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October 9, 2013 at 6:00 AM

Does the best-tasting salmon come from Costco?

Photo by Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post

Photo by Sarah L. Voisin/The Washington Post

It’s conventional wisdom that wild salmon tastes better than farmed. Some argue that specific types — Copper River, say, or Yukon River — taste the best, period.

But when The Washington Post put the fish to the test, an unlikely winner swam to the top: Costco’s $6/pound farmed Atlantic salmon. Number two? Farmed Atlantic salmon from Trader Joe’s. Wild salmon didn’t come up until #6 out of 10, a king salmon from Willapa Bay.

The reporters were clear about the caveats, both in the story and in replies to the aghast reader comments: The Costco salmon was frozen in a salt solution, giving it a saltiness that the judges liked and that might have lent it a more pleasing texture. One commenter said that the farmed salmon were top-line products, while the wild ones were “essentially no-name whatevers.” At the least, one said, it wasn’t fair that three of the four wild varieties were provided by the same East Coast company: “That company’s fishing and processing practices may affect the fish’s flavor or texture.” Others suggested that most non-Northwesterners are more accustomed to the taste of farmed salmon, and therefore like it better, the way that corn-fed beef often wins taste tests over grass-fed.

Doth we protest too much?

The test was in no way meant to be definitive, wrote reporter Tamar Haspel. But here’s the thing: “The conclusion here isn’t that farmed salmon invariably tastes better than wild, it’s that we think there’s good reason to stop saying that wild salmon invariably tastes better than farmed.”

The taste test didn’t get into the question of whether it’s a good idea for the environment or health to eat farmed salmon. That discussion went into a companion piece that determined that the situation is a lot better than it used to be. (The reasonable objection is that, as Oceana board members noted, “it used to be horrendous.” (Here are some tips on where to find responsibly farmed salmon, if you believe there is such a thing.)

Take our poll

The Costco folks say the fish, technically Kirkland Signature Frozen Atlantic Salmon (Item #46340), should be available at every Costco warehouse in Washington state. When I called the SoDo and Shoreline branches earlier they weren’t able to find it based on my description, but I didn’t have the item number then, so I’d take the computer’s word for it. They also carry wild salmon from local processor Trident Seafood.

I checked in with Jon Rowley, the Copper River salmon king who “changed the way America eats,” and asked what he thought of the taste test. “There are so many variables involved,” he said, and it’s tough to say whether the fish they used were truly comparable.

His thought: “How about doing it again, over here?”

The Times actually did conduct our own blind taste test on salmon several years back. In that version, our wild pride, Copper River salmon, crushed the “mushy” farm-raised competition. Check out that story over here.

Which ones would get your vote?

Comments | Topics: Costco, Jon Rowley, Rebekah Denn


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