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What Color is Wild Salmon?

Salmon is a highly sought-after fish that is not only delicious but also offers numerous health benefits. There are various species and types of salmon, each with its unique characteristics and flavors.

When it comes to salmon, we often hear about wild salmon and farmed salmon. Understanding the differences between these two types is crucial for making decision on purchasing and cooking method. Let’s explore how to distinguish between wild salmon and farmed salmon through its color and learn more about their benefit as well as potential threats while consuming it.

color of salmon

Wild Salmon vs. Farmed Salmon

Species of Salmon

There are several species of salmon found worldwide, but the most well-known and commercially important species are the following:

1. Chinook Salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha): also king salmon or tyee salmon. It is the largest species of Pacific salmon and can be found in the northern Pacific Ocean.

2. Sockeye Salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka): Known for its vibrant red flesh and rich flavor, sockeye salmon is found in both the Pacific and Arctic Oceans.

3. Coho Salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch): Also referred to as silver salmon, coho salmon is another Pacific salmon species. It is smaller in size compared to chinook and sockeye salmon and is highly valued for its delicate flavor.

4. Pink Salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbuscha): Pink salmon, also known as humpback salmon, is the smallest and most abundant species of Pacific salmon. It has a light, mild flavor and is often used in canned salmon products.

5. Atlantic Salmon (Salmo salar): Unlike the Pacific salmon species mentioned above, Atlantic salmon is native to the Atlantic Ocean. It is highly prized for its flavor and texture. It should be noted that Atlantic salmon populations are often supplemented by farmed fish due to overfishing and habitat loss.

Atlantic wild salmon color
Atlantic wild salmon

When it comes to farmed salmon, Atlantic salmon (Salmo salar) is the most commonly farmed species globally. It is raised in aquaculture facilities in many countries, including Norway, Chile, Canada, and Scotland. Other species, such as coho salmon and rainbow trout, are also farmed but on a smaller scale compared to Atlantic salmon.

Wild Salmon

Wild salmons are born in river and live their first 6 months to 3 years life here. After that, once the smolts reach a certain size and are ready for the ocean, they begin their migration downstream towards the sea. In the ocean, they join schools of other fish and spend a significant portion of their lives (ranging from several months to several years) feeding and growing.

They are fed on a natural diverse diet consisting of other fish, shrimp, and krill. This natural diet contributes to the vibrant color and rich flavor of wild salmon. The color of wild salmon can range from pale pink to deep red, depending on the species and the specific diet of the fish. The presence of astaxanthin, a red pigment found in their prey, gives wild salmon its distinct hue. In addition to their appealing color, wild salmon also have a firmer texture and a more pronounced flavor profile.

Farmed Salmon

Farmed salmon, as the name suggests, are raised in controlled environments such as fish farms. They are typically fed a diet that includes synthetic astaxanthin to enhance their color and mimic the appearance of wild salmon. However, the color of farmed salmon is often less vibrant compared to wild salmon. The flesh of farmed salmon can range from pale pink to light orange, depending on the feed and additives used in their diet. While farmed salmon may not exhibit the same intense color as wild salmon, they are still a popular choice due to their availability, affordability, and the most importance, their hygiene and safety to consume.

Farmed salmon color
Farmed salmon with higher fat and less vibrant color than wild ones.

Advantages and Disadvantages of Wild and Farmed Salmon

To understand why farmed salmons are a better choice in term of food hygiene and safety, let’s learn about both advantage and disadvantages of the two.


Wild SalmonFarmed Salmon
Advantages1. Superior Taste: Wild salmon is known for its exceptional flavor, often described as rich, buttery, and more complex than farmed salmon. The diverse diet of wild salmon contributes to its unique taste profile.

2. Higher Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Wild salmon contains higher levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which are essential for heart health, brain function, and reducing inflammation in the body.

3. Natural Habitat: Wild salmon thrive in their natural habitats, benefiting from the pristine conditions of rivers and oceans. Their active lifestyle contributes to their firm texture and overall quality.
1. Year-round Availability: Farmed salmon provides a consistent supply throughout the year, making it readily accessible to consumers regardless of the season.
2. Affordability: Farmed salmon is often more affordable compared to wild salmon, making it a popular choice for those looking for a budget-friendly option.
3. Controlled Environment: Fish farms provide controlled conditions that can optimize growth and reduce the risk of diseases, as well as flukes and worms. This controlled environment allows for a more predictable and reliable supply of salmon.
Comparison: advantages, wild vs. farmed salmon


Wild SalmonFarmed Salmon
Disadvantages1. Limited Availability: Due to factors such as overfishing and environmental challenges, the availability of wild salmon can be limited, especially for certain species.

2. Environmental Impact: Wild salmon populations are vulnerable to pollution, habitat destruction, and climate change. Conservation efforts are necessary to ensure the long-term sustainability of wild salmon populations.

