Wild Caught Salmon vs Farm Raised Salmon

With more and more of us trying to get heart healthy omega-3s into our diet there’s a good chance salmon is on the menu, but have you ever wondered about wild caught salmon vs farm raised salmon? You’ve already gone through the age-old debate of what’s for dinner and find yourself standing in front of the seafood case staring at your options. Let’s dive into the difference between these two so you can not only shop smarter, but cook them both with confidence.

Macadamia Crusted Hot Honey Salmon

When it comes to buying and cooking seafood, salmon is not only a popular option, but also easily accessible. Even smaller grocery stores that don’t have large seafood counters will have one or two options of salmon. You can find it in the frozen food aisles as well. This guide will walk you through not only the differences between wild salmon and farmed salmon, but also how to pick them and cook them. Then all you have to do is fire up the grill and make Macadamia Crusted Hot Honey Salmon.

Health Benefits of Salmon

Just like there are nutritional differences between grass fed and finished beef and grain fed beef, the same holds true for wild caught vs. farm raised salmon. However, the general health benefits of both types of salmon remain the same. Eating two servings of fish a week is a healthy addition to any diet, especially nutrient rich salmon. Here are just a few of the benefits.

Sockeye Salmon
  • Protein
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Vitamin B12
  • Vitamin B6
  • Potassium
  • Iron
  • Vitamin D

The Omega-3 fatty acids combined with the potassium help support heart health. They can reduce the risk of high blood pressure and stroke, improve brain function, and help reduce cardiovascular problems such as heart attacks and heart arrhythmias, just to name a few benefits. The vitamin D and calcium found in salmon helps support bone health. Vitamin D helps your body absorb and utilize the calcium.

What’s the Difference Between Pacific and Atlantic Salmon?

The two most popular types of salmon are Pacific salmon and Atlantic salmon and belong to the family Salmonidae. Pacific salmon refers to the location where this salmon is caught while Atlantic salmon refers to the species, not where it’s from. Atlantic salmon is almost always farmed and is farmed all around the world.

Atlantic salmon comes from the genus Salmo. Wild Atlantic salmon used to be found as far north as Quebec and in almost all rivers north of the Hudson River, but now is only found in Maine. Atlantic salmon most closely resembles trout.

Pacific salmon comes from the genus Oncorhynchus. Unlike Atlantic salmon there are seven species of Pacific salmon, five of which are found in the United States and Canada. The other two, Masu and Amago are found closer to Asia.

Types of Wild Caught Pacific Salmon

Coho Salmon
  • Chum Salmon – This salmon is sometimes referred to as Keta salmon, dog salmon, or silverbrite because of the color of its skin. It contains the least amount of fat as other types of salmon which makes it drier in texture, milder in flavor, and not as desirable. However, this type of salmon is often caught for its roe.
  • Pink Salmon – Like chum salmon, this type of salmon contains less oils than other types. It’s the most common salmon found in the waters between Oregon and Alaska and is a popular salmon for canning.
  • Coho Salmon Coho salmon has less oil content than sockeye and king salmon but more than the first two. This makes it a great option for those looking for a milder flavored salmon. Because of the slightly lower fat content this salmon is well suited to any type of gentle or low and slow cooking such as poaching, smoking, or steaming.
  • Sockeye Salmon – Instantly recognizable for its vibrant ruby red salmon, giving it another name of red salmon. The color comes from its natural diet of krill. Sockeye has a firm texture and with its higher oil content holds up well to all types of cooking including grilling. It’s bold in flavor and takes on other flavors such as sweetness depending upon how you cook it. Sockeye is one of the well monitored fish with strict fishing regulations making it a truly seasonal species. Because of this the sockeye numbers remain healthy while other Pacific species have been listed as threatened or endangered.
  • King Salmon – King salmon, also called chinook salmon, is the largest of the salmon species and the highest in fat content which lends to its rich, buttery flavor and silky texture. This truly is the king of all salmon from a flavor point of view and because of this is the most expensive of all salmon. This has also led to it being overfished and put several varieties of it on the endangered and threatened list.

