Exploring the Unique White King Salmon

A Rare Delicacy with a Growing Following

The sight of a wild Alaska king salmon with its rich, red meat is truly captivating. However, did you know that around 5% of these majestic fish have white meat? This unique characteristic, caused by their inability to process certain pigments from their diet, has made white kings a sought-after delicacy among Alaskans. In the past, the pale meat of these white kings was undervalued commercially, but times have changed. Today, white kings are making waves in the market.

The Evolution of White King Salmon

Traditionally, white king salmon sold for roughly sixty cents less per pound than their red-fleshed counterparts. Savvy fish buyers took advantage of this rarity and enjoyed the distinctive flavor of the white kings. However, perceptions have shifted, and the tide has turned. White kings, now marketed as “ivory king,” command a higher price due to their perceived superior taste.

Caters to Refined Palates

Many connoisseurs now swear by the flavor of white king salmon. These fans savor the delicate, melt-in-your-mouth texture and appreciate its distinct oiliness, which adds to the overall taste experience. As Sherry Tuttle of Rose Fisheries in Sitka can attest, the demand for white king salmon has grown, particularly among East Coast customers who are willing to pay a premium for this exquisite variety.

The Science Behind the Color

It’s important to note that white and red king salmon belong to the same species, Onchorhynchus tshawytscha. From a nutritional perspective, the white and red-fleshed kings are virtually identical in terms of lipid composition, moisture content, protein levels, and omega-3 fatty acids, which are known for their heart-protective properties. However, many enthusiasts prefer the unique qualities of white king salmon.

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Genetics and Flesh Color

Previously, it was believed that the variation in flesh color between white and red king salmon was due to differences in their diets. Recent scientific research has shed light on the fact that genetics play a pivotal role in determining their distinct colors. The ability to metabolize and store pigments from their food is determined by each salmon’s genetic makeup, much like how we inherit traits such as eye color. When two white kings mate, they produce white king offspring, while mating between red kings results in red king offspring. However, the dynamics of mating between a red king and a white king are more complex, with the ability to process pigments being a dominant trait and the inability being a recessive trait.

Geography and Availability

White king salmon represents a minority, making up just about 5% of the total king salmon population. They are primarily concentrated in southeast Alaska and British Columbia, Canada, with rivers like the Chilkat, Taku, Unuk, and Chickamin being particularly rich in this distinctive variety. Anglers who frequent these rivers have a greater chance of catching the coveted white king. Due to limited supply and high demand, the price of white king salmon has seen a significant increase.

Unleashing the Flavor Potential

Renowned chefs like David Moorehead have embraced the unique qualities of white king salmon in their culinary creations. Moorehead attests that white king can be prepared in much the same way as red king salmon, whether baked or grilled. To accentuate its flavor, he pairs white king with vibrant ingredients like basil pesto, tomatoes, and pine nuts. For a Moroccan twist, he opts for a bronzing technique with warm spices such as cardamom, coriander, and cloves. The goal is to let the exquisite “ivory” flesh shine without overpowering it with heavy sauces.

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Discover the Captivating World of White Kings

White king salmon is truly a unique delicacy that has captivated the palates of many. Its rarity and distinct qualities have garnered a devoted following among seafood enthusiasts, earning it a prominent place on menus in top restaurants. As the demand continues to rise, so does the allure of this exquisite variety. Explore the exquisite world of white king salmon and experience its melt-in-your-mouth decadence for yourself.

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Article by Tammy Davis, Biologist with the Alaska Department of Fish and Game, Division of Sport Fish.