Are You Falling Victim To The Salmon Scam?

Something fishy is going on in the seafood corner of your grocery store. It turns out there's a big difference between "wild caught" and "farm-raised" salmon aside from the price — namely, their diets. As The Atlantic reports, wild salmon feed on krill and shrimp that contain a naturally occurring reddish-orange colored antioxidant called astaxanthin. That is what gives wild salmon their characteristic pink color.

On the other hand, farm-raised salmon are generally fed food pellets containing a mash-up of animal bits and vegetable protein. The pellets are then supplemented with synthetically produced astaxanthin to intentionally pigment the salmon fillet into the signature pinkish hue. Without the added color compound, the farmed salmon would be an unappetizing gray shade.   
Illustration by ZHANG QINGYUN.
Why should you care?
Well, first, farmed salmon can lead to a number of environmental problems. Also, market research has shown that consumers are more likely to pay a higher price for salmon with a darker hue of pink. The good news is that the FDA labeling laws require that salmon supplemented with synthetic or natural astaxanthin be labeled as “color added.”

What should you do? 
When shopping for salmon, opt for the wild-caught variety to make sure you are getting the best quality and not shelling out extra dollars for an inferior product. Always check the label, and ask your grocer if there is color added. If the price of farm-raised is too tempting, don’t let the color fool you. Instead, check the fillet’s freshness by looking for cracks in the salmon and discolorations around the edges. Seafood Watch also has a very helpful sustainability guide that is broken down by state, which can help you navigate seafood-purchasing decisions.     

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