Is That “Wild” Salmon Really Wild?

January 21, 2011 | By | Comments (0)

Last week I made the Real Simple Roasted Salmon and Potatoes With Dill for dinner. When I’m cooking salmon at home, I always buy wild salmon—I’m worried about the mercury, PCBs, and other toxins that are found in higher levels in farmed salmon. Plus, wild salmon has higher omega-3 fatty acids and is better for the environment (farmed salmon escape from their pens and disturb the habits of their wild counterparts, depleting their numbers and spreading diseases and parasites; plus, chemicals and antibiotics used to treat the farmed fish seep into the water supply and affects other ocean life).



Wild salmon is certainly much pricier; I usually get it from the small gourmet market a couple blocks from my apartment, and it generally runs around $23 per pound. I love this little market. It has a great cheese counter, fabulous olive bar, generally good produce, and lots of specialty items I can’t get at the bigger mainstream supermarket, which is actually even closer to my home and therefore, technically, more convenient.


I took home my salmon, cooked it up, and ate it. It was delicious. Juicy, fatty, and full-bodied, with a lovely pink color. It was, I realized later, almost certainly not “wild” salmon. 


The New York Times came out with a rather shocking/depressing article several years ago—it bought salmon sold as “wild” from eight different stores in New York City and had them tested. It turns out that six of the eight salmon were actually farm raised, though they were labeled, priced, and sold as “wild.” Most of the stores involved were high-end, well-known places in New York, including Dean & DeLuca and Wild Edibles. I had read this article back when it came out and completely forgotten about it. Oops.


Here’s the deal: Wild salmon is scarce to begin with, but especially so during the off-season (November to March). If you see something sold as fresh wild salmon during those months, chances are very good that it’s farmed. You can’t tell the difference by looking at it, as farmed salmon are given artificial coloring to make them pink. Once you eat it, however, you can certainly detect the difference: Wild salmon is much leaner and firmer and has a more intense flavor.


So until wild salmon season kicks in again in the spring, I’m going to stick to frozen wild salmon (Trader Joe’s, Costco, and other stores carry it). I also picked up some canned wild salmon, which I think will be great tossed with pasta. 


Oh, and by the way, I stopped in at Dean & DeLuca this week just to see if they were selling any “wild” salmon. They were not.


(image: James and James/Getty Images)