Exploring Salmon: History, Facts, and Recipes

Updated on December 13, 2019
Carb Diva profile image

Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.

Historically, salmon has always been an integral part of the human diet.
Historically, salmon has always been an integral part of the human diet. | Source

Before There Were Words

Long before civilization, long before brave explorers set sail across vast oceans, long before the written word, there were pictograms—drawings to record daily events, to record dreams, to record history.

Our story begins with the discovery of cave dwellings in southern France near the Vézère River. Carbon dating tells us that they were inhabited 25,000 years ago by Paleolithic man. And, on the ceiling of the cave, there exists the carving of a salmon.


There is evidence around the world that man relied on salmon as a source of nourishment for thousands of years. Celtic lore of 200 years before Christ speaks of salmon as the most intelligent of all animals. They were revered as the keepers of wisdom because of their abilities to evade predators, survive in both fresh and salt waters, and most notably, because of their ability to gracefully leap from the waters as they return to the place of their birth. And that is how they were named. The word "salmon" comes from the Latin salire meaning "to come up, to leap."

The King's Prize

Centuries passed, and Celtic wisdom was replaced with Anglo-Saxon greed. In his 44 B.C. conquest of the land, Julius Caesar observed plentiful salmon runs. But kings and castles installed weirs to maximize the royal harvest; this resulted in too few fish returning to their spawning habitat and the population plummeted. Incredibly, it was the Magna Carta that restored freedoms not only for the simple man but for salmon:

“All fish-weirs shall be removed from the Thames, the Medway, and throughout the whole of England, except on the sea coast.”

Magna Carta, 1215

Salmon was so vital that both English and Scottish laws were enacted to restrain pollution and protect salmon during spawning season. Richard the Lionheart (Richard I) codified their passageways by stating that there should be “left in all weirs a gap of such size that a 3-year old pig might turn round in it without touching snout nor tail.” The fish became so common that they were cheaper than any other meat.

"In making comparisons between the supplies of fish and other flesh, we must also recollect that fish, or at least salmon, though higher in money value, cost nothing for their “keep,” make bare no pastures, hollow out no turnips, consume no corn but are, as Franklin expressed it, “bits of silver pulled out of the water.”

Treasures of the Deep, Daniel B. Fearing, 1876

And the Atlantic Salmon's Demise

But despite the rules and regulations, the increase in human populations marked the decline in the availability of salmon. The Industrial Revolution brought with it engines, enhanced communication devices, factories . . . and dams, pollution, and sewage. By the end of the 19th century, salmon were all but extinct in the rivers of England, Scotland, and France. A similar story is being played out on the Atlantic Coast of North America. As late as the 1970s, the Atlantic salmon was a thriving population, with an estimated 1.8 million returning to U.S. rivers to spawn. By the 1990s their numbers had dwindled to 418,000. “Today, the Atlantic salmon is listed as an endangered species in the U.S. and in parts of Canada” (Forbes magazine, March 21, 2016).

I always think of the Pacific Northwest as giant trees and rain and clouds and dampness, like the Native American art from that area. That all says Pacific Northwest to me. Salmon. It really only exists on the West side of the Cascades.

— Kyle MacLachlan (American Actor, famous for "Dune" and "Twin Peaks")
Click thumbnail to view full-size
King (also known as Chinook)Sockeye (also known as red)Silver (also known as Coho)Pink (also known as humpy or humpback)Chum (and Silverbrite, Keta, or Dog)
King (also known as Chinook)
King (also known as Chinook) | Source
Sockeye (also known as red)
Sockeye (also known as red) | Source
Silver (also known as Coho)
Silver (also known as Coho) | Source
Pink (also known as humpy or humpback)
Pink (also known as humpy or humpback) | Source
Chum (and Silverbrite, Keta, or Dog)
Chum (and Silverbrite, Keta, or Dog) | Source

The Salmon of the Pacific

The world of salmon can be divided into two distinct categories. If you want wild-caught salmon, you are asking for Pacific salmon. And then there is Atlantic salmon. That’s not to say that one cannot catch salmon in the Atlantic Ocean, but any Atlantic salmon that you purchase in the grocery store or at a fishmonger will be farm-raised.