3. Food safety: According to PETA, every kind of wild fish can contain nematodes (roundworms). Wild salmons, which spend part of their life in natural freshwater, can potentially harbor tapeworm larvae of Diphyllobothrium. As a result, they have higher tendency of containing worms and flukes in the meat than farmed salmons.
1. Lower Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Farmed salmon generally contains lower levels of omega-3 fatty acids comparedto their wild counterparts. The artificial feed given to farmed salmon may not provide the same nutritional profile as the natural diet of wild salmon.
Comparison: disadvantages, wild vs. farmed salmon

Distinguishing between Wild and Farmed Salmon

We can distinguish between wild and farmed salmon using these factors:

what color is wild salmon
Left: farmed salmon; Right: wild salmon
  1. Color: As mentioned earlier, the color of wild salmon is often more vibrant, ranging from pink to deep red. Farmed salmon, on the other hand, may have a paler color, sometimes leaning towards a light orange.
  2. Texture: Wild salmon typically has a firmer texture due to their active lifestyle and natural diet. Farmed salmon may have a softer and fattier texture due to their controlled environment and higher fat content.
  3. Labeling: Look for labeling or certifications on the packaging. Wild-caught salmon is often labeled as such, indicating that it was caught in its natural habitat. On the other hand, farmed salmon may be labeled as “Atlantic salmon” or “farm-raised salmon.”

How to cook Wild and Farmed Salmon?

After analyzing the advantages and disadvantages of both wild and farmed salmon, it is crucial to consider certain key points when cooking these varieties.

  • Raw salmon: When consuming raw salmon, it is important to ensure that you only eat salmon that has been approved, preferably opting for well-regulated farmed salmon.
  • Rare to medium-rare: To avoid any potential presence of live worms and flukes, only cook farmed salmon to rare to medium rare doneness, not wild salmon. However, it’s still essential to source your salmon from reputable suppliers and ensure its freshness.
  • Well-done: it’s a must to cook wild salmon thoroughly until it reaches a well-done state.

By adhering to these guidelines, you can maximize the benefits of both wild and farmed salmon while minimizing any potential risks associated with foodborne illness.

Baked Salmon at 400 F

Baked salmon is a popular and straightforward way to prepare both wild and farmed salmon. Preheat the oven to 400°F (200°C). Place the seasoned salmon fillets on a baking sheet and bake for about 10-15 minutes or until cooked that you can flakes easily with a fork. The baking time may vary depending on the thickness of the fillets. Serve with your choice of side dishes for a nutritious and flavorful meal.

How long to cook salmon at 400

Grilled Salmon

Grilling salmon adds a smoky flavor and beautiful grill marks. Preheat the grill to medium-high heat and lightly oil the grates. Season the salmon with salt, pepper, and your favorite herbs or marinade. Place the salmon skin-side down on the grill and cook for about 4-6 minutes per side, depending on the thickness of the fillet. The high heat of the grill caramelizes the natural sugars in the fish, enhancing the flavor. Serve the grilled salmon with a squeeze of lemon or a fresh salsa for a delightful summer meal.

Pan-Seared Salmon

Pan-searing salmon creates a crispy exterior while keeping the interior moist and tender. Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and add a small amount of oil. Season the salmon fillets with salt and pepper, then place them skin-side down in the hot skillet. Cook for about 4-5 minutes, until the skin becomes crispy and browned. Flip the fillets and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes to finish cooking the salmon. The quick cooking time and high heat result in a delicious seared crust while preserving the natural flavors of the fish.

Salmon Sushi Roll

For sushi enthusiasts, salmon sushi rolls are a delightful option. Start by preparing sushi rice according to the package instructions. Lay a sheet of seaweed on a bamboo sushi mat and spread a thin layer of sushi rice on top, leaving a small border at the edges. Place thin strips of fresh salmon along with your desired fillings such as cucumber, avocado, or cream cheese. Roll the sushi tightly using the bamboo mat, then slice into bite-sized pieces. Serve with soy sauce, wasabi, and pickled ginger for a delicious and visuallyappealing sushi experience.

Citrus-Glazed Salmon Salad

For a light and refreshing dish, try a citrus-glazed salmon salad. Start by marinating the salmon fillets in a mixture of citrus juice (such as orange or lemon), honey, soy sauce, and minced garlic for about 30 minutes. Preheat a grill or grill pan over medium heat and cook the salmon for about 4-6 minutes per side until cooked through. Meanwhile, prepare a bed of mixed greens or your favorite salad greens. Top the greens with sliced avocado, cherry tomatoes, cucumber, and any other desired vegetables. Place the grilled salmon on top and drizzle with a citrus vinaigrette. This salad is a perfect balance of flavors and textures, showcasing the natural color and texture of both wild and farmed salmon.