What is Grey Salmon’s Real Color? Revealed!

Published Categorized as Fish Or Seafood

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Isn’t salmon pink? Well, the answer isn’t quite so straightforward. This revelation might upset some people since raw flesh of any type of meat is relatively pink, so what makes salmon so different? Of course, if anyone were to go shopping for some fresh salmon and stumbled upon rows of grey salmon, there’s going to be a bit of confusion. Let’s find out salmons’ real color.

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What is Salmon’s Real Color?

Farmed salmon has a natural grey color, and the pink shade is an artificial addition to the fish feed so that they obtain an attractive pinkish hue, much like raw meat. Wild salmon is entirely pink due to their diet, which includes an essential ingredient that plays a huge part in their distinct shade, this is called astaxanthin, and it is a reddish-orange compound found in both shrimp and krill.

How do Salmon Farmers Make Salmon Pink?

Since grey salmon is deemed unpleasant and unattractive to consumers, a supplement is slipped into the salmon feed, called astaxanthin, which seeps into their flesh and transforms it from grey to pink. Without this artificial modification, farmers fear that their farmed salmon won’t sell since their filets are more grey than pink.

Wild salmon get their astaxanthin from a shrimp-heavy diet, but since farmed salmon are essentially denied natural feed, they are provided with a highly processed feed that may or may not contain fragments of shrimp, or even petroleum-based coloring, in hopes of achieving equally fleshy pink hues to wild-caught salmon. Whether this is considered harmful or not is a bit of an unsolved mystery. Surprisingly this diet is also what turns flamingos pink as well, so is astaxanthin so bad?

Pink Dyed Salmon is the Least of Your Worries

Fish farmers tend to cram their fish into small pens, where the water is always dirty, with promises of disease and infection slowly spreading to the mouths and flesh of the fish, producing diseases, infection, and the spread of parasites. Desperate to achieve an overall fish that is equivalent to its wild counterparts, many farmers have resorted to their own little mix to achieve the perfect pink shade.

Perhaps the ruddy shade of wild salmon is what makes many gravitate towards this wild-caught fish, as opposed to what the salmon farmers have created! Farmers also add antibiotics to the water, which the fish consume, and spread to those around them.

That being said, wild fish are also pretty capable of absorbing chemicals found in the water they live in. Fish flesh and fat can accommodate really high levels of toxins, such as mercury, dioxins, and lead. The chemical components found in the flesh of salmon can be extremely concentrated compared to the water they were living in. This means that you could be chomping on a chemically infected salmon fillet!

Farmed fish are fed kibble that is made from hodgepodge that can include the oils and fragments of the flesh of smaller fish e.g. herring and anchovies, corn gluten, ground feathers, soybeans, chicken fat, or genetically engineered yeast. And of course, provided that these farm fish receive an extra dose of synthetic astaxanthin so that the salmon emerge pigmented and pink, it is pretty much the perfect selling point. The idea is to make dead farmed fish appear palatable and delicious during the initial process of selling.

All Salmon are colored the Same

Farmed salmon are naturally grey compared to their wild counterparts. The pink shade is a familiar meaty shade used to make fish appear more delectable. Astaxanthin is an organic molecule that is naturally found in the bellies of wild salmon due to their diets.

Whereas the farmed salmon diet mostly consists of a combination of jumbled fragments of flesh from smaller fish, followed by genetically engineered yeast, amongst other unpleasant things, in hopes that the salmon will be able to achieve a lighter fleshier shade, equal to wild salmon. The coloring is sometimes created from pulverized crustaceans and algae, often synthesized in a lab until they emerge with the correct elements that will essentially improve the overall shade of farmed salmon.

Astaxanthin is also responsible for the lighter orange hue found in cooked lobsters and shrimp.

Since farm-raised salmon live in a pen amongst other fish, they are fed kibble. Meanwhile, wild salmon get to comfortably swim about their waters, eating krill and becoming the attractive ruddy shade we all know and adore, ready to be considered plump and pigmented, which also happens to be the perfect selling point.

Wild vs Farmed Salmon

Wild salmon refers to salmon that is caught in natural environments like oceans, rivers, and lakes; however, much of what is sold today is farmed salmon. With the processed feed salmon farmers use to feed their fish, they ensure that the salmon are being fed lots of proteins and fats to produce larger fish.

What Is Grey Salmon Real Color? Revealed!

Since the diet of wild and farmed salmon are completely separate, their nutrient components are also very different. Wild salmon contains lots of minerals, as opposed to farmed salmon, which contains high levels of vitamin C, saturated fat, and calories.

Due to the conditions of the fish farm, farmed fish are known to carry more contaminants as opposed to wild salmon. Though both are incredible sources of omega-3, if you want your salmon pink, then eating wild salmon is overall better for you to purchase and consume.