How to Shop Wild Caught Salmon

When it comes to buying wild caught salmon, you always want to make sure that they’re sustainably caught. That means they’ve been harvested in a way to not only protect the population of that particular species but also the ecosystem they live in and the environment. Most grocery stores and fish markets will have their salmon selections labeled as sustainably sourced.

Most of us don’t have access to just caught, fresh off the Alaska fishing boat salmon. Don’t be afraid to purchase frozen wild caught salmon as much of it is flash frozen within hours of being caught, giving you that beautiful texture and flavor. You just need to know your source. When in doubt, ask! For wild caught salmon I love Salmon & Sable. Most reputable fish markets and grocery stores will list not only if the fish is wild caught or farmed, but also the origin.

How to Shop Farm Raised Salmon

Not all farm raised salmon is created equal, from the way it’s raised and harvested to its impact on the environment. There are several certifications to look for to know you are buying the most responsibly raised salmon.

Farm Raised Salmon
  • Aquaculture Stewardship Council
  • Best Aquaculture Practices
  • Global G.A.P

Almost all grocery stores or fish markets will carry one of these. Stick to purchasing salmon that is clearly labeled. You want to look for farm raised salmon that is free of antibiotics and pesticides, such as Bluehouse Salmon.

Seafood Watch, a program affiliated with the Monterey Bay Aquarium recommends avoiding most farm raised Atlantic salmon because of excessive chemicals and disease. Most farm raised salmon is raised in open net fish pens in the ocean. They’re bred to grow fast and often kept crammed together resulting in conditions full of parasites and disease. Because the nets are open net, this feeds into the ecosystem.

The feed itself for farm raised salmon can also directly impact the environment and communities. Salmon are predators, feeding on sardines, anchovies, mackerel, and other small fish. To keep up with the demands for feed, huge trawlers fish off of the coasts of countries such as Peru and West Africa, depleting the food and income sources for already food insecure communities.

That is why knowing what to look for and looking at labels is so important. Land based salmon farming is slowly growing in practice taking the fish away from the oceans and leaving a lower carbon footprint. With certification like the Aquaculture Stewardship Council you can also be assured the fish is free of antibiotics and pesticides.

Difference Between Farmed Salmon & Wild Salmon

  • Wild caught salmon has lower calories and half the fat content of farm raised salmon.
  • Farm raised salmon may have more Omega-3s, but it’s also higher in saturated fat.
  • Wild salmon is higher in minerals like calcium and iron than farm raised salmon.
  • Both wild caught salmon and farm raised salmon can contain contaminants from the water they swim in and the food they eat but farm raised has been shown to have higher levels depending on the conditions it’s farmed in.
  • Wild caught salmon feeds on shrimp and krill which naturally gives them their red, orange, and pink flesh, depending on the species. Farm raised salmon doesn’t have the same diet and the color of their flesh is paler. Because of this they’re given a chemical supplement to enhance the color of their flesh.
  • Farm raised salmon has a more neutral flavor while wild caught salmon is much more complex and richer.
  • Farm raised salmon has striations of fat throughout it while wild caught salmon is leaner. Farm raised salmon also has larger flakes of meat while wild caught salmon is tighter and more dense.

How to Cook Farm Raised Salmon

Because farm raised salmon is fattier, it is more forgiving to cook. It can risk being overcooked without becoming dry. Regardless of how you cook it, from grilling it to baking it or even popping it into the air fryer, it needs to be cooked to a slightly higher temperature than wild caught salmon.

According to the United States Department of Agriculture, the thickest part of farm raised salmon needs to be cooked to 145 degrees. However, if you cook salmon to this temperature, you risk it being dry, chewy, and with a more pronounced fishy flavor. Have you ever taken that fist bite of a piece of fish and instantly been hit by the flavor of a tuna sandwich basking for days in the sun? Heat draws out the oils in fish not only drying it out but giving it that fishy flavor.

