Salmon is salmon, right?

Wrong, U.S. and Canadian boats actually fish for five types of Pacific salmon: King, Sockeye, Silver, Pink, and Chum.

An easy mnemonic device, the five finger method, can help a person remember them all:

  • Chum is your thumb,
  • Sockeye is your index finger (imagine poking someone’s eye out),
  • King is your middle finger,
  • Silver is your ring finger, and
  • Pink is your pinkie.

Types of Salmon

(image from YellowCatArt)

Each of these species has at least one other name, so here’s a guide to other names you will find for each type:

1. Chum Salmon/ Keta Salmon/ Silverbrite Salmon/ Dog Salmon

Chum (Oncorhynchus keta) is also called dog salmon for its dog-like teeth. Keta comes from it’s species name and is a way to get away from the negative association chum sometimes has. It’s a smaller fish – averaging about 8 pounds – with pale to medium-colored flesh and a lower fat content than other salmon. Chum is usually canned or sold frozen to foreign markets.

2. Sockeye Salmon/ Red Salmon

Sockeye (Oncorhynchus nerka) are noted for their bright red-orange flesh and deep rich flavor. They are known as “reds” both for their dark flesh color and because they turn deep red (from a bright silver) as they move upstream to spawn.

3. Chinook Salmon/ King Salmon

Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tschawytscha), also known as King salmon, are considered by many to be the best-tasting salmon. They have a very high fat content and corresponding rich flesh that ranges from white to a deep red color.

4. Coho Salmon/ Silver Salmon

Coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch) are sometimes called silver salmon or “silvers” because of their especially silver skin. They have bright red flesh and a slightly more delicate texture than King salmon but a similar flavor.

5. Pink Salmon/ Humpies

Pink salmon (Oncorhynchus gorbusha) are the most common Pacific salmon. They have very light colored (and flavored) flesh and a low fat content. Pink salmon are often canned, but also sold fresh, frozen, and smoked. They are sometimes called “humpies” because of the distinctive hump they develop on their back when they spawn.

(Listing of species from About.com)

And by the way, the Atlantic salmon you find at the supermarket is a farm-raised, not a wild-caught fish, with its artificial pink color added.

So the next time you decide to grill salmon, the fingers on your hand can remind you of the choices at the market.