What Is The Difference Between Trout and Salmon?

Trout and salmon are probably two of the most recognizable names of fish in the world. There is little doubt that these are two of the most popular fish on the seafood market today.

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While other fish such as tuna and pollock are popular around the world, trout, and salmon remain favorites in fly fishing and sportfishing. Without these fish, these sports may not even exist.

If you’re a fish eater, then you have most likely eaten many kinds of fish, including trout and salmon. Even if you’ve never tried fish and want to experience the flavor for the first time, it is helpful to know the differences between certain species.

Some have a much stronger taste while others are milder and more favorable with many people.

Trout and salmon are common types of fish that are regularly used in cooking. Two reasons why they are consumed so often are that they are easy to catch and very versatile with different foods and recipes.

Although trout and salmon are stocked in most regions of the world, many of us are unable to tell the species apart.

If you’re unsure how to tell a trout from a salmon, continue reading to find out the key differences and similarities between the two. We will also discuss which one is the tastiest and the best ways of cooking both.

If you’re in a hurry and need to know the main difference immediately, it is probably where these fish inhabit. Trout is a freshwater fish and found in rivers and lakes while salmon is a saltwater fish found in sea waters and the ocean. However, as you will see, this is not as straightforward as it first seems.

Let’s start by looking at the key differences between the two fish.

Trout and Salmon: The differences

Most of us will look at a trout and a salmon side by side and have no clue which one is which. They tend to look the same or, at least, very similar. However, these two fish differ in many ways.

We will begin by taking a look at trout and what makes this species who they are.

Trout

There isn’t just one kind of trout. There are quite a lot of different types of trout such as Chinook, Chum, Coho, Rainbow, Sockeye, and many more. These are from a certain category of trout that live in specific regions around the world. 

Trout dwell in freshwater locations such as rivers, lakes, and streams. Chances are, you will probably catch a trout if you do a spot of fishing at a lake or river nearby.

The appearance of a trout tends to be round and thick with a rounded head and they are generally spotted quite heavily which is how many fishermen tell them apart right away. A trout’s tail typically has a convex or square shape that is quite wide.

The meat has a vivid red color to it or, sometimes, an orange hue. When you eat it, you will find the meat is quite fatty but not as much as other fish.

Trout location

You may be surprised to find out that trout and salmon are very closely related. The sea trout and salmon actually belong to the same fish family.

Not all trout are born in saltwater regions. Some types, such as steelhead trout and rainbow trout, spend their early life in seawater before migrating to freshwater locations.

Nonetheless, most trout live in streams, rivers, or clear lakes where the temperature is relatively cool. They love mountainous areas where the temperature is generally cooler and the water is crystal clear and as fresh as possible.

Trout are usually fished in clear, shallow waters as they feast on insects, crawfish, and minnows. They need areas where there are plenty of rocks and vegetation for them to hide from predators. You will often find them lurking on the water’s floor to gain protection from possible dangers.

Trout is a worldwide fish. Just because you may see them in the waters of your state doesn’t mean they are indigenous to that area.

Many fishermen around the world fish for trout in locations such as Patagonia in South America, South Africa, Roscoe in New York, Yellowstone, Pyrenees Mounts in Spain, and many more.

Most of these regions are usually mountainous with areas of cool, clear water. This is just a small selection of the top locations to trout fish. 

Salmon

Despite their close relationship in terms of behaviors and morphology, salmon share the fact that there are several types of the fish.

Unlike trout, salmon live in the ocean and saltwater regions. However, salmon are usually born in freshwater before migrating to a saltwater location.

On occasions, salmon will return to freshwater to lay eggs. This is interesting as it’s the opposite of trout which spends its early life in saltwater before migrating to freshwater.

One way to tell trout and salmon apart is through their form and build. While trout have a thicker, rounder build, salmon are long and slender. They sport more pointed, sharper angled heads as opposed to the rounder, fuller head of a trout.

One similarity between these fish is their tails which have comparable shapes. Furthermore, while trout are heavily spotted, salmon have little to no spots whatsoever.

Salon meat is a lot fattier than trout meat but this gives it a much richer and stronger flavor that is easily recognizable.

You have probably seen salmon meat in various meals and its vivid orange/pink color is very distinguishable from trout meat. This is the reason why pink and orange hues are regularly referred to as “salmon.” 

