Salmon and Char look pretty similar on paper. They’re both large, predatory salmonids. They both fight hard and taste great. In fact, they’re pretty much the same, right? Wrong. There are plenty of differences between the two species. With that in mind, here’s a breakdown of Arctic Char vs. Salmon, both as fish and as food.
Arctic Char vs. Salmon as Fish
Let’s make something clear right off the bat: There are a lot of types of Salmon. It’s impossible to really talk about “Salmon” as a single fish, so we’ll focus on how they’re different to Arctic Char instead. This mainly comes down to where they live and what they look like. Confused by the difference between Salmon and Trout? We’ve got an article on that, too. Check it out!
Char and Salmon share much of the same habitat, migrating between freshwater and saltwater in the northern reaches of North America, Russia, and Europe. The main difference is that Arctic Char are, well, Arctic. They live much further north, thriving well into the Arctic Circle where most Salmon species couldn’t survive.
The best places to fish for Salmon are Alaska, the west coast of Canada, and the Great Lakes. All these places are home to Pacific Salmon species like Chinook. Sadly, Atlantic Salmon are endangered in the wild, although you can find them in Quebec and Scandinavia.
Want to target Char? You can pretty much go anywhere that’s cold enough. Northern Canada, Alaska, Norway, Sweden, and Russia are all great.
Arctic Char are seriously beautiful fish. When they’re in the sea, they have a bright silvery hue that lights up in the sun and shines through the water. As they migrate upstream to spawn, their backs darken and their bellies turn deep red or bright orange.
The problem is that the same can be said of Salmon. They’re silver most of the year and morph into a variety of weird and wonderful monsters when they spawn. So, how do you tell them apart?
The main ways to identify a Char are its spots and stripes. All Char species have light spots on their sides (usually pink or white, but sometimes bright red when they’re spawning). Salmon, on the other hand, will have dark spots if they have any at all. Another dead giveaway is that Char have a creamy white edging on their fins, which Salmon don’t.
Arctic Char vs. Salmon as Food
Anglers love talking about fish in terms of looks, habitat, and fighting spirit. For most people, though, the biggest question is, “Are they good to eat?” The answer is a resounding “Yes” for both fish, but they do taste different.
Arctic Char is a delicious, mild fish that sits somewhere between Trout and Salmon, leaning toward Trout. It’s quite fatty, which makes it easy to cook, as it won’t go dry or tough unless you really overdo it. Char also has a very delicate skin that crisps up beautifully.
How does it compare to Salmon? Depends on the Salmon. If you know your fish, Char has about the same amount of fat as Sockeye – more than Atlantic Salmon, but less than Chinook. It also has slightly less protein than Chinook or Atlantic Salmon. It’s still rich in omega-3, though, making it a health food as well as a delicacy.
The real bonus with Char is that it’s cheap. This means that you can buy better quality fish for a lot less money than premium wild-caught Salmon would cost you.
This is where Char really shines. We’ve covered seafood sustainability in much more detail elsewhere if you’re interested. For now, let’s just say that both fish are usually farm-raised, but because Char can live in freshwater long-term, it’s much easier and more sustainable to farm.
Not all Salmon is farmed, mind you. Wild-caught Pacific Salmon arguably has even better eco credentials. However, it’s only available at certain times of year and is significantly more expensive, so it’s not always an option. Of course, the most sustainable (and fun) way to eat fish is to go out and catch it yourself!
Salmon and Char: Similar, but Not the Same
Salmon and Char are similar in many ways. They’re both predatory cold-water fish that taste great and look downright bizarre when they’re about to mate. Salmon have stolen the limelight, and most people have never heard of their northern cousins. However, Char are well worth trying and definitely worth catching.
What do you prefer, Salmon or Char? Have you caught either of them before? Drop us your stories, questions, and recipes in the comments below – we’d love to hear from you!
May 27, 2023 May 27, 2023
Arctic char is a great mild taste profile. The kind that I had in Quebec City landed closer to trout than salmon. Not as fishy and glad to hear sustainably raised
April 2, 2023 Apr 2, 2023
Thank you for your wonderful article. I had Atlantic Char for the first time, that I recall at least, tonight. I loved it. I prefer it over salmon for sure. Living in New Jersey, I can only hope to find it again.
March 15, 2023 Mar 15, 2023
Great article. My fish market sells Faroe Island Salmon, Sockeye, and Arctic Char. Of the three my favorite is the Char. Much prefer it to the Salmon and I do not care for Sockeye at all.
