Red Salmon Versus Pink Salmon Versus Tuna

What’s the difference between red (sockeye)and pink (humpback) salmon? 

Pink salmon is inexpensive; red salmon costs more. Red salmon flesh is actually red, and pink salmon looks more like tuna. When red and pink salmon are pulled fresh from the sea their flesh is, in fact, distinctly red or pink. The cooking process of canning reduces coloration in both. Red salmon gets its enhanced color from eating krill, a type of small shrimp. Pinks are the most abundant salmon, followed by reds.

Pink salmon, upon hatching, go directly to the sea, whereas red salmon spend over a year in fresh water. Red salmon need a lake or other large body of fresh water in which to grow. The largest red salmon run in the world by far is in Bristol Bay, Alaska, an area uniquely blessed with a system of saltwater bays and freshwater lakes. The world’s largest pink salmon runs are located in Southeast Alaska, which has a mild climate coupled with abundant rainfall, and thousands of short streams running from landfall directly to the sea.

Alaska is a very sparsely populated state with little polluting industry. Nutritionally, the two types are nearly identical, though pink salmon is listed by the USDA as having slightly more Omega-3’s than red salmon (1.7 mg per serving versus 1.3 mg).  This slight difference may be limited to the samples tested, or it may have to do with the small oily fish that pink salmon sometimes eat.   Though all wild salmon are extraordinary sources of Vitamin D, red sockeye salmon is the king with 795 IU per 3.5 oz serving.

Why is red salmon more expensive than pink salmon?

Supply and demand and a historic bias for red salmon account for the cost differential. We have done blind taste tests, and when people don’t know which fish they are eating, statistically they report a slight preference for pink over red. When tasters state a bias, they generally insist that red is best. We at Pure Alaska speculate that this preference was established in the days before boat refrigeration, when reds held up in the hatches of fishing boats far better than the more delicate pinks. Admittedly, pink salmon was not a very appetizing food back then. In the past twenty years the Alaska salmon-fishing fleet has invested in chilled circulating seawater fish holds, and this has vastly increased the quality of canned salmon. The salmon are pulled directly from the cold, clear waters and put into the fish holds where they remain until processed at the cannery – typically the same day. The quality of all canned wild Alaska salmon has increased immensely, but the lowly pink salmon has really been transformed.

Tuna vs. Wild Alaska Salmon – Alaska Salmon is the Hand’s Down Winner

 Tuna is still a great food choice, far better than many other protein choices, in our opinion. Tuna is especially good compared to many other budget meat products. We at Pure Alaska Salmon Company LLC do not presume to enter into the controversies over frequency of safe consumption. There are definitely  U.S. companies that sustainably harvest and process an excellent tuna product.  We enjoy a good tuna sandwich ourselves.

That said, we offer this list of important reasons to consider canned Alaska salmon as an alternative to your familiar preferences. Wild canned salmon offers: 

*Five times the health enhancing omega-3’s as conventional ‘grocery store’ chunk light tuna, and twice that of conventional ‘grocery store’ albacore tuna (USDA)

*Many times over the vitamin D as tuna (this depends upon whether we are comparing sockeye or pink salmon or Albacore or chunk light tuna)

*No (or negligible) detectable mercury,

*Flavor and appearance similar or better than(especially Thinkpink) first rate albacore

*Product of the U.S.A. that providing thousands of jobs at every phase of its production — in an environmentally friendly, sustainable manner

* Harvested at the last stages of the salmon’s natural complete life cycle

People find the more they use canned wild Alaska salmon, the more they use it.  It is just a great source of protein, and is so easy to use.


Random Musings About Canned Alaska Salmon

The canned salmon of today is a vastly improved from product what it was 25 years ago. Now most boats in Alaska feature chilled circulating sea water fish holds. The salmon are taken from the cold, pristine waters of Alaska and put directly into these tanks, where they remain until they get to the processing plant, just hours later. The condition of today’s salmon is light years better than the good old days when the salmon were packed into unrefrigerated fish holds. No fisherman would eat canned salmon back then, but that is not true anymore.