Now, to complicate things a bit (why not?), we need to break down the Pacific salmon into several distinct species. There are King, Sockeye, Silver, Pink, and Chum. To confuse things even further, most of these come with one or more aliases.

But, you say, “What about Copper River salmon?” I didn't mention them because Copper River salmon (CR) can be King, Sockeye, or Coho. CR isn’t a specific breed, it’s just the place where some salmon are caught. It’s the environment, not the breed of salmon that distinguishes it from all others. Allow me to explain.

  • King (also known as Chinook): This “king” of salmon has earned its name because it is the best tasting. It has a high-fat content, and that’s what makes it so luscious.
  • Sockeye (also known as Red): The meat of this salmon is bright orange-red and rich in flavor. They are called reds because when they move upstream to spawn they develop a startlingly bright red color.
  • Silver (also known as Coho Salmon): These are so named because of their silvery skin. The flesh is bright red and is slightly less “fishy” tasting that King/Chinook.
  • Pink (also known as Humpy or Humpback): This is the most common salmon. The name humpback is from the hump they develop on their backs when they are spawning. The meat is light-colored and has low-fat content. Pink salmon is usually canned or smoked.
  • Chum (and Silverbrite, Keta, or Dog): These are pale in color and tend to be smaller than other salmon. It is lower in fat and is sold canned or frozen in foreign markets. The name “dog” is not a reference to quality, but because this salmon has dog-like teeth.
  • Copper River: Why are these the most expensive, most sought-after, and (indisputably) the tastiest salmon on planet earth? Look at the fifth photo above. The pale-hued package is chum salmon—with artificial color added. The bottom package is Copper River salmon. The salmon (and the photo) are not color enhanced in any way. That deep red color, meaty flesh, and outstanding flavor are the result of the fish storing fat reserves to fuel their 300-mile migration through icy cold glacial waters to spawn.

The Copper River in south-central Alaska is 290 miles long and drains an area of more than 24,000 square miles (about the size of the state of West Virginia).
I mentioned that Copper River salmon are actually three species. Here’s a table to show the season for each type and how they vary nutritionally.

If you want something beautiful to put on the dinner table, pick up a sockeye, the salmon species with the most vivid red flesh.

— Tom Douglas, American executive chef, restaurateur, and author, living in Seattle, Washington

Copper River Salmon Species

Copper River King (20 lb. average)
Copper River Sockeye (6 lb. average)
Copper River Coho (12 lb. average)
Calories (per 7 oz. serving)
26 g
22 g
8 g
52 g
54 g
8 g
3,400 mg.
2,400 mg
2,200 mg


Do You Have a Beef With Salmon?

If you have read this far, I have to assume that you are a fan of salmon, or at least a bit curious. But, have you ever:

  • Had salmon that was dry?
  • Eaten salmon that was bland?
  • Decided that salmon tastes too "fishy?"

If you have had any of those reactions, the salmon you were given was not properly cooked. I'm confident that the following meals will change your mind.

Recipes in This Article

  • Hazelnut-Crusted Salmon (oven-bake)
  • Creamy Tuscan Salmon with Spinach, Artichokes, and Garlic (stovetop)
  • Creamy Spinach-Stuffed Salmon (stovetop or oven-bake)
  • Grilled Soy-Brown Sugar Salmon (grill or oven-bake)
  • Instant-Pot Salmon with Rosemary (instant-pot)
  • Crispy (Breaded) Salmon Nuggets (oven-bake)
  • Spicy Wild Alaskan Sockeye Salmon Poke Bowls (raw)


Hazelnut-Crusted Salmon

Several years ago I entered a recipe contest—the requirement was that we focus on local ingredients. My family and I live in the Pacific Northwest. so I chose salmon and hazelnuts—both plentiful in our area—and made hazelnut-crusted salmon.

I created this 30-minute or less meal by topping fresh salmon filets with mayonnaise which serves two purposes. First, the mayonnaise protects the delicate flesh from the heat of the oven, keeping it supremely moist and succulent. Second, it acts as the glue to hold the sweet-crunchy topping of orange and hazelnuts.