Salmon location

It is hard to argue that salmon isn’t important to cultures around the world, especially here in the US. It provides excellent nutritional value and many would agree that it has a less gamey taste than trout.

If you’re unsure just how popular salmon is in the USA, just take into account that it’s the third most eaten seafood across the whole nation with tuna and shrimp being the forerunners.

If you’re thinking about fishing for your salmon, you will have to get the correct gear to do so. Many people believe they can just add any old bait to their rod, head to a saltwater area, and simply catch some salmon. Unfortunately, it’s not this easy. You need proper equipment and patience.

Choosing where to fish and what time of the year to do so can make a big difference in your catch rate. Although predominantly found in saltwater areas, you can fish for salmon in freshwater during their spawning season.

It’s best to do some research into the best locations for fishing salmon near you as well as where they relocate when moving from saltwater to freshwater areas.

Some superb salmon fishing areas include Scotland, Alaska, Norway, New Hampshire, Canada, New Zealand, South Dakota, Maine, as well as many more.

Of course, you will be able to find salmon closer to home than New Zealand but these are just examples of non-all-inclusive areas that are highly recommended and popular for salmon fishing.

Nutritional values

Both trout and salmon have great nutritional content that can be beneficial for your health.

Let’s start by looking at trout’s nutritional content:

Trout

Trout has a high protein content with around 16 grams of protein for every 79-gram fillet. It usually contains about 1.1 grams of saturated fat for every 79-gram fillet.

However, it does not contain large levels of trans fat which is better for our health as trans fat can raise your bad cholesterol and lower your good cholesterol.

Out of most fish, trout are quite high in calories with about 111 calories for every 79-gram fillet. However, trout is a tremendous source of vitamins A, C, D, and E which help strengthen your immune system and help maintain relaxed and elastic arteries among other benefits. 

Trout contains large amounts of the most popular and important B vitamins such as thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, vitamin B6, Vitamin B12, and pantothenic acid. B vitamins are essential in preventing early aging and the risk of developing heart disease with vitamins such as riboflavin helping transport oxygen around the body.

For every 79-gram fillet, trout has 20mg of calcium to help maintain strong bones. Further to this, trout is high in potassium with about 298mg per 79 grams which helps stabilize blood pressure and improve your nervous system as well as a host of other benefits.

With high levels of omega-3, DHA, and EPA, trout is a wonderfully healthy fish to include in a balanced diet.

Salmon 

Salmon, as with trout, is very high in protein with approximately 20 grams for every 100-gram fillet. Rich in protein as well as minerals, salmon has always been considered a very healthy choice of meal.

There isn’t a big difference between the calorie content between trout and salmon. Salmon has around 208 calories for every 100 grams so if you had to choose the lower calories option, trout would be the best choice.

There is some saturated fat, measuring around 3.1 grams for every 100-gram fillet of salmon. Too much unsaturated fat can lead to heart disease, obesity, and a higher risk of cancer so it’s important to not overdo it on this type of fat.

Just like trout, salmon is also a rich source of vitamins and minerals. However, salmon has less than half the vitamins that trout provides but still provide a sufficient amount.

As with trout, salmon has high levels of vitamins A, C, D, and E with significant levels of B vitamins. These two fish have very similar numbers of B vitamins but salmon doesn’t contain riboflavin, thiamin, niacin, or vitamins B6, and B12.

Salmon contains some amount of calcium and iron. This fish has about 9mg of calcium per 100 grams of salmon and approximately 0.3mg of iron for every 100 grams which is very similar to trout.

Furthermore, salmon is exceptional for its offerings of potassium with about 363mg for every 100-gram salmon fillet. The fish also has a substantial amount of omegas that are very important to your health and wellbeing.

This omega content includes DHA, EPA, linoleic acid, and a range of other omega-3s and omega-6s which all play important roles in our immune system and overall health.

Cooking tips

Trout and salmon are tasty fish but with the right preparation and recipes, you can improve the flavors tenfold.

Let’s take a look at the best ways to cook these fish and what taste you may experience.

Trout

There are many different types of trout and the flavors vary widely depending on which type of trout you are eating.

When you first taste trout, you will experience a blander taste. If you have ever tried catfish, its flavor is pretty similar. Trout’s flavors are typically very mild and quite gamey with a delicate meat texture.

Both trout and salmon can be cooked in very similar ways such as baking, grilling, pan-searing, poaching, or frying.