I liken a can of traditional pack Redhead or Thinkpink, as a ‘Salmon steak in a can, perfectly poached (but really pressure cooked in the can), hours after capture, ready to be used in a host of dishes.’

We, the Zuanich family, commercially fish-from Dungeness crab to halibut and black cod as well as salmon. I feel privileged, no, blessed to have access to the seafood that I do, and we eat more canned salmon than any other fish. We have found canned salmon to be the absolute superior lunch time food. Hence, my most useful recipe card is probably, ‘Straight Out of the Can.’ Four or five times a week we eat salmon at lunch. I like my canned salmon with a half a toasted bagel or that wonderful German whole grain rye bread (Mestemacher is the brand), toasted, with a thin layer of lower fat cream cheese, salmon, a squeeze of lemon juice, some chopped red onion and maybe a few capers. If you accept my ‘perfectly poached salmon steak in a can’ routine, a can of salmon is just like having perfectly cooked salmon leftovers always at your beck and call.

We have quite an array of canned salmon recipes on our website, The most surprising recipe, the one I often use in in store demonstrations, is “Fabulous Salmon Curry Salad.” It was a recipe I have used with chicken breast, but I just substituted canned salmon which is much easier, less costly and vastly more nutritious than your standard chicken breast. Due to technical malfunctions, I cannot attach that recipe here, but if you go to our website (, you can easily see it, and download a recipe card. It is canned salmon with apples, almonds, curry, raisins, etc, and it is sublime.

Redhead, the sockeye salmon is, well, red. It’s less expensive cousin, Thinkpink, looks just like tuna. It is easy to present Redhead as salmon, and it just sits on that bagel like that is where it belongs. I have demonstrated canned salmon to literally thousands and thousands of people, and they will generally claim that Redhead tastes better. That visual clue of the red flesh is just too powerful. However when tasted blindly, people cannot tell the difference, and nutritionally, both are about the same. The pink salmon can be used just like one would normally make a tuna salad, and one would be hard pressed to tell that it wasn’t a very good can of tuna. My husband uses the juice of the Redhead (there is no added oil or water, and any liquid comes solely from the salmon itself), but generally gives the less colorful pink salmon juice to the lucky cat or we freeze it to use in chowders. However, in the drained pink salmon, he adds a touch of olive oil and a little Dijon– very, very tasty.

Canned salmon is also a great protein for dinner time meals. We take canned salmon, I kid you not, on our commercial salmon fishing boat in the summer because it is so easy to make salmon cakes at night. As you can use every bit of the salmon in the can, including the digestible, soft bones and the omega 3 rich skin and fatty layer, using canned salmon is way less labor intensive than cooking up a fillet. Believe me, we cook plenty of the fillets, but making salmon cakes out of canned salmon after a long day is very delicious and easy route to an excellent supper. We like to spice them up with lots of curry or lemon or ginger. I have recipes, but just as often it is a spontaneous recipe based upon the most accessible spices in my cabinet.

I can literally, embarrassingly, rap on and on about canned Alaska salmon. It is a an amazing food nutritionally. It is pure, with no or negligible contaminants of any kind and it comes from a U.S. resource that has been extremely well managed. Alaska is considered to be perhaps the finest fisheries managers in the world.

Canned salmon, I also like to think, is democratic, because it is reasonably priced and can be found all over this country. I get a special thrill when I send a box of my salmon to South Dakota or to soldiers at APO addresses. Wild salmon, being rich in long chain omega 3 fatty acids also provide nutrients that Americans are generally very deficient in.

23 Days of Canned Alaska Salmon-No Mercury

A smiling Jim Zuanich after eating canned salmon 23 days in a row.

Jim Zuanich ate at least 3.5 ounces of Redhead or Thinkpink a day for 23 days at which time he had his blood mercury levels tested. There was no detectable mercury in his bloodstream.  Zuanich also said he loved canned salmon more after he was finished with his experiment, reporting that salmon at lunch made for more energy and a happier outlook than with other foods.  “Nothing compares for lunch,” said Zuanich, skipper of the M/V Marshal Tito.