Sunday, January 15, 2012

Tips for buying salmon

Where to buy
I live in Austin, so I buy my wild-caught salmon at Central Market nearly always, but Whole Foods should have it for around the same price. You can tell it's wild-caught without even looking at the label, because it's RED. Why should you care? Well, you don't have to. But if you want to actually get some nutritional benefit out of your salmon, you probably should.

Is all salmon red, and why does it matter?
Most wild salmon eat krill (a type of shellfish) and insects that contain carotenoids; it makes them pink. When the salmon eat the krill, they also ingest omega-3s, which we benefit from when we ingest them. I did recently try a "grade B" river salmon that wasn't red, but more of a pale, rosy pink. Their diet is just not as rich in animals with carotenoids, but it was still excellent.

Farmed salmon are fed grains mostly, in pellet form. Therefore, their flesh is actually gray. They probably do not have as many omega-3s as wild-caught, and you can bet they have too many omega-6s. So, how do these farmed salmon get that pinkish color? Well, their feed is colored. Farmers pick a shade of pink from a color wheel for their farmed salmon. And that, my friends, is just messed up.

What other differences are there between wild-caught and farmed?
Salmon farmers also use antibiotics and pesticides. Basically, farmed salmon are just as industrialized as their land counterparts: confined, fed substances they did not evolve to eat (grains), and given high amounts of drugs and chemicals to keep infection and pests away.

Wild salmon populations are usually very well-managed, so you're doing their species and the environment a favor when you don't support salmon farms, also. 

Look, I just care about overfishing
Fair enough...check out Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch website. You can print off a pocket version of their seafood recommendations based on scientific research done every 6 months, or download the smartphone application. They even have a sushi version!

Beware...salmon you order at a restaurant is farmed. You'll be able to tell as soon as they serve it. However, I've noticed that some of the fanciest joints in town do offer wild-caught fish...but never salmon, for some reason. When in doubt, ask the server, who will undoubtedly have to go ask someone else, but it's worth it.

Do farmed and wild-caught salmon taste different?
Yes, so if you are put off by the wild-caught salmon, I say go with your gut. When you cook it, you'll see opaque white fat oozing out where ever it can. At first this looks strange but luckily, it's not something you experience when you eat it. You'll also notice it's much denser and not as smooth. This is because in general, wild-caught salmon has less fat than farmed salmon. I'd say it's impossible to screw up a farmed salmon fillet, but it's possible with wild-caught; it can be overcooked and it will get dry, so be watchful. 

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