Is Smoked Salmon Healthy? Here's What a Dietitian Says
Smoked salmon is a culinary treat. It can be silky smooth or tender and flaky. It's loaded with flavor and adds the perfect salty touch to many of our favorite dishes. But before we start adding it to our daily avocado toast let's take a deeper look at whether or not it's a healthy food. It's time to get your smoked salmon questions answered.
Related: Homemade Smoked Salmon
What is smoked salmon?
Like so many foods from our history, smoked salmon was a food born out of necessity. Not wanting to waste anything, our ancestors discovered that smoking fish not only added flavor, but also preserved it. Historically, fish was cured with large amounts of salt for days and smoked for days and even weeks. Fortunately, over time, we've improved the methods for how we smoke our food—decreasing the amount of salt used and the time it's exposed to smoke. This has in turn, produced a more reliable end product.
There are two methods used for smoking, cold and hot. Cold smoking usually involves a salt cure before smoking at a low temperature, around 80-85'F to remove moisture and preserve the fish. This keeps the salmon texture similar to it's raw state, resulting in that smooth texture. Hot smoking typically uses a brining solution as well as a higher smoking temperature to "cook" the fish. This results in a flaky texture and a deep, smoky flavor.
Nutrition & health benefits of smoked salmon
Salmon almost always tops healthy food lists. That's not too surprising considering it's rich nutrient profile along with the plentiful research that supports it's power to nourish and prevent disease. Jenny Shea Rawn M.S., MPH, RD, agrees.
She credits salmon's fat content for its superstar status. Notably, it's the type of fat that's significant, she says. "Smoked salmon is rich in omega-3 fatty acids. These health-promoting essential fats provide benefits across the lifespan—especially brain, heart and eye health benefits."
Smoked salmon is also a great source of protein. Per the USDA, there is 16 grams of protein in a 3-ounce serving. Salmon also serves up B vitamins, also known as the energy vitamins because of their role in metabolism. They help turn the food we eat into energy our bodies can use.
Yes, smoked salmon can be a nutritious food, but it's important not to go overboard as sodium content can be high. Shea Rawn encourages consumers to read labels and compare brands. She also advises to "take the sodium content (of smoked salmon) into account as you plan your other meals and snacks. Make lower sodium food choices throughout the rest of your day. "
Shea Rawn recommends enjoying cured and smoked foods on occasion and to pair them with lower sodium and whole foods. "The key to getting the most enjoyment and health benefits from seafood is to choose a variety of seafood options throughout the week—fresh, frozen, canned and smoked," notes Shea Rawn. (Learn more about the health benefits of seafood.)
What to watch out for
Fully cooked and ready to eat, hot-smoked salmon is a fine choice for almost anyone. However, general guidelines recommend pregnant women cook hot-smoked salmon to 165'F before consuming. Cold-smoked salmon, which is not fully cooked, carries the potential for food-borne illness, specifically from listeriosis. Because of that, the FDA advises that pregnant women, young children, older adults and those who are immunocompromised do not consume it.
What to look for when you buy
If possible, look for wild-caught smoked salmon versus farmed salmon which tends to have a more robust nutrition profile and typically ranks higher when it comes to sustainability. Although there are some farmed salmons considered a sustainable choice. Use a guide, like Seafood Watch, to help you find more sustainable options. Don't forget to check the date as well to ensure the product hasn't expired.
Chef Kathleen O'Brien Price says that choosing smoked salmon is also a matter of personal preference. "If you like full flavor, you are going to want to choose a naturally fattier variety like king or sockeye. Color will also vary by variety from orange-y pink to deep red." She also recommends choosing packages that don't have excessive moisture and aren't packed too dense. When you can, try to buy freshly shaved from the whole side of salmon as it will be freshest adds O'Brien Price.
How to store smoked salmon
Smoked salmon can be kept in the refrigerator, unopened, in it's original packaging for up to two weeks. After you open the package, wrap up to prevent it from drying out and refrigerate and use within one week. If desired, smoked salmon can also be kept in the freezer for up to three months.
How to enjoy it
There are plenty of delicious ways to enjoy smoked salmon (including our healthy recipes with smoked salmon). Pair it with capers, lemon juice, olive oil and whole wheat pasta for a quick, flavorful main dish. Use it as a topping for pizza. Shape your dough, top it with olive oil and fresh ricotta. Bake and then top with fresh herbs and smoked salmon just before serving.
Shea Rawn proclaims that "simple is best!" Her family loves it on avocado toast, on bagels with cream cheese and red onion, as a star of a "sea"cuterie board, in power bowls and breakfast bowls, atop eggs or omelets, in seasonal salads, in sandwiches or wraps…or straight out of the package!
O'Brien Price agrees that the classic smoked salmon and bagel is delicious. She adds that it pairs nicely with balsamic vinaigrette. And if you're curious when to use hot-smoked versus cold-smoked salmon, she has this advice, "since hot-smoked salmon can have a strong flavor, it can withhold being cooked or warmed without losing its texture, making it great for egg scrambles and quiches." She prefers cold-smoked salmon for cold applications as it tends to be more delicate and silky. "The flavor is often not quite as intense which lends for easier eating."