Wild salmon or farmed salmon - which one is better?

Wild salmon or farmed salmon - which one is better?

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Is salmon a superfood?

At around three kilograms a year, salmon is the most popular German food fish. Completely right, because it not only contains a lot of good ingredients, but is also a good precaution against heart attack and stroke. This is true for many types of fish - but none is as tasty as the pink king of the fjords.

Where does the pink color come from?

In wild salmon, the color is created by feeding the fish of small crabs and shrimps. They in turn feed on algae that contain the red pigment astaxanthin. For farmed salmon, shrimp meal, red dry yeast and algae are added for coloring. These ingredients have no influence on the taste or health quality - but ultimately the eye eats.

The fatty acids

The ingredients contained in salmon are of great health value - especially the long-chain omega-3 fatty acids such as eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). Depending on the study, the benefit fluctuates between very little and very clear. However, the fish seems to live up to its good reputation, especially when it comes to preventing heart attacks and strokes.

After evaluating over 50 studies on this subject, Antje Gahl, press spokeswoman for the German Nutrition Society (DGE), explains: “These fatty acids appear to lower and raise unfavorable blood lipids, to counteract high blood pressure, to improve the flow properties of the blood and so lower the risk of a fatal heart attack and stroke. "


The DGE recommends people of all ages to eat fish once or twice a week. This should make up about 70 grams of fatty fish such as salmon, herring or mackerel. Pregnant women are an exception. Salmon - like any other fish - should only be thoroughly cooked and should not be eaten raw, otherwise parasites could be ingested.

Nutrient bomb

Salmon contains a lot of vitamins, minerals and trace elements, such as vitamins A, D, E as well as calcium, magnesium, iodine, fluorine and selenium. It has no carbohydrates, but it does have a lot of protein and far fewer calories than you would expect from a fatty fish, namely only around 130 kilocalories per 100 grams. Its consumption saturates, but does not make you fat.

Farmed salmon or wild salmon? A surprise

The graduate economist Anje Gahl emphasizes that the quality of farmed salmon can absolutely keep up with that of wild salmon. Even more: farmed salmon even contains five times as many long-chain omega-3 fatty acids as a study by the Stiftung Warentest found.

This is because the salmon move around a lot more in the wild and often travel hundreds of kilometers to get to their spawning grounds. Farmed salmon, on the other hand, use more fat due to their lower energy consumption.

More than 90 percent of the salmon we eat come from aqua farms. The huge appetite for the gourmet fish could not be quenched by the constantly shrinking stocks of wild salmon. Norway breeds most of the salmon. Around 400 million salmon swim there in aquaculture. But they are also grown on a large scale in Scotland, Ireland, China and Chile.

Antibiotics in farmed salmon

Many consumers fear that the salmon pollutants from water farms with up to 100,000 animals could be very high. In particular, toxic metals such as mercury, cadmium and lead are often suspected because cold water fish are more frequently contaminated with these industrial residues and waste. However, the study by Stiftung Warentest shows that none of the 30 samples from the areas of fresh produce, frozen and smoked salmon showed any significant traces of the pollutants mentioned. Neither breeding nor wild salmon.

Farmed salmon could be problematic when it comes to medication. Because in previous tests it often contained residues of antibiotics. But now farmed salmon are vaccinated very early. In contrast, antibiotics are hardly used anymore. Consequently, Stiftung Warentest also found no antibiotic residues in the fish from aquaculture.

Pesticide in salmon feed

It is different with ethoxyquin. The substance is added to the mostly vegetable fish feed (especially soy) as a preservative. The poison was originally used as a pesticide and has since been banned in Europe as a genetic and organ-damaging substance. But it is still allowed in animal feed. There are maximum limits for meat, eggs and milk - but not for fish. Five of the 30 farmed salmon samples examined by Stiftung Warentest contained the plant poison. However, there could also be improvements here in the future: In EU breeding farms, the addition of this crop protection to fish feed is only permitted until 2020.

Organic salmon is better

The pollutant load in salmon from organic cultures is much lower. Although organic salmon comes from large farms, the fish have more space than conventional aqua fish farms. In addition, the use of chemicals is largely prohibited. Only vitamin E can be used to preserve the feed (organic cereals and fish residues from sustainable fishing), but no poisonous pesticide.

The salmon louse

The organic salmon share one problem with all other farmed salmon: the salmon louse. The parasite attaches to the fish, sucks it extensively, makes it susceptible to many diseases and threatens so many stocks. The breeders try to get the louse with ultrasound, cleaner fish or plant extracts so that they don't have to resort to the chemical club. A lowering of the cultures is also attempted because the salmon louse does not feel comfortable at depths below 25 meters. All of these measures could make the popular edible fish more expensive in the next few years and maybe make it what it used to be: an expensive delicacy and not a mass product.

Wild salmon is not the solution

If you prefer to go for wild salmon with regard to chemical pollution and parasite infestation, you're wrong. The salmon louse is now also attacking it. In addition, there are roundworms in the wild fish, which are not on the surface like the salmon louse, but live in the meat. Even if nematodes die during freezing (minus 20 degrees) and cooking (above 70 degrees) and are harmless to humans: the thought simply spoils your appetite!

The seal of goodness

Organic salmon seems to be the best and healthiest choice. But which seal holds what it promises? Naturland and the Norwegian organic label Debio have proven to be particularly reliable here. But farmed salmon from conventional aquaculture is also usually better than its reputation because the breeders really try to improve the conditions for the salmon.

The fish seals provide a decision-making aid. For farmed and wild salmon, for example, we recommend products with the ASC seal (Aquaculture Stewardship Council), which stands for sustainable fishing and responsible aquaculture. The previously viewed MSC (Marine Stewardship Council) seal, on the other hand, came under criticism because some of the MSC fisheries appear to be overfishing and using bottom trawls that destroy the flora and fauna of the seabed. This was reported, for example, by the ARD in "Story im Erste: The business with the fish seal - The dark side of the MSC".

Frozen or fresh?

Health and quality are the be-all and end-all. But what about taste and cooling? Here some gourmets swear by fresh produce, others find frozen salmon at least as good. When it comes to nutrients, frozen goods are even ahead. Because the animals are usually snap-frozen when caught or on the bank, which means that the valuable ingredients are preserved.

In terms of taste, however, the fresh fish is at the fore: all samples that were rated “very good” by Stiftung Warentest were fresh farmed salmon fillets.
Incidentally, the untreated salmon fillets are particularly beneficial for health. Smoked salmon, pickled or stremell salmon, on the other hand, should not be consumed too often, since they contain a lot of salt and substances in the smoke such as benzopyrene or polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). These are suspected of favoring cancer.


Because demand is growing, there could be even more options in the future: genetically modified salmon recently came onto the market in Canada. Farmed salmon were improved with the genes of king salmon and haddock. As a result, it grows much faster and becomes significantly larger than the species known so far. Tests are also underway with transgenic fish. The salmon receives feed from genetically modified cereals, which can increase the formation of omega-3 fatty acids. However, given the significantly more critical stance on genetic engineering, it remains rather doubtful whether these new varieties will also come onto the market in Germany and will prevail.


Those who pay attention to quality seals can enjoy the fish with a clear conscience. The contamination with pollutants is low and usually lower than with other comparable edible fish. The consumer can choose between organic salmon, wild salmon or farmed salmon from conventional aqua farms. All of these varieties are full of good ingredients and very valuable for a healthy diet. (fs)

Author and source information

Video: Science: How Wild Salmon Differs from Farmed Salmon and How to Cook Salmon to the Right Temperature (November 2022).