon.

People love salmon. This should make doctors happy: U.S. Dietary Guidelines recommend Americans eat two servings of fish a week. It’s loaded with heart-healthy, brain-boosting omega-3 fats. On top of that, there are so many different types of salmon and ways to serve them that it would be hard to get bored with this fish.

But that said, there are certain types of salmon that some people try to stay away from and certain questions that savvy shoppers always ask before they buy. To help you out, we put together 7 tips to help you buy the best salmon.

  1. Wild or farmed?

The first choice you should make is whether to buy wild salmon (and all Alaskan salmon is wild-caught) or farmed Atlantic salmon (fishing wild Atlantic salmon is illegal in the United States). In most instances, I opt for wild salmon. Environmental groups like Seafood Watch and the Environmental Defense Fund, have put nearly all farmed salmon on their “red” or “avoid” list. The reason: many farms use crowded pens. That’s where salmon are easily infected with lice, may be treated with antibiotics, and can spread the disease to wild fish (one reason Alaska has banned sockeye salmon fillets. In addition, it can take as much as three pounds of wild fish (and fishmeal) to raise one pound of salmon.

However, there’s some good news. Some farms are raising coho salmon (small Pacific salmon) in closed pens that reduce the impact on wild fish. Other farms are using feeds fortified with the omega-3 EPA, which helps cut back on the fish needed to raise salmon.

  1. Should I buy organic salmon?

There is no USDA organic standard for salmon and no guarantee an “organic” label means anything except the salmon was farmed.

  1. Is fresh salmon better than frozen? What about canned or packaged salmon?

You can order fresh salmon by mail order or find it in your markets from June-September. Most fish is flash-frozen when caught to preserve its freshness and allow for shipping. Frozen salmon is good for up to four months when properly frozen and thawed overnight in the refrigerator. Canned wild salmon is an excellent and economical choice. Look for BPA-free cans or pouches.

  1. Does salmon carry PCBs or other toxins?

Wild Alaskan salmon, which spend most of their lives in open oceans, generally have very low levels of toxins. Coastal and farmed salmon, depending on the fish and meal they are fed, may have higher levels. The Environmental Defense Fund lists farmed Atlantic salmon as an “Eco-Worst” choice and recommends people eat no more than 2 servings a month due to high PCB levels.

  1. Do different types of salmon taste different?

There’s a wide range of price, color, and taste among the six species of salmon we commonly eat, so it depends on your budget, what’s available, and the recipe you have in mind.

Chinook The largest (and often most expensive), the king or chinook, is prized for its high-fat content and buttery texture and is rich in omega-3s.

Sockeye An oilier fish with deep red flesh, sockeye salmon is also high in heart-healthy omega-3s but has a stronger flavor and stands up well to grilling.

Coho is milder and often lighter in color.

Pink and Chum These are smaller fish and most often used for canned or smoked salmon and are good budget choices.

Atlantic Last, the most common fish you will find at the market, the species are known as Atlantic salmon, is a farmed species. It has a rich, fatty taste but is not recommended by environmental groups

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