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Fat content making a difference in salmon flavor?

Costco\'s decision to replace some of their Chilean salmon with fish from Norway led Callander McDowell to do a taste comparison between frozen salmon of both Norwegian and Chilean salmon. They were surprised to find a discernable difference.

August 17, 2015

Costco\'s decision to replace some of their Chilean salmon with fish from Norway led Callander McDowell to do a taste comparison between frozen salmon of both Norwegian and Chilean salmon. They were surprised to find a discernable difference.

\"We therefore took a closer look at the packs and whilst they are exactly same design and color, there is one obvious difference between the two. The pack of Chilean salmon carries the GAA\'s Best Aquaculture Practices logo. The fact that the Norwegian salmon pack doesn\'t, just illustrates the point we regularly make that such logos make no difference to consumers’ choice. Shoppers will buy the pack irrespective of the presence or absence of such eco-logos\", they said in their reLAKSation newsletter (no 723) of August 16, 2015.

\"A closer look uncovered another difference but one that is only apparent if the two packs are compared together. The front of each pack displays a breakdown of the nutritional information and this is where the real difference lies. Simply, a 125g fillet of Norwegian salmon contains 19g of fat (15.2%) whilst the same sized fillet of Chilean salmon has a fat level of 8.8g or less than half the fat of the Norwegian fillet (7.04%). This was a surprise, not least because our expectation was for a similar fat content but also because the Chilean salmon was so low in fat; more the domain of wild Pacific salmon.

This is a massive difference and goes a long way to explain the difference in mouth feel that we detected between the fillets. Clearly, Norway and Chile have adopted different feed strategies. We remember when high oil feeds were first introduced in Norway, primarily as a feed stimulate for feeding at low water temperatures. The use of high energy feeds had another benefit in that they ensured that protein was not broken down for energy and instead was used for growth. This also had a cost effect in that expensive protein was used by the fish to build protein and was not wasted as fuel.

With companies from Norway operating in Chile, it might be expected that the Norwegian approach to high energy feeds would be adopted in Chile. We suspect that some might be but the low fat declaration on this pack suggests that some farms are not. Marine Harvest now publishes an industry handbook which covers all aspects of the salmon farming industry. We are not suggesting that Marine Harvest are responsible for these low fat fillets but their handbook does provide an indication of what might be behind this difference. The handbook lists the production costs incurred by different producers in different geographic locations. These are shown in local currency making direct comparison impossible. However, when the currencies are converted, a clear picture emerges with Chilean feed costs up 70% on those found in Norway. This suggests that high diets are not utilised in Chile to the same extent as in Norway which results in higher feed costs.

The production of low fat fillets can depend on the intended use of the salmon. Smokers prefer salmon with a lower oil content since there is much less wastage from oil dripping off the fillet but at the same time, consumers expecting a good hit of omega-3 when eating salmon, might be disappointed by this low value. In our view, higher is better especially when it comes to the mouth feel when eating the fish.

Comparison of the nutritional information supplied on fish packaging can be difficult, especially when the information on some packs relates to the raw flesh whilst others describe the flesh when cooked. We suspect that this example was unusual as the Chilean fish was packed into the boxes in Chile, which were probably printed in Chile too. The Norwegian fish was processed in Poland into packaging produced in Europe.

Will any of this make any difference to Costco shoppers? We very much doubt it\".

Full newsletter, including images of packs .

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