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Natural Foods Merchandiser

Expert evaluates retailer response on color and nutritional value of salmon

Each month, NFM’s secret shopper heads incognito into a natural products store with a question. The employee’s answer—and our expert’s evaluation of the response—is reported here. Our aim: to help you improve your store’s customer service.  This month's question: Why is some salmon pinker than others? Is it healthier?

The question: Why is some salmon pinker than others? Is it healthier? 

STORE: Small naturals chain in Texas

Employee:  The difference is because the darker one is wild while the lighter one is farm raised. The difference in color is probably due to how they were raised and what their diets were.

NFM: So the darker salmon is healthier?

Employee: In this case the wild fish, while it contains more mercury, has a better diet than the farm-raised fish, which was probably fed cornmeal. I would definitely say the darker fish is healthier. If given a choice between wild and farmed, always go with wild.

Comment: Mary Harris, professor and dietetic program director at Colorado State University

The retailer is mostly correct; the color of salmon flesh depends on the fish’s diet. All salmon, whether farmed or wild caught, have gray flesh before they eat foods that contain orange pigments. Wild salmon eat krill, a reddish-pink crustacean, while the feed of farm-raised salmon contains pigment to enhance color.

Other than the very small amounts of antioxidant properties associated with these pigments, the retailer should know that there is no difference in nutritional value between dark salmon flesh and lighter salmon flesh. Both farm-raised and wild-caught salmon are rich in omega-3 fatty acids. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, farmed salmon may contain more omega-3s than wild salmon; however, farmed fish may also contain more PCBs (which have been linked to cancer and skin and liver problems in humans) than wild fish.

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