I have received many favorable comments about this recipe. Although it makes a beautiful presentation for a company dinner, it is easy enough to prepare for your family.


Creamy Tuscan Salmon With Spinach, Artichokes, and Garlic

Even those who vow that they don't like fish will enjoy this one-pan 30-minute meal by Julia. The crispy-flaky salmon and the creamy garlic sauce cook together in the same pan. Oh, and that heavenly sauce! There are so many flavors and textures going on in there—sun-dried tomatoes, spinach, garlic, artichokes, and capers lend sweet, earthy, creamy, salty pops with every bite. If you crave northern Italian food, you will love Julia's creamy Tuscan salmon.


Creamy Spinach-Stuffed Salmon

I visit Karina's blog several times per month, and she never disappoints. Her recipes are fun, innovative, flawless, beautifully photographed—and did I mention that they taste amazing?

Her creamy spinach-stuffed salmon hits all the right notes. Simply slash a pocket in each fresh salmon filet, and then fill with a mixture of cream cheese, spinach, garlic, and parmesan cheese. This dish is low-carb, keto-friendly, and can be prepared on either the stovetop or baked in the oven.


Grilled Soy-Brown Sugar Salmon

Grilling is a great way to cook salmon, but oh the mess! Either it flakes and falls apart, plunging into the embers below, or it sticks to the grates. Sadness. Unless, of course, you grill your soy-brown sugar salmon in foil as Amy does. Moist, sweet, flavorful salmon in just 15 minutes on your grill. This meal is easy enough for weeknight dinner but will impress your guests on a weekend barbecue too.


Instant Pot Salmon With Rosemary

I don't own an instant pot, but I know that many of you do. In just six minutes, you can have this meal ready for your family. The instant pot keeps the salmon moist and infuses it with the flavor of fresh rosemary. Corrie's recipe for instant pot salmon has just four ingredients (if you don't count the salt and pepper) and is uncomplicated and straight forward.


Crispy Salmon Nuggets

If you're a fish and chips fan, this recipe is for you. Nami uses panko breadcrumbs to provide a crispy coating for boneless, skinless salmon nuggets. And they're baked, not fried, so no worries about deep frying mess or calories.


Spicy Wild Alaskan Sockeye Salmon Poke Bowls

There is not enough space in this article to list the credentials for our final recipe provider. Here’s the shortlist—Jessica Gavin has a BA in food science, a Masters in Agriculture, is a Certified Food Scientist, a Certified Culinary Scientist, and an author. She started a food blog in 2012 and is also a content contributor to SimplyRecipes.

Her sockeye salmon poke bowl is a little spice, a little heat, a little sweet, and a large dose of beautiful color and nutrition.

Health Benefits of Salmon

  • Rich in Omega-3 fatty acids
  • Excellent source of protein
  • High in B Vitamins (thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, pantothenic acid, folic acid, and B12)
  • Good source of potassium
  • Packed with selenium
  • Contains antioxidants
  • May reduce risk of heart disease
  • Because it is high in protein it could help with weight control
  • Antioxidants mean that it can fight inflammation
  • May help with mental decline (dementia)


  • Anadromous - fish born in freshwater who spend most of their lives in saltwater and return to freshwater to spawn, such as salmon and some species of sturgeon.
  • Antioxidants - man-made or natural substances that may prevent or delay some types of cell damage.
  • Omega 3's - Omega-3 fatty acids are necessary for our physiological health but are not manufactured by our bodies; we can gain them only by dietary supplement. They ensure the health of our central nervous and immune systems.


© 2019 Linda Lum


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    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      11 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Ms Dora you are so very welcome. Yes, salmon is a super-food, packed with so many vital nutrients.

    • MsDora profile image

      Dora Weithers 

      11 months ago from The Caribbean

      Salmon is my favorite food. It is also high on the list of brain foods. Thanks for all this information and also for the recipes.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      11 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Wesman, that's how I roll. Put up with a few minutes of history and you'll be rewarded with a recipe or two (or three or more). Thanks for stopping by and thanks for sharing. I appreciate it.

