North American Import & Export Blog » Blog Archive » Chef’s Notes: Which Salmon Species is right for your menu?
Aug 31, 2009

Chef’s Notes: Which Salmon Species is right for your menu?

North American Import & Export distributes several species of wholesale salmon for foodservice use. Here is a guide to help you decide which species to include in your next order:

Pink Salmon – Most Tender and Affordable

Oil Content: Low
Flake Size: Smallest
Fish Size: Smallest

Frequently overlooked, Pink salmon (aka humpback salmon, “humpies”) is the smallest of the Pacific species. It is plentiful and therefore relatively affordable and sustainable. Pink salmon is the most tender of all salmon, which unfortunately means its flesh is frequently damaged during large-scale commercial fishing. Because of this damage, it is usually found in cans.

NAIE has partnered with small fishing operations in the Pacific Northwest that clean and refrigerate their Pink catch at sea before hand-carrying them from the boat at dock instead of using vacuum tubes. This allows us to sell you whole Pink salmon that is in pristine condition.

Besides being tender, Pink salmon has other benefits. Its relatively small size (below 4 pounds), low place on the food chain, and youth when spawning mean that there is less bioaccumulation of toxins than larger salmon. Pink salmon meat has a comparatively small flake size.

Sockeye Salmon – Darkest Color and Most Popular

Oil Content: 2nd Highest
Flake Size: Medium
Fish Size: Small

The most popular of all Pacific Salmon, Sockeye salmon (aka blueback salmon) also possesses the darkest colored meat. It is almost ruby in color, giving them their primary nickname, red salmon. It is second in line in terms of flavorful/healthy oil content behind King salmon. It has a medium flake size, and robust flavor, but less fat than the King (which, while reducing richness, may be a selling point for your customers). These fish tend to weigh between five and seven pounds each.

King Salmon – The Largest and Richest Salmon

Oil Content: Highest
Flake Size: Largest
Fish Size: Largest

Also known as Chinook salmon, the King is the fattiest, richest, and largest of the Pacific salmon species. The meat often has ribs of white running through it in a striped pattern. King has one of the highest oil contents, and the largest flake size.

Ivory King Salmon:
While relatively uncommon, it is possible to find King salmon that have not developed their pink color. This is a natural occurrence in the wild. These King salmon are sometimes sold as Ivory Kings or White King Salmon, and should otherwise have the same characteristics as normal Kings.

Coho Salmon – Less Flavorful, But More Tender

Oil Content: Medium
Flake Size: Medium-Small
Fish Size: Medium

Coho salmon (aka silver salmon) have flesh that is similar to King salmon in color (and is therefore the color most people associate with salmon). They tend to weigh between six and eight pounds whole. They have a medium flake size like sockeyes (although smaller), but are leaner and have less flavor. Finally, their flesh is more tender than Sockeye or King salmon.

Chum Salmon – Late Season Availability

Oil Content: Low
Flake Size: Small
Fish Size: Large

Also known as Keta salmon or “fall salmon,” Chum salmon is one of the palest and leanest salmon (just above the pink in fat content). These fish are relatively large (weighing around eight pounds each) with a delicate flavor. The Chum salmon season tends to peak later than other species, making them more likely to be available when other salmon is scarce. Chum salmon are the species least commonly sold fresh, and are the most commonly dried Pacific salmon.


Atlantic Salmon:
A large, robust species. Almost all Atlantic salmon available on the market is farmed due to the depletion of wild Atlantic salmon fisheries. Farmed Atlantic salmon generally is far less flavorful than wild caught varieties and usually contains synthetic coloring agents.  Most farmed salmon is raised in Norway, Chile, Washington State and British Columbia.  Farmed salmon is outlawed in Alaska.

Consumers can buy wild salmon at

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