Red Salmon Vs Pink Salmon: What Are the Differences?

Written by Kyle Glatz
Updated: October 14, 2022
Image Credit The Old Major/Shutterstock.com
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Salmon is one of the most commonly eaten fish in the entire world. However, the species has a lot of variety including the color of its flesh. Red salmon and pink salmon are two of the most popular varieties that people consume, and they have some significant differences. In this article, we’re going to look at the most compelling differences between red salmon vs pink salmon. By the end, you’ll know exactly how they’re unique and the causes of their greatest differences.

Comparing a Red Salmon and a Pink Salmon

A-Z-Animals.com

Red SalmonPink Salmon
SizeWeight: 5-15lbs
Length:18in-30in
Weight:  3-5lbs
Length: 20in-25in                               
Nutrition(Raw)
153 calories
21.9g protein
7.28g lipids
– Iron, phosphorous, potassium, sodium, vitamins B-6, B-12, A, and more
(Raw)
127 calories
20.5g protein
4.4g lipids
-Iron, phosphorous, potassium, vitamins B-6, B-12, A, and more
SpeciesSockeye salmonHumpback salmon
Fish ColorBlue and silver when living in the ocean, but they turn red with green heads when returning to their spawning locationBright silver fish become gray with light-yellow underbelly when they return to their spawning areas
Fillet ColorDeep redPink
Taste– Rich
– Firm
– Fatty
– Mild flavor
– Soft  
SourceThe Pacific Ocean, but they spawn inland from Washington to AlaskaPacific and Arctic oceans, but they are common in many rivers in Washington, California, Korea, Japan, and other places
AquacultureNot farmed because it’s too difficult to replicate their red fleshCommonly farmed
Cost$15-30lbs$17lbs when caught, $8 to $12 when farmed

The Key Differences Between Red Salmon vs Pink Salmon

Animals That Can See Infrared salmon
Red salmon and pink salmon belong to the same species, but their differences are vast.

iStock.com/PerfectStills

The greatest differences between red salmon and pink salmon lie in their size, scale color, and filet color. Red salmon are larger than pink salmon, both in terms of weight and length.

Red salmon are blue and silver when they are young, but they turn red with green heads as they mature and return to their spawning areas. Pink salmon are usually bright silver, but they become gray with a light-yellow underbelly when they return to spawning areas.

Red salmon, as their name implies, have red flesh instead of the pink flesh for which the pink salmon are known. These are the most significant differences between these fish, and we’re going to explore them in greater depth.

Red Salmon vs Pink Salmon: Species

Sockeye salmon is the species from which we derive red salmon. The name sockeye is an anglicization of a Native American term meaning “red fish.” However, pink salmon refers to the common name of the humpback salmon, a name that was undoubtedly created because the fish has a hump on its back.

Red Salmon vs Pink Salmon: Size

Red salmon are larger than pink salmon in terms of length and weight. On average, red salmon weigh between 5lbs and 15lbs, and they grow between 18in and 30 in. Pink salmon often weigh as little as 3lbs to 5lbs, and they grow up to 25in. The size difference is noticeable but not vast.

Red Salmon vs Pink Salmon: Nutrition

Trout vs Salmon - Filets
Pink salmon is fatty, tasty, and healthy

Jane Rix/Shutterstock.com

Red salmon are more nutritious than pink salmon. Their nutrition factors are as follows:

Red SalmonPink Salmon
Nutrition(Raw)
153 calories
21.9g protein
7.28g lipids
– Iron, phosphorous, potassium, sodium, vitamins B-6, B-12, A, and more
(Raw)
127 calories
20.5g protein
4.4g lipids
– Iron, phosphorous, potassium, vitamins B-6, B-12, A, and more

Red salmon have greater amounts of calories, more of the fatty acids and oils that people value, and a higher amount of protein than pink salmon.  

Red Salmon vs Pink Salmon: Fish Color

When they are alive and in the water, red salmon are blue and silver when living in the ocean. However, they turn red with green heads when they return to freshwater spawning locations. Pink salmon are silver, but they turn gray with a light-yellow underbelly when they return to their spawning areas. It’s easy to tell these fish apart.

Red Salmon vs Pink Salmon: Fillet Color

Red salmon have a red fillet, but pink salmon have a pink fillet. The red salmon’s meat is deep red when it is fresh, but it can fade when it is canned. The red color is not the only difference between the fillets of these two fish, though.

Red Salmon vs Pink Salmon: Taste

Red salmon has a richer taste and makes for a firmer yet fattier meal. Pink salmon is known for having a mild flavor and softer patty. These differences in freshness, safety, taste, and texture often result in people developing a preference for one of the fish over the other.

Red Salmon vs Pink Salmon: Source

Largest salmon - chinook salmon
Most of the salmon we eat are raised in large aquaculture farms

Kevin Cass/Shutterstock.com

Red salmon only live in the Pacific Ocean and their spawning areas which are located up the west coast of North America from Washington to Alaska. Their rarity contributes to their cost.

Pink salmon live in Pacific and Arctic waters, but they are farmed in many places around the world. Pink salmon spawning areas exist in Washington and California in the U.S., as well as Canada, Korea, Japan, and more around the world.

Red Salmon vs Pink Salmon: Aquaculture

Pink salmon are commonly farmed, so large numbers of them can eventually become food. However, red salmon are not farmed because it’s too difficult to replicate the diet and other environmental factors that lead to their unique red flesh.

As a result, farming red salmon is mostly out of the question, and they tend to be caught by professional fishers during the salmon runs, the time of year they return to their spawning grounds.

Red Salmon vs Pink Salmon: Cost

salmon going upstream
Fishers often catch red salmon when they return home to spawn

Sekar B/Shutterstock.com

Red salmon costs more than pink salmon on average. Specifically, red salmon can cost up to $30 per pound while pink salmon can cost $17 when caught fresh or as little as $8 per pound when farmed. Part of the reason that red salmon costs more is that there are fewer red salmon, so the basic laws of supply and demand apply since a growing number of people prefer sockeye meat.

Another contributing factor is that people desire the red color as proof that they are being served good fish. That means a significant portion of red salmon is served fresh or has to be carefully preserved in cans to retain the signature look. All these elements drive up the price of red salmon.

Red salmon and pink salmon are both great fish to eat. They’re highly nutritious and provide humans with some vitamins and minerals that are not available in other foods in such amounts. Now that you know how these fish differ from one another, you can take some time to decide whether you prefer one over the other or if the difference isn’t that great to you.  

Largest Salmon - Chum Salmon

The Old Major/Shutterstock.com
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About the Author

I'm a freelance writer with 8 years of experience. I've written in a variety of niches such as video games, animals, and managed service providers. I graduated from Rowan University in 2014 with degrees in English and Education. When I'm not working, I enjoy playing video games, reading, and writing for fun.

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