Some delicious trout dishes include:

  • Pan-seared trout that is seasoned
  • Lemon and parsley grille trout
  • Pan-fried breaded trout fillets
  • Trout fillets in herb sauce and garlic lemon butter
  • Smoked trout
  • Fillet of trout with mushrooms, onions, and scallions
  • Baked trout wrapped in foil and stuffed with butter, lemon, and parsley
  • Fillet of trout covered in an orange-saffron sauce

The great thing about trout is that it has quite a neutral flavor meaning it can be combined with a variety of ingredients. Its mild flavor is complemented by soaking up different seasonings in certain foods resulting in a rich and vibrant taste. 

Above are just a few examples but you should experiment with different seasonings and ingredients to find something you love!

Salmon

As with trout, you can cook salmon in a variety of ways and its flavor can vary depending on the type of salmon and where it was caught (saltwater or freshwater).

Salmon has a much richer flavor than trout. This is because of its higher fat content but, unlike trout, it is not as gamey.

Salmon tends to be pretty oily when being cooked and very flavorful. Nonetheless, you can add some amount of herbs and butter if desired. And whether you want to grill, roast, bake, pan-sear, or fry your salmon is entirely up to you.

Some delectable salmon dishes include:

  • Poached salmon
  • Pan-fried salmon which can be breaded or non-breaded
  • Honey garlic salmon fillets
  • Lightly seasoned and broiled fillets
  • Salon fillets wrapped in foil with lemon, butter, and parsley
  • Salmon fillets with a basic cream sauce

As with trout, there are so many options when cooking salmon. Although it has a stronger taste, salmon works with a wide variety of foods and sauces so don’t be afraid to try new things!

Trout vs Salmon: Which is tastier?

It’s come down to the battle of the flavors. Of course, not all trout and salmon taste the same but some salmon tastes better than trout and vice versa. 

Below is a list of the most common species of trout and salmon available in North America and how they compare to each other:

  • Rainbow trout - This is the most common trout in North America. Its meat has a pinkish color and is generally mild and delicate. There isn’t a strong “fishy” taste with this trout but it can sometimes have a slightly muddier flavor, depending on where it lived.
  • Steelhead trout - This is another version of the rainbow trout but from the ocean. Although similar, their tastes differ. Because a steelhead trout lives at sea, its diet is entirely different giving it a fresher flavor with no muddy taste whatsoever. The meat is usually fattier and darker which resembles salmon. 
  • Sockeye salmon - This tends to be a lot redder in color than other salmon species. Sockeye salmon is generally considered to be the tastiest of all the Pacific salmons but also the most expensive. The meat has a deeper red complexion than other salmon with the highest levels of fat in its fish family. This gives them added flavor and means they can cook through better without going dry.
  • Atlantic salmon - Another very tasty option! Most Atlantic salmon are farmed these days to due the species almost becoming extinct from overfishing years ago. This meat is less fatty and milder than other salmon species and breaks into delicious flakes when cooked.

These are just a few species of trout and salmon that roam the waters but these are the tastiest and most favored in North America. Due to the higher levels of fat, salmon, such as Sockeye and Atlantic, tend to be the tastier options but with the right recipes and ingredients, all have unique flavors.

Deboning trout and salmon

When you have caught your trout or salmon and brought it home for dinner, you may choose to fillet it. If you decide to do this, it’s recommended that you complete this process with the skin intact to reduce mess and wasted parts.

You will need to remove the spine and ribs of the fish before locating smaller bones that stick out. You can reach these by running your fingers inside the fish and then remove with tweezers.

Just try not to waste any meat and only focus on the areas of the fish where there are definite bones.

Let’s take a look at filleting a trout:

Trout

  • Separate the ribs from the spine with your first cut. Begin at the head before moving down to the tail. Cut down to the trout’s skin but not the actual skin. This angle will be facing the back of the fish. When done, repeat on the other side and remove the spine. 
  • Gently move your knife in and out between the meat and ribs to separate the bones as you move down.
  • Now remove this layer of bones before using tweezers to extract tiny bones felt with your fingers.
  • The bones should now be free from the fish and the fillet is ready to cook!

If you prefer, you can also use an electric knife to fillet a trout as this can be quicker and easier. You can even cut the ribs and spine at the same time but this is a harder option for finding the correct spot to use your blade between the ribs and meat.

