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Six Tips for Selecting Salmon

By Keith Harris, June 18, 2013  |  Meet the Blogger  |  More Posts by Keith Harris

Wild SalmonWild salmon season is upon us! Rich in omega-3s, wild salmon is a great choice for summer BBQs or light family meals, and Whole Foods Market® is proud to offer a variety of different options.

With so many types and species available, you may have a few questions. Copper or Columbia River? King or sockeye? How can you tell if it’s a good quality fish?

As Whole Foods Market’s dedicated Alaska port buyer, I spend four months of the year on docks and piers, selecting the finest salmon for our fresh seafood cases. In the process, I’ve developed a few tips for picking a delicious fish:

  1. Salmon comes in a variety of colors. “Redder” doesn’t necessarily mean better. For example, Coho is a little paler than King, but is equally delicious. What you want to avoid is any salmon that shows signs of browning. You can also check for clear eyes, minimal bruising and firmness of flesh, which should be resistant to light pressure and bounce back easily once depressed.
  2. Where the fish was caught and its level of maturity affects how it will taste. I try to buy troll-caught salmon; trollers catch fish by hook and line while moving gently through the water, dragging artificial or fresh bait. Each fish is handled individually and is well tended by the trollers, who are some of the most conscious fishermen in terms of quality and workmanship. They care about the environment and take great pride in what they deliver.
  3. King (Chinook) salmon is the most highly sought-after of all the salmon species due to its high oil content and moderate to full flavor. King comes in many shades of orange to red; there are even some tasty white-meated Kings. Some of the most highly prized are Yukon River Kings, Columbia River Spring Kings, and Copper River Kings. Omega-3s are abundant in these fish and the dining experience is exquisite!
  4. Sockeye Reds draw people in with their bright red color and extra firm texture. Premium sockeye – that with the highest oil content – comes from either very long river systems or from very cold, glacial river systems.  The best sockeye comes from the Copper River, Frasier River and Yakutat (or really any location in Alaska).
  5. Coho (Silver salmon) comes to market a little later in the summer. Its milder flavor makes it a good choice if you’re introducing salmon to kids. This variety is also particularly great for grilling.
  6. Wild salmon populations are threatened in some parts of the world. To be a responsible fish eater, ask your fishmonger if the salmon you’re buying comes from a sustainable fishery. You can always look for fish from Marine Stewardship Council-certified sources, or from fisheries that are green- or yellow-rated according to the Blue Ocean Institute/Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program.

Do you have questions about selecting the right wild salmon? Strike up a conversation with the fishmonger at your local Whole Foods Market seafood counter or drop me a line in the comments section below.

Category: Seafood




Teri says ...
Nice article. My husband works as the medical officer on a processor ship that is right now sitting in Bristol Bay. We always shop Whole Foods for our salmon.
06/18/2013 7:33:52 AM CDT
Percy Williams says ...
This info is excellent. My question - I just bought a STEELHEAD FILLET from Costco, just the other day; is this not a type of Salmon? I didn't see it mentioned in your commentary. By the way, WHOLE FOODS is soon to open right near me in Marlboro, NJ - I look forward to buying all my Salmon from you.
06/20/2013 4:08:54 PM CDT
Linda cameron says ...
I found worms in my Copper River Salmon, uck. Is this common
06/20/2013 4:36:18 PM CDT
Nikki - Community Moderator says ...
@LINDA - This should not be common and I encourage you to reach out to the store where you bought the salmon so they can make it right for you!
06/21/2013 2:03:51 PM CDT
Phil Gilbert says ...
Salmon, no matter what type, has been wonderful coming from WF.........and the fishmongers have been wonderfully creative on preparation methods. btw- STEELHEAD is a form of Trout, not salmon, but really good!
06/22/2013 7:50:30 PM CDT
Susan Williams says ...
What about farm raised salmon? I've always prefered farm raised to wild caught. What are the major differences?
07/01/2013 9:40:36 PM CDT
Nikki - Community Moderator says ...
@SUSAN - While it mainly comes down to personal preference, here is some info on both types. Farm-raised: http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/mission-values/seafood-sustainability/aquaculture and here is info on FAQs regarding seafood sustainability: http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/mission-values/seafood-sustainability/seafood-sustainability-faq.
07/02/2013 3:07:27 PM CDT
Patricia says ...
What is Keta salmon? This is the first time I have seen it in the stores. It's a very reasonable price. How does it compare to the others?
07/10/2013 6:27:45 PM CDT
Jameka says ...
Great article! Quite useful. I really dig Copper River salmon. So, both of the Whole Foods near me only carry farmed salmon in the case, but wild frozen. Would troll caught fall into the wild category?
07/10/2013 7:25:07 PM CDT
MGP says ...
Hello, I buy the smoked salmon often at Whole Foods and I noticed that most state they are farm raised, How safe is that if it's not wild salmon ?
07/10/2013 7:36:46 PM CDT
Caroline Neu says ...
Which is the best type for smoking salmon? I've been experimenting with different types of salmons and marinades but so far they have turned out too dry or too salty. Thanks for your help!
07/10/2013 10:11:34 PM CDT
Patty says ...
Yes great news, when buy King in Denver, Co?
07/11/2013 8:58:09 AM CDT
Lisa says ...
You should also mention not to buy if it is mushy and not to buy Pink or Chum or Dog salmon. They're ok for canning or pickling(and fun to catch) but rather flavorless and not good for barbecuing or other common cooking methods.
07/14/2013 8:36:00 AM CDT
Sandy says ...
It sounds like Whole Foods is making a conscience effort to provide its consumers with high quality healthy fish. I am wondering though what the fish are eating while raised in these tanks. Have been hearing and reading things about corn and how many animals are fed a lot of corn. Also wanting to avoid corn. How do we know what these fish are fed while in captivity / being raised? Thanks...
07/14/2013 9:43:21 PM CDT
Nikki - Community Moderator says ...
@PATRICIA - Keith let me know that Keta is part of the scientific name of Oncorhynchus keta. Common names include Chum, which may be a much more familiar name to you. The move from using the common name of Chum to the Scientific name of Keta is in large part to the misunderstanding of the word “CHUM” which many people relate to fish scraps and fishing methods of “Chumming” for other species by throwing fish scraps in the water. Keta is just a much more acceptable name for the consumer group. The differences from other Salmons is that it is less oilier in many cases. It is very important to buy a good Keta from a good location. Yukon Keta and Johnston Strait Keta are some of the finer of the Keta available with a very nice level of oil and flavor.
07/15/2013 4:57:04 PM CDT
Nikki - Community Moderator says ...
@JAMEKA - Keith stated that troll caught salmon are certainly of the WILD category. Trolling is a fishing method where a fisherman drags several hooks through the water at a speed that allows the bait to wiggle and wobble in such a way as to entice the fish to bite. Troll caught salmon is some of the best around as they are caught 1 fish per hook, and handled with extreme care by the fisherman. These fish are caught, dressed immediately and put on ice. Depending on the species they are harvesting, trollers might stay out anywhere from 1 to 4 days for fresh and much longer if they are freezing at sea. Salmon that are generally caught by trolling are Kings and Coho’s. Some of the other salmon species may also be caught while trolling but they are generally not targeted by the troller.
07/16/2013 4:36:38 PM CDT
Nikki - Community Moderator says ...
@MGP - I asked Keith and he said that "our Farm Raised Salmon is much different than, I venture to say, any other farm raised salmon. We have implemented very strict farming (Aquaculture) standards for all of our farm raised product. You can find these standards on our website. As far as which is better for you, I am a little bias as I work with wild product and not with the farmed. I believe that wild has a much more varied flavor profile and there are many variances on species and where they are caught. The most popular wild species of salmon to smoke are King, Sockeye, and Keta (chum)".
07/16/2013 4:37:36 PM CDT
Nikki - Community Moderator says ...
@CAROLINE - King Salmon is the best for smoking due to its high levels of oil.
07/16/2013 4:38:05 PM CDT
Nikki - Community Moderator says ...
@SANDY - The type of feed will vary between our aquaculture vendors. Check with your local store and they can find out for you!
07/16/2013 4:40:52 PM CDT
Nikki - Community Moderator says ...
@PATTY - Kings should be available in limited amounts now and availability should pickup for the end of July, going into August.
07/16/2013 4:41:33 PM CDT
nina says ...
What is the silverbrite wild alaskan salmon that all the markets are selling now. Previously when I bought it a few times it was awful.
07/21/2013 4:33:39 PM CDT
Avina says ...
Hi, this is really a good article but I wonder do you know that the fat content of each different species of salmons, what's your suggestion if we want a skinner, wild salmon?
07/25/2013 1:41:10 PM CDT
M J says ...
Do you sell Faroe Island salmon?
08/03/2013 8:36:53 PM CDT
Nick says ...
Just got back from vacation in Alaska. The locals said Kings have been rare this year. They may be getting hooked, killed, and thrown back by longliners since it's not the fish they're after.
08/04/2013 4:17:04 PM CDT
Nikki - Community Moderator says ...
@MJ - Our products vary so check with your local store to see what they have in stock!
08/05/2013 12:30:50 PM CDT