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Salmon is the new Tuna

Updated: Apr 7

Salmon sushi has become popular among children, younger generations, and female enthusiasts. In the United States, salmon sushi has gained popularity equivalent to that of tuna. Interestingly, this trend also extends to Japan, where salmon has become a sought-after ingredient in sushi.

The increasing popularity of salmon sushi can be attributed to Norway's extensive efforts to export its abundant salmon resources to Japan. In 1986, the Norwegian government dedicated the next three decades to promoting and introducing raw salmon consumption to the Japanese palate.

At the time, when Japanese people thought of salmon ("Sha-ké" in Japanese), they envisioned cooked salmon, particularly salted grilled salmon—a signature breakfast dish. The concept of consuming raw salmon seemed foreign and unusual. However, the Norwegian government recognized the need for a shift and renamed salmon "Sa-mon" in English.

Due to parasites, raw salmon was initially considered unsuitable for sushi. However, salmon freezing effectively eliminated the parasites, making it safe for raw consumption.

Fast forward 40 years, and the Norwegian government's efforts have paid off. Today, when Japanese people hear "Sha-ké," they think of grilled salmon, while "Sa-mon" represents sushi, sashimi, and raw fish. A survey conducted in 2022 confirmed the growing preference for salmon among sushi enthusiasts in Japan, placing it at the top of the list.

1. Salmon

2. Tuna

3. Chu Toro (medium tuna belly)

4. NegiToro (tuna belly with scallions)

5. Salmon Roe

6. Shrimp

7. O Toro (tuna belly)

8. Yellowtail

9. Tai Snapper/Sea Bream

10. Seared Salmon

Meanwhile, in the United States, the top five most consumed fish, including both sushi and non-sushi consumption, are as follows:

1. Shrimp - 4.6

2. Salmon - 2.55

3. Canned Tuna - 2.1

4. Tilapia - 1.11

5. Alaska Pollock - 0.77

(Source: IntraFish)

Now, the question arises: Is consuming raw salmon from the supermarket safe, just like sashimi?

It's important to note that raw wild salmon can contain parasites, making it unsuitable for raw consumption. However, if you wish to enjoy raw salmon from the supermarket, here's what you should consider:

1. Look for the label "sushi" or "sashimi" grade.

Even in Japan, certain fish are packaged and labeled as "For Cooking" or "For Raw Consumption" in supermarkets. Sushi-grade wild salmon has been previously frozen to eliminate parasites. The FDA recommends freezing at an ambient temperature of -31°F (-35°C) or below until solid and storing at the same temperature for at least 15 hours.

Some farm-raised salmon, like Ora King, is parasite-free and doesn't require freezing.

2. Seek guidance from the fishmonger.

It should be safe if the fishmonger confirms that the salmon is suitable for raw consumption and has been previously frozen. However, if the fishmonger is still determining, it's advisable to avoid it.

3. When in doubt, refrain from consuming raw supermarket salmon.

While it may be tempting to purchase salmon from the supermarket and freeze it at home, I wouldn't recommend doing so unless you have experience and a thorough understanding of sushi-grade fish. There are multiple factors to consider, such as when the fish was caught, how quickly it was iced after catching, and how it was stored and transported.

Determining whether a particular fish is suitable for raw consumption requires expertise. Many fishmongers and sushi chefs can assess the freshness of fish simply by looking at it—a skill developed over years of experience. Therefore, I recommend avoiding purchasing raw salmon from the supermarket unless you have gained sufficient experience and knowledge beyond reading books or online articles.

If you catch salmon yourself, it is best to consume it within five days. Store it by removing the intestines, gills, or entire head, and keep it on ice.

Now, let's address an interesting point: some restaurants may use steelhead trout fillet instead of salmon for sushi and label its salmon. What's the difference between the two?

Technically, if steelhead trout is used, it should be labeled as steelhead or ocean trout. Steelhead and salmon closely resemble each other in terms of appearance and taste. Most consumers wouldn't notice a significant difference if steelhead were served as salmon. You need to pay close attention to distinguish between the two. One would naturally assume it is salmon if it is labeled as salmon.

While steelhead and salmon are similar in many ways, they are two different fish species. The confusion arises because they have striking similarities in appearance and taste. Steelhead tends to be slightly smaller and possesses a darker orange or more orange color than salmon.

Both steelhead and salmon spend their adult lives in the ocean. Steelhead is a trout that has chosen to inhabit the ocean (saltwater) instead of remaining in the river (freshwater). Hence, it is often referred to as "ocean trout." Due to their ocean-dwelling nature, steelhead has a more prosperous and deeper flavor than trout residing exclusively in rivers.

If you are interested in How to Cure Salmon for sushi, click here for this article.


Breakthrough Sushi offers sushi classes and sushi catering in the San Francisco Bay Area using sustainable seafood.

If you like to inquire about your next corporate or private event, please send us an email to request a quote.

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