Instead, aim to cook your farm raised salmon to 135. Because of carryover cooking, just like steak, it will continue to cook once you remove it from the heat source. If you like your salmon more medium rare to medium, cook it to between 125-130.

How to Cook Wild Caught Salmon

Sockeye Salmon

Wild caught salmon is naturally a leaner fish due to both its environment and also what it eats. It doesn’t need to be cooked for as long or as high of a temperature as farm raised salmon. An easy rule to remember is always cook wild caught salmon five degrees less.

For medium cooked salmon, aim for 130 degrees. For medium rare you want to keep it between 120-125.

Tips From the Beach

  • Know what to look for when buying both wild caught and farm raised salmon. Wild caught salmon should always be sustainably sourced. Farm raised salmon should be certified by reputable organizations such as Best Aquaculture Practices or the Aquaculture Stewardship Council.
  • One isn’t necessarily better than the other. Shop what you can afford, and what works for you and your family.
  • Always cook wild caught salmon five degrees less than farm raised. It is leaner and will dry out more if over cooked.

Do wild caught salmon and farm raised salmon cook to the same temperature?

No. Farm raised salmon is fattier and can be cooked to a higher temperature. 135 is the recommended temp for medium. Wild caught salmon is leaner and should be cooked five degrees less. Aim for 130 for medium.

Is farm raised salmon better than wild caught salmon.

Farm raised salmon is higher in Omega-3s than wild caught salmon but it is higher in saturated fat. They both have their pros and cons. Buy what fits your budget.

Is all farm raised salmon the same?

No. Just like anything else there are good and bad. Make sure to look for certifications such as the Aquaculture Stewardship Council or Best Aquaculture Practices.

How many species of wild caught salmon are there?

There are seven, five of which are found in the United States and Canada.


Wild Caught Salmon vs Farm Raised Salmon

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Wild caught salmon vs farm raised salmon cooks to two different temps. Farm raised salmon is fattier than wild caught salmon and because of this can handle being cooked to a higher temperature. An easy rule to remember is to always cook wild caught salmon five degrees less than farm raised. 



How to Cook Farm Raised Salmon

  1. For medium to medium well cooked farm raised salmon, cook it to an internal temperature of 135 degrees and allow it to rest.
  2. For medium rare to medium cooked farm raised salmon cook it to between 125-130 degrees.
  3. The salmon will continue to cook when you remove it from the heat because of carryover cooking. 

How to Cook Wild Caught Salmon

  1. For medium to medium well cooked wild caught salmon, cook it to 130 degrees and allow it to rest. 
  2. For medium rare to medium cooked wild caught salmon cook it to between 120-125 degrees.

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8 thoughts on “Wild Caught Salmon vs Farm Raised Salmon”

  1. I find farm raised salmon easily enough from a co op on town. I buy it fresh and usually poach it. I was told it is from Chile. Unfortunately the information on salmon from Chile has not been as good as I had hoped. What is the most current opinion on the
    practices used in Chile farmed salmon?

    Thank you. Great article.

    • Farming practices vary by company and farm more than the actual country of origin. Chile actually accounts for half of the farm raised salmon imported into the United States, so it’s an easily accessible option. Look for certifications such as the Aquaculture Stewardship Council. If you’re buying it fresh it might not be labeled but you can always ask your fish monger.

  2. Everyone should know this, that, farm raised salmon from Norway, are killing the wild Atlantic salmon. The salmon farms are a breeding ground for sea lice,which attach themselves to the young smolt and adult salmon . Please do not buy farmed salmon from Norway, Iceland, Ireland and Scotland. We must save the wild Atlantic salmon !.

    • 100% agree. That has contributed to the decline of Atlantic salmon along with overfishing. It’s actually illegal here in the US to commercially or recreationally fish for Atlantic salmon. Seafood Watch actually recommends avoiding almost all Atlantic salmon.

    • Totally agree both can be great, it’s just about shopping wisely, knowing what to look for, and knowing they don’t necessarily cook at the same temperature.


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