There’s a dark side to salmon that you might not know about. That salmon pink you see beaming out from the grocery shelves isn’t naturally derived, it’s painted on.
Farmed salmon is usually grey in colour due to the mixed bag of food the captive fish are fed. According to Quartz their concoction includes – “oil and flesh of smaller fish (e.g. herring and anchovies), corn gluten, ground-up feathers, soybeans, chicken fat, genetically engineered yeast.” Gross.
Wild salmon, however, is pink due to the large amounts of shrimp and krill they consume. Shrimp contains a reddish-orange compound called astaxanthin which gives the fish their signature colour. Most salmon you find on supermarket shelves is farmed since the wild stuff is just too pricey.
So what’s the process that makes the usually grey farmed salmon pink? Despite the fact that the pellets fed to captive salmon contain astaxanthin, the version they use is usually produced in a lab using petrochemicals, so the pink is sometimes not dark enough to attract a higher price.
Consumer research has indicated that “dark-coloured salmon flesh consistently commands a premium.”
A pharmaceutical company specialising in astaxanthin production developed a colour scheme known as DSM SalmoFan™ in 1989 which allows salmon farmers to CHOOSE the colour they wish their salmon to be.
They are then provided with a pigment which dyes the fish a preferred colour. In this case, a darker pink, mimicking that of the more nutritious and expensive wild salmon.
Since this process was implemented, fishers selling wild salmon have had to lower their price point to compete with the fake farmed products.
At the end of the day, if you want better quality fish, you’ll have to shell out three times more. Food for thought next time you’re in the supermarket.