It is recommended you leave the skin on as this is the most common method of cooking but, at the end of the day, it is your decision and personal preference whether to take the skin off or not.

Salmon

If you have freshly caught salmon, it’s important to know how to fillet it and remove the bones. All you need is a sharp knife (preferably a straight knife with a stiff blade) and some space to fillet the fish.

Before you begin, remove the head and tail and clean the fish thoroughly of any debris or other materials if you caught it yourself.

Let’s take a look at filleting salmon:

  • Topside facing you, place the salmon down with the head on the right side.
  • With one hand, hold its belly flap out of the way and insert your knife into the upper side of the spine (head-end).
  • Slide your knife along the spine while still holding the belly flap with your other hand. Using a saw motion, cut in and out with the knife tilted a little toward the tail.
  • Cutting down the fish, you may have to let go of the belly flap and hold the fish at the middle area of its body for a more secure grip. Keep cutting until the end.
  • Flip the salmon over (belly side up) with the head on the right end.
  • Repeat the cutting process to remove the spine from this side.
  • You will have to remove the collar by cutting a straight line about a ¼-inch from its head. 
  • Using your knife, slide it under the rib bones and move the blade upwards into the salmon’s bones. Using delicate sweeping motions, separate the ribs from the meat. 
  • Get a hold of those tweezers and remove the ribs that were too small to cut out.
  • Your salmon is now filleted!

Both trout and salmon have similar nutritional values. It’s just up to you to see which taste you prefer! 

Frequently Asked Questions

Is salmon and trout the same thing?

If you pop down to the fish market in your local Walmart, if you have a look around the seafood market at a farmers market, or if you enjoy fishing, you may wonder what is the real difference between salmon and trout?

They seem so similar right? Well they are so closely related that many fishermen and scientists have a lot of trouble classifying them from each other. Trout is a species of fish that resides in freshwater or saltwater.

On the flip side, salmon belong to some of the same family as trout, however, unlike a majority of trout most species of salmon will spend all of their lives in saltwater.

When it comes to cuisine both of these fish are classified as being oily fish. These two fish are actually the same in the steel head/ rainbow trout. The steel head is used if the fish is able to make it to the ocean, and rainbow refers to those that are landlocked away from the salt water.

Is salmon better than trout?

Which fish is better is really a matter of personal preference, however trout is very rich is vitamin D which helps to strengthen bones, while salmon is more loaded with vitamin A which contributes to good vision and a great immune system.

This being said, both fish have selenium which is a very important element in an enzyme that fights harmful chemical processes inside the body.

So, when it comes to which fish is better it really depends on whether you are more in need of vitamin A or vitamin D. And do not forget the importance of the flavor, and texture, as it is really all down to what you prefer in your fish.

Is trout pink like salmon?

Trout and salmon both have a pinkish color to their meat, although how similar they are depends entirely on which species they are. There are many types of trout and many types of salmon, and each has a slight variation in their color.

For example, rainbow trout has a slightly pink meat, and it is very mild and delicate in its flavors. In contrast, steel head trout will often have a darker and fattier meat which is more similar to salmon than rainbow trout.

Salmon can also vary slightly in color, for example Chinook salmon is a very big salmon and their meat is very soft but is not very dark in its color. Then there is Atlantic salmon which is typically farmed nowadays, due to the endangerment of the species in the wild. Their meat is milder and less fatty than other salmon is.

All of these fish have pink meat, but the light or dark tone of the pink meat can vary.

What’s the difference between rainbow trout and salmon?

Salmon and trout of all kinds are in the same family ‘salmonidae’ family but they both belong to a separate genus. Salmon will generally hatch in freshwater, and live in the ocean then swim back upstream to spawn. However, rainbow trout live in freshwater rather than only being in freshwater for reproduction and birth.

The biological relationship between salmon and trout is a bit like apples and pears really. Their meat is similar, and they look rather similar however, they are different fish, living in different environments, and they are different in size too.

It is a bit like the similarities and differences between a lion and a tiger, while those are both big cats they are not the same. These two fish are very similar but also different, especially in their habitat.

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Cassie brings decades of experience to the Kitchen Community.
She is a noted chef and avid gardener. Her new book "Healthy Eating Through the Garden" will be released shortly. When not writing or speaking about food and gardens Cassie can be found puttering around farmer's markets and greenhouses looking for the next great idea.
Cassie Marshall
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