    • Wesman Todd Shaw profile image

      Wesman Todd Shaw 

      11 months ago from Kaufman, Texas

      Jesus. I wasn't expecting a wonderful history lesson when I clicked onto this. Well, I sure got one regardless, didn't I. Rhetorical.

      Sending to my mother, who is a salmon fanatic. I like the stuff myself, but I'm a simpleton, barely capable of typing, and well...what?

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      11 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Black and Tan in a Dublin pub. Not that I would know.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      11 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Eric, you bring up a very good point. Unless you catch that fish yourself, everything is frozen. I actually covered that topic in my Q&A #14 (yes, I know that's a long time ago so I don't expect you to remember).

      And, the beer is very cold unless you're in a London pub.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      11 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Linda this brought to mind this notion of fish and fresh vs. frozen. Now people get strange about it. I have fished in all kinds of waters. My elder son has caught fish and I have the one cooking on a campfire when he brings me the second. And so on depending on the size of our crew. Now that is fresh.

      But I have fished in the ocean and places where it would take at least some hours to get the fish to the cooking. Of course you put that fish on plenty of ice.

      How can any fish in a store be called fresh?

      Beef - just very cold

      Chicken - just very cold, etc. etc..

      Let me know from your point of view.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      11 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Pamela, glad I made you hungry (that's what I'm here for). Thank you for your kind words about the history. It was fun researching. By the way, the fellow holding the catch of two large Coho (silver) salmon is my nephew by marriage. He's quite the fisherman.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      11 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Flourish, wish I could be there. I'm sure it will be good. Glad your daughter is home for a while. Enjoy every moment.

    • Pamela99 profile image

      Pamela Oglesby 

      11 months ago from Sunny Florida

      Thanks for making me so hungry, Linda. The pictures and descriptions of the salmon look so delicious. I want to try the instant pot recipe as I haven't cooked salmon in the instant pot. The history of salmon was interesting as well. This is an excellent article about salmon.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      11 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Eric, you done good. When you have Copper River salmon you don't need anything fancy. In fact, you shouldn't. Just favor that wonderful flavor with nothing else added.

    • FlourishAnyway profile image


      11 months ago from USA

      My husband loves salmon and my daughter was looking to make some this week. I encourage her to cook all she can. I’m going to have her make the soy-brown sugar salmon here. I’ve always wondered how salmon know just where to return to spawn. They are pretty cool creatures. Just yesterday Twitter was all abuzz over the “salmon cannon” to help them bypass a dam.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 

      11 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Well I will road hard and put up wet.You are the best lady. Salmon is eaten here 1.5 times a week. I have not found a downside. And now I have some new recipes for the upside. Just last Friday my boy and I cooked some with nothin. It was copper. We just sat there and savored.

      Not the cheapest food this side of Texas but worth every penny.

      I best shut up before I get into drinking beer and catchin them with hands.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      11 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Bill, the color alone is a reason to buy Copper River salmon. You just KNOW it's going to taste amazing. Thanks for stopping by, and happy Tuesday to you.

    • Carb Diva profile imageAUTHOR

      Linda Lum 

      11 months ago from Washington State, USA

      Shauna, it's been so long that I honestly don't remember what the prize was--certainly not enough to retire on LOL.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      11 months ago from Olympia, WA

      Where the golf course is now, outside of Steilacoom, that was once a gravel pit where my dad worked...we caught salmon from the dock there...large salmon...there were that many out there back in the 50's. Good luck trying to catch a salmon from a dock now.

      Copper River Salmon is to die for....just sayin'

      Happy Tuesday my friend!

    • bravewarrior profile image

      Shauna L Bowling 

      11 months ago from Central Florida

      Linda, as much as I love salmon, I had no idea there are so many varieties, nor that they're so large! The jumping video was fascinating. They've got to be really strong swimmers to swim upstream in rushing waters. Amazing!

      Congrats on your recipe win. What was the prize?

      I think I'll try my hand at either of the salmon with spinach recipes. Love me some spinach!


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