Replied on March 15, 2023 Mar 15, 2023
Thanks for reading, I’m glad you enjoyed the article. It’s great you’ve got such a variety of species to choose from, and you’re right, Char can be absolutely delicious, especially because it’s less “fishy” compared to Salmon. Sockeye can be very good as well, as long as it’s prepared well and you don’t mind that it does have a strong fishy aroma and smell.
All the best!
April 10, 2022 Apr 10, 2022
What fish would have the least to most amount of Mercury in your opinion? – Iceland Char, Scotland Stealhead Trout, Alaskan Atlantic Salmon, Farm Raised Atlantic Salmon.
I know they are all pretty similar. 🙂 But, curious what your opinion is.
Replied on April 11, 2022 Apr 11, 2022
Thanks for reading and for your question. As you said, all the fish you mentioned are pretty similar – all of them are low in mercury and safe to eat most of the time. It all depends on where the fish is coming from and what the mercury levels are in the respective body of water.
I’d say Steelhead and wild Salmon have the lowest level of mercury out of all the other fish. Farmed Trout and Salmon follow close behind, as long as the farming is done responsibly, of course. When it comes to Char, they’re safe as well, especially the sea-run variety – land-locked fish can sometimes have higher mercury levels, but still nothing to be too concerned about.
I hope this answers your question, Diana.
All the best!
December 21, 2021 Dec 21, 2021
Does the Char have an adipose fin like trout and salmon
Replied on December 21, 2021 Dec 21, 2021
Thanks for your question. Yep, all Arctic Char have an adipose fin located between their dorsal fin and tail!
December 9, 2021 Dec 9, 2021
What is the purine level in Char? Is it similar to Salmon? My husband has gout so he has to watch purine intake.
Salmon is on the “no” list.
Replied on December 10, 2021 Dec 10, 2021
Thanks for reading and for your question. I’m not sure exactly what the purine level in Char is, but seeing as it’s a member of the Salmonid family and that it tastes like trout – which is higher in purine than Salmon – I’d assume that it’s probably also quite high in purine. I hope this helps.
Replied on February 22, 2022 Feb 22, 2022
It’s odd that you say that salmon is on the no list. Generally anchovies, codfish, haddock, herring, mackerel, mussels, roe (fish eggs) and sardines are fish with high purine levels. Salmon is considered to be on the lower end and is considered to be acceptable for those suffering from gout. Of course, oddly enough, I’ve personally noticed that it varies from person to person. Some people I know who have gout are able to eat red meat and everything else under the sun except for chick peas or red beans, for others they can’t touch clams and yet others avoid wine or beer like the plague. It’s truly different for everyone who suffers from this affliction but with diet, exercise and (sometimes learning the hard way) each person figured out what they can and cannot eat.
November 1, 2021 Nov 1, 2021
I struggle to find arctic char to purchase since I am in the midwestern United States. Do you know of any companies that sell wild (non farm raised) arctic char?
Replied on January 5, 2022 Jan 5, 2022
I’ve never heard of Artic Char until I started a subscription with Fulton Fish Market. They’re located in NY, but will ship fish to your home as often as you want them to. That’s where I received several filets of Artic Char. They all look like the bottom picture (the silver one) of the 3 fish that they have on this page.
Replied on January 22, 2022 Jan 22, 2022
Fellow Midwesterner here! Whole Foods almost always has it frozen. And it’s quite good!
Replied on February 10, 2022 Feb 10, 2022
I tired Artic Char for the first time last year. I purchased it from Whole Foods. I must say I like it better that Salmon. Try Whole Foods… I live in St. Louis and found Artic Char there. Good Luck
September 7, 2021 Sep 7, 2021
Strange question for anyone: Food allergy to salmon. What are the chances of having the same reaction with Arctic Char I wonder? Thanks anyone and happy eating!
Replied on September 8, 2021 Sep 8, 2021
Thanks for your comment. While it’s definitely possible to not have an allergic reaction to Char if you’re allergic to Salmon, fish allergies do vary from person to person. We’d advise consulting with a medical professional if you’re worried about a strong allergic reaction.
Replied on September 9, 2021 Sep 9, 2021
Thanks so much, Vuk. Erring on the side of caution I think. At least my husband can enjoy and I can enjoy the smell too!
