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Apr 5, 2005 10:30 AM

White Salmon question

  • s

I have always thought that white salmon was a sub-species that had white flesh. However, I ate last night at an LA restaurant, where hounds had told me that I should order the Columbia River Wild White Salmon. They had wild Columbia River salmon on the menu, but it wasn't advertised as White. I ordered it, and it was delicious, but definitely pink.

However, in trying to google to find out more about the White Salmon, all I am finding are references to the White river area, which is apparently a hatchery for Columbia River salmon.

So, isn't there such a thing as White fleshed Salmon? or does the 'White' just refer to the location where the salmon are hatched. Assuming I'm not crazy, and there is such a thing as White salmon (I've always thought that the Copper River salmon that is so reveared was a white salmon?), what is the season, and where (preferably in the SF area) can I taste it?



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  1. Actually, all salmon start out with white flesh. Their diet is what colors their flesh pink. In farmed salmon, the color is added to the feed salmon receive.

    FYI, "pink" flamingos' feathers turn pink for the same reason ... in their case the shrimp they eat.

    6 Replies
    1. re: Kirk

      Though I previously simply thought it had something to do with salt water turning the flesh pink, it is indeed their diet of insects, plankton, and shellfish. See link below (the sixth paragraph is about the carotenoid (orange) pigments in trout and salmon. Some

      Linked below:

      Further reading on Google links indicates both innate color in variety of salmon species as well as the salty sea factor (and, even the amount of "gill rakers" a species may have for gathering their food




      and "Since salmon stop eating once they leave saltwater, it is best to catch them when they first enter freshwater. At this point, their flesh has the highest fat and protein content. The length of time they spend in the ocean and the distance they must travel in freshwater determines the fat content. The longer and colder the river, the higher the fat content, richer the flavor and firmer the texture. Thus, salmon are generally named for the place they come from like the Copper River in Alaska (the longest, coldest river in Alaska ), the Taku River in Alaska or the Columbia River on the Oregon/Washington border. Why should you care? The fatter and happier the salmon, the better the flavor."



      1. re: kc girl

        Good stuff - thanks!

        1. re: applehome

          Found an article from way back in April 2001, that noted:
          "Columbia River salmon are in decline despite heroic measures to sustain them, . . ."

          And, most recently (April 5, 2005), an article states:
          "Columbia River chinook run to date lowest since 1949."

          Seems the only salmon species they mention being from the Columbia River (border of Washington and Oregon) are called Chinook > which is also called King Salmon and winter salmon.


          Seems the wise chowhounds knew the life cycle?

          I got interested in January 2000, when my friend in North Bend, Washington, gave me a package with four different species of smoked and cured salmon from the Northwest region. Did a taste test right then and there and noticed the difference in color and oil content.

          And, maybe, since there is a shortage of Columbia River salmon, there is an unknown or new source for the white flesh??? Leave it to the chowhounds to know!


          1. re: kc girl

            The Columbia River drainage supports all 5 (or 6, depending on how you count) species of Pacific salmon: chinook, chum, coho, sockeye, and pink - the 6th would be steelhead, which is a sea-run rainbow trout (rainbow trout are in the same genus as the other five). The "other" names - commonly used primarily in Alaska but elsewhere as well - for the five salmon species are, respectively, king, dog, silver, red, and humpy. Chinook (king) grow the largest, by far. The Atlantic salmon, by the way, is a very different species, in the same genus as the brown trout (and the brook trout isn't a trout at all, it's a char).

            There are different opinions on the relative table qualities of the various species, but I think a general consensus might go like this (from best to worst): king, silver, red, humpy, dog.

            While salmon are unquestionably in trouble in some areas, in others the sheer numbers of spawning fish stagger the imagination. I've fished rivers on the Alaska peninsula that had piles of spawned out, dead salmon along both banks, 3 feet deep and 10 feet wide for miles.

        2. re: kc girl

          There are longer rivers in Alaska with fatter salmon. The Copper River just happens to have a huge run, a larger marketing budget and some tasty fish.

          1. re: kc girl

            One of your links had the following text:

            "Some eat large amounts of shrimp-like copepods that have carotenoid (orange) pigments. These orange pigments will be transferred to their flesh. That is why some salmonids have such bright orange meat, including rainbows, Pacific salmon, and Atlantic salmon. Sockeye salmon also have an orange tint to their flesh. When sockeye [king] begin their run upriver to spawn, the orange tint migrates to their skin, making them bright red--and their flesh turns white. Chum [dog] salmon eat jellyfish, and so as you might guess, their flesh is white. "

            So it sounds like this "wild white salmon" is either a fish caught far enough upriver that the pigments have migrated out of the flesh, or it's a variety of salmon that feeds on food that don't color it in the first place.

        3. I've been in quest of a White Salmon these many years, mate. If you happen upon one, drop me a line and I'll get my harpoon.

          Capt. Ahab

          2 Replies
          1. re: Capt. Ahab

            Try Trader Joe's - marinated and frozen, available in MA.

            1. re: ju

              And in CA, too. Also UNmarinated. And awfully good.

          2. I've had white salmon once about ten years ago at a restaurant in Seattle. The menu stated that the salmon was wild and local and that the lack of pigment was natural. The dish was composed of three local salmons (the others were red), simply grilled.

            As for flavor, I don't remember it being noticably different.

            1. I recently had this salmon from believe it or not- Trader Joes, it was marinated and decent but I didn't notice any difference from pink salmon except that it may have had a milder taste!

              1. A small percentage of king salmon found in Alaska and British Columbia has white flesh. They are genetically predisposed with an extra enzyme to process carotene rather than collect it in their flesh. It is this stored dietary carotene that gives salmon its characteristic color. A small commercial fishery in southeast Alaska trolls for king salmon during the winter months and they occasionally catch a white king. Because of very limited numbers, white king is a rare treat, and what a treat it is. King salmon caught in the winter in Alaska are foraging for food, far in both distance and time from entering their natal streams to spawn. They are called winter or feeder kings and they are in their prime. Their meat has a higher fat content, those healthy omega-3 oils, making it very succulent -- arguably the best of all salmon. Some think white king salmon has an even higher fat content and is the very best of all. There used to be little demand for white king but it has now been discovered. Because it is limited in supply and really, really tasty, white king has become pricey and difficult to find. Farmed salmon can be white as well -- if carotene isn't added to their processed food. There is no comparison. I hope you are lucky enough to enjoy wild,white king salmon, cooked to perfection.

                1 Reply
                1. re: homer

                  What I have learned over the years is consistent with homer's post.