Different Varieties of Salmon Fish Color

When looking to purchase a perfect cut of salmon, you’ll find that these fish are commonly recognized by the distinct shade of their flesh. Varying from greys to light oranges and pink, here are some of the popular colors of salmon you may or may not have purchased.

  • Sockeye
  • Coho
  • Chum
  • Humpback


Since Alaska’s sockeye salmon are closer to the Bering sea’s teeming krill, they’re flesh is the reddest of all salmon. These fish carry a pleasant flavourful scent and are smaller, leaner, and quite cheaper compared to other varieties of salmon.

What Is Grey Salmon Real Color? Revealed!


Coho salmon have bright silver skin, as they eat relatively less krill and shrimp. They are commonly found in Alaskan waters and the northern Pacific. With a medium fat content, they happen to have a subtle flavor profile, making them a perfect candidate for marinades.


This smaller fish goes by many names and is a light, orange-colored fish. Chum happen to eat relatively less krill, which is why their flesh has a very faint orange tinge to it. They can be sold canned or frozen and are often considered tastier compared to other varieties.


Humpback or Pink salmon is well known for its distinctive hump on its back. They have a mild flavor and are pretty small in size, they can be fresh or frozen, depending on your personal preference.

Is Consuming Fish Unsafe?

Since farmed salmon is pushed into the hands of greedy farmers who wish to produce wild-caught salmon, if you will, it’s best to steer clear of these types of fish, only eating a small amount per week so that you don’t jeopardize your health in any way.

The high levels of mercury, lead, and other harmful substances found in the blood of wild-caught salmon are a result of the toxic chemicals spreading in their waters that seep into fish flesh. Much like hormones, they turn the nervous systems of the fish body upside down, producing mini disasters that are quite possibly painful to the fish and a long-term problem to whoever consumes it. These can additionally contribute to forgetfulness, cancer, infertility, and other problems.

Is Salmon Artificially Colored?

Much like artificial meat, artificially dyed salmon is pretty normal. Since grey salmon is considered the real color of salmon, and grey-colored fish is usually a sign of fish going bad, many people may choose to opt for wild-caught salmon for this very reason. Apart from the bizarre salmon feed consisting of ground-up feathers, soybeans, chicken fat, and genetically engineered yeast, there is something else added to this kibble. Astaxanthin is clearly the missing component in the fish feed, which prevents the farmed salmon from achieving that wonderful pink hue.

Salmon Farmers determine just how pink they want their grey farmed salmon to be so that when it comes to selling the farmed fish in the future, there isn’t much to compete with. This is done by adding more or less astaxanthin to the salmon feed.

What is Grey Salmon Real Color?

Artificial isn’t Always Bad

Apart from the fish feed given to farmed salmon, astaxanthin is a powerful antioxidant involved in the overall health of the salmon, and since wild salmon is able to receive this component in their natural habitat, it makes salmon farmers all the more desperate to get their salmon on the ball. Most farmers choose to control and optimize the concentration of artificial astaxanthin in fish food so that they can somewhat monitor the growth of their fish before they’re ready to be sold.

While astaxanthin is considered a good component, concerns about salmon health aren’t a priority when it comes to selling these fish. As long as you’re looking at a plump, pink fillet, you’re seemingly all set. While creating a fish feed that manages to provide the farmed salmon with a similar outcome to wild salmon often makes things a little difficult for the Pacific Northwest fishermen who work hard to catch the salmon before they turn up at your local groceries. An abundance of farmed salmon forces fishermen to lower the initial prices of their wild-caught salmon, allowing them to compete.

Bottom Line

Wild salmon obtain their pink shade from eating krill and shrimp; since farmed salmon are provided with relatively less krill, naturally, they will adopt a grey color compared to their wild counterparts. Forcing the ruddy shade on farmed salmon isn’t always a good idea because you’re filling your fish with harmful substances in order to achieve a better chance of selling them. Considering the overall health of one’s consumers should be a priority before proceeding with anything.


Is the Color of Salmon Real?

The actual color of salmon flesh varies from almost white to light orange, depending on the levels of carotenoid astaxanthin due to their shrimp and krill diet. Additionally, salmon raised on fish farms are given non-synthetic or artificial coloring in their feed.

Why is Some Salmon Grey?

Wild salmon gets a distinctive pink flesh from a substance called astaxanthin which is a pigment commonly found in shrimp and other crustaceans that shrimp tend to consume. Farmed salmon are often fed a synthetic version of astaxanthin which provides their flesh with a grey or opaque color.

Why are Farm-Raised Salmon Grey?

Farm-raised salmon is naturally grey, with the pink color being an artificial addition. Wild salmon is naturally pink due to their diet, including astaxanthin, which is a reddish-orange compound found in krill and shrimp.

Do they Artificially Color Salmon?

Wild salmon get astaxanthin from their natural diets, while farmed salmon are denied natural components in their food. They are given only highly processed feed that may contain shrimp waste products or even petroleum-based coloring to make their flesh adopt a nice attractive pink hue.