Replied on November 5, 2021 Nov 5, 2021
Have you considered that your allergy is most likely related to eating farm-raised fish rather than wild? Maybe try wild and see.
June 10, 2021 Jun 10, 2021
I am a Farm to table Chef and I love Char! It pairs well with lighter floral sauces due to less oil. My second favorite fish that is in the bass family is Branzino. All of my fish are seasonal due to the fact I buy direct from wild caught fishermen. It stops the fishery conglomerate and gives the small business a chance to thrive. Great article.
Replied on June 10, 2021 Jun 10, 2021
Lisa here. Thank you for reading. I’m really glad you liked Albert’s article. It’s amazing that you support small businesses as well as sustainable fishing.
I need to mention that I also love Branzino and would always order it whenever I go to Italy. It’s delicious!
Hope you’re having a great day,
February 28, 2021 Feb 28, 2021
Hi there. I found this site as I Googled ‘Arctic Char’. I bought some Char at our local Farmers Market here in Thunder Bay. I love to prepare and eat salmon, trout and char. Originally from Vancouver, I grew up sailing, boating and fishing the waters of Juan de Fuca and Howe Sound with my dad. Mostly for Coho and Spring. Then I moved to Powell River on the Sunshine Coast where I would be lucky to get salmon from neighbours and friends. I loved to fish. But my ex-husband did not. So, sadly, I have never gone fishing again. I have lived in the Soo, where my neighbour would give me salmon. (Lake Superior). Then moved to Kapuskasing, where pickerel, pike and trout are the fish you eat. Now I am in Thunder Bay. I can buy salmon at the market. (Lake Superior again…chinook/spring I believe) If I am lucky…will get pickerel, white fish or lake trout from friends and co workers.
Rainbow trout is probably my favourite fish to eat. Followed by wild coho, fresh pickerel and Arctic char.
Thank you for the lesson about the similarities between salmon and char.
Replied on March 1, 2021 Mar 1, 2021
Thanks for getting in touch. I’m glad you liked the article.
I’ll be honest, I’ve never tried Pickerel. Couldn’t agree more about Rainbow Trout and Char, though.
All the best!
Glenn R White
Replied on June 1, 2021 Jun 1, 2021
I have lot’s of cousins in Powell River. My most enjoyable fishing has been off of Powell River with them. My cousin Phil Jantz used to manage the Powell River Salmon Society hatchery. When did you live there?
FARRAH D HAYDEN
Replied on February 10, 2022 Feb 10, 2022
I love coho too! Hard to find here in St Louis
February 15, 2021 Feb 15, 2021
Arctic char is much tastier than salmon and a lot more expensive here in Canada than salmon (talking wild in both cases). Chinook, sockeye (the best) and coho. Atlantic salmon is just plain gross. jmo.
Farm fishing is evil and should be halted. BC has just started to close down salmon farm fisheries. Again jmo.
Replied on February 17, 2021 Feb 17, 2021
Fish farming definitely causes a lot of problems, you’re right – especially for large predatory fish like Salmon. Farming can be really good for shellfish and small freshwater fish like Tilapia, though. We covered this in more detail in our article on sustainable fish, if you’re interested.
It’s interesting that Char is more expensive in Canada. I guess it’s partly a case of Salmon being cheaper there than in most places?
All the best!
Replied on June 1, 2021 Jun 1, 2021
I despise ocean salmon farming.
Replied on June 2, 2021 Jun 2, 2021
The article you shared is really interesting and informative. PRV and other diseases are definitely major pitfalls of farming.
I’d recommend checking out the same article on sustainable fish that Albert recommended to Estelle. Might be an interesting read for you!
January 28, 2021 Jan 28, 2021
Hi, Albert! I liked your article. At least somebody is talking not only about Salmon!
I am from Russia and we never say salmon fish, there are so many name of the fish what comes from salmon family, as! family, not just one type itself.
Unfortunately, I don’t know all of them in English(actually, never thought about it, but we were very surprised first time in Canada to here everything is just Salmon).
My husband likes to fishing, and here in Ontario we have salmon, trout, , brown trout and you could find Atlantic salmon, but you couldn’t caught it. In the store we bough one time wild salmon (again!), it;s looks like we called gorbusha, in Russia.
If my comment is interesting for you, write for me what you would like to know and I will try to help.
Thanks for your article.
Replied on January 29, 2021 Jan 29, 2021
Thanks for getting in touch. That’s really interