Native Americans have long relied on salmon for sustenance, trade and as part of their cultural identity. For thousands of years, tribal populations in the Pacific Northwest have eaten salmon, often dried or smoked, as a primary food source.
The average American consumes more than two pounds of salmon per year, which includes species such as Atlantic, Sockeye, Pink, Coho, Chinook and Chum. Salmon’s unique nutritional profile, flavor, versatility and availability are among the many reasons why it is a favorite. Recent estimates indicate salmon is the second most-consumed seafood in the United States, surpassed only by shrimp.
In the Kitchen: Salmon has a rich, buttery flavor and tender texture. Some of the most popular cooking methods include baking, broiling, pan-searing, grilling, poaching and slow-roasting.
Purchasing options include fresh, frozen, packaged or canned; raw, fully cooked or cured; in whole form or filleted; and with skin on or off. Thaw frozen salmon in the refrigerator overnight or seal individual fillets in a plastic bag and immerse in cold water to thaw more quickly.
Leaving the skin on or removing it when cooking comes down to personal preference. Keeping the skin on a fillet can help lock in moisture when baking or broiling. Some people enjoy the taste and texture of crispy salmon skin, which can be achieved by pan-searing a fillet skin side down over medium-high heat for 1 to 2 minutes before flipping or finishing in the oven.
Salmon is done cooking when the flesh has an opaque color and flakes easily with a fork. Like all fish and seafood, it should be cooked to a minimum internal temperature of 145 degrees Fahrenheit.
In the Clinic: Salmon is known and loved for being a high-quality source of protein and omega-3 fatty acids. A 3-ounce portion of cooked salmon contains about 20 grams of protein and is an excellent source of selenium. The amount of fatty acids can vary depending on the variety of salmon and its diet, as well as the season and location of its harvest. In general, for salmon that is available to U.S. consumers, farmed fish tend to be higher in total fat and provide higher amounts of eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid compared to wild-caught fish of the same species. Vitamin D content also can differ, and while data for the different types is limited, wild-caught salmon from Alaska have yielded higher levels compared to farm-raised. Both types are considered an excellent source of vitamin D, and canned salmon with bones — which are soft enough to chew thanks to the canning process — is also a good source of calcium.
The pinkish-orange color of salmon comes from its diet of astaxanthin-rich sources such as krill and plankton, or through color additives in the food provided to farm-raised salmon. A carotenoid, astaxanthin is an antioxidant that is naturally pigmented in red, orange and yellow hues. Unlike other fish species, salmon can store astaxanthin in their flesh, resulting in a rich and unique color.
In Quantity: Most salmon consumed in the United States is farm-raised Atlantic salmon from Canada, Chile and Norway, but many diners are gravitating toward deeply colored and richer flavored varieties such as Coho, Sockeye or Chinook, most often originating in the Pacific Ocean from Alaska to California.
In terms of sustainability, Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program ranks the varieties of salmon as “best choice,” “certified,” “good alternative” and “avoid.” Among the “best” choices are salmon varieties caught or farmed by more sustainable methods such as marine or freshwater net pens, lift nets and indoor recirculating tanks.
For larger quantities, it often is more economical — yet also more labor intensive — to purchase salmon whole. When buying whole salmon, look for flesh that is firm and unbroken, eyes that are clear and not opaque, and no detectable fishy smell. While fillets are the most used portions of whole salmon, other parts such as the bones or heads can be used as the base for seafood stocks and broths.
Although salmon fishing seasons vary based on type and region, flash-freezing and importing as well as year-round farm-raising allow consumers to purchase salmon at any time at most grocery stores or fish markets.
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