For fish lovers and pescatarians alike, salmon is most likely a must-have staple in your diet. After all, this highly nutritious fish is one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids and provides lots of muscle-friendly protein. When we think of salmon, we tend to associate it with its distinctive pink hue. While this is an authentic characteristic of the flesh of wild salmon, it is actually an inaccurate depiction of farmed salmon, which is naturally grey in colour.
Wild salmon get their trademark colour due to their consumption of krill and shrimp, which is noticeable absent in the feed provided for farmed salmon. In order to increase profitability, several farmers resort to “pigmenting” methods, where astaxanthin – a vibrant pigment that provides salmon with its rich pink colour – is added to farmed salmon. Although most individuals would relate synthetic colouring to negative health effects, research has actually shown that the practice of artificial salmon colouring does not actually contribute to any adverse impacts.
According to Australian nutritionist Susie Burrell, “Astaxanthin is a naturally occurring anti-oxidant, meaning that it helps to protect cells from damage... The functionality (of synthetic astaxanthin, which is added to farmed salmon) is the same — a synthetic compound will have exactly the same effect in the body as naturally occurring.” This means that farmed salmon, like wild salmon, will metabolise astaxanthin to obtain its rich pink shade, regardless of whether the astaxanthin compound was added artificially.
However, astaxanthin is linked directly to the colour, taste and texture of the salmon. Because wild salmon contains natural astaxanthin, it is deemed tastier and more nutritious. This invariably means that the darker the pink hue of the salmon, the higher the price it fetches. This profit-maximising objective is one of the primary reasons behind farmers’ decisions to dye their fish.
While purchasing pink farmed salmon may not be a particularly fishy choice, it may affect the quality of fish that you end up consuming. As always, be careful of what you eat and remember to perform your due diligence by doing research. After all, maintaining a nutritious diet to feel in the pink of health is not like shooting fish in a barrel – nothing worthwhile ever comes that easy!