King, Sockeye, Coho — what's the difference?

Salmon is the most popular seafood species in the U.S. with a commercial value of $688 million in 2017, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The fish is prized for its health benefits, especially its omega-3 fatty acids. But not all salmon is created equal, in fact there are six different types of salmon that are sold commercially in the U.S.

If you've ever noticed names like Sockeye or King floating around the seafood section of your grocery store, we're here to clarify the differences. But first, what's most important to understand about salmon is how it's raised.

Wild vs. Farmed Salmon

Wild salmon is salmon that is caught in natural environments like oceans, rivers, and lakes. But much of the salmon sold worldwide today is farmed salmon. Fish farms use a process called aquaculture to breed fish, which are often given a processed feed that's high in fat and protein to produce larger fish.

Because they have different diets, the nutrient composition of wild and farmed salmon is very different. Wild salmon contains more minerals, while farmed salmon is higher in vitamin C, saturated fat, and calories.

Some studies have also shown that farmed salmon may have higher concentrations of contaminants than wild salmon. Both are still excellent sources of omega-3s, but wild salmon is overall better for your health if you can afford to spend a little extra on it.

If you're looking to stick to wild salmon, you're going to want to go with Pacific salmon, of which there are five types: King, Sockeye, Coho, Pink, and Chum. It's not that Atlantic salmon is bad, it's just that there are very few Atlantic salmon found in the wild today, due to overfishing and habitat destruction. So most Atlantic salmon is farm-raised. Read on to learn about the six common types of salmon.

Fresh salmon fillets
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1. King/Chinook

This salmon is deserving of its royal title. Many consider it to be the best salmon you can buy. High in fat, rich, and large in size, King salmon (also known as Chinook) is loaded with omega-3s.

King salmon have reached up to five feet in size and over 100 pounds in weight, showing up everywhere from the Pacific waters of southern California to the freezing rivers of northern Alaska.

King Salmon Fillet
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2. Sockeye/Red

Sockeye salmon, or red salmon, is known for its striking red-orange flesh and strong scent. It's said to have a richer flavor, or what some might describe as "fishier."

They're smaller and leaner than Kings, and a lot cheaper too. Sockeye salmon is often sold smoked, and are a favorite among chefs across the country. Not only do they get their name for bright red flesh, but their skin also turns a deep red as they swim upstream to spawn. They're mostly caught in Alaskan waters.

Sockeye Salmon Fillet
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3. Coho/Silver

Coho or silver salmon get their name for their bright silver skin. Although they don't get the attention that massive Kings and flavorful Sockeyes do, Coho has a medium fat-content and a more subtle flavor.

Because of their small size, Cohos are often used when cooking a whole salmon. Their flavor is similar to Kings, but Cohos are more delicate in texture. They're commonly found in Alaskan waters and much of the northern Pacific.

Frozen coho salmon fillets
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4. Pink/Humpback

This salmon goes by pink, humpback, or even "humpies" because they have a distinctive hump on their back that develops when they spawn, as well as a light-colored flesh. They're mild in flavor and low in fat and size, typically weighing between two and six pounds.

Although they can be found fresh and frozen, they're typically processed and sold in cans or pouches. Most pink salmon is harvested from Alaskan fisheries, but they can also be found on the coasts of Washington and Oregon. Fun fact: U.S. fishermen harvested more pink salmon than all other fish in 2017, all 495 million pounds of them.

Pink salmon fillet
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5. Chum/Silverbrite/Keta/Dog

Chum salmon goes by many names. This light to medium-colored fish has a lower fat content and smaller size. It's flesh is often sold canned or frozen.

However, it does have one big thing going for it: its roe. Roe, or fish eggs contained in the ovaries of a female fish, is considered a delicacy in many cuisines. Chum's roe is often bigger and tastier than other types of salmon. It's often used for Ikura (salmon caviar).

Chum salmon is mostly harvested from Alaskan waters.

Chum Salmon fillets
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6. Atlantic/Salmo Salar

And finally, the only salmon that doesn't hail from the Pacific ocean is, of course, Atlantic salmon. However, all commercially available Atlantic salmon is farmed. This is because only small, endangered populations live in the wild today. Atlantic salmon tends to be more mild in flavor, but often larger in size due to their specialized diet.

However, fish farming is starting to see improvements as fisheries moved towards more plant-based feeds. Because it's farm-raised, Atlantic salmon also tends to be cheaper than most wild salmon.

Atlantic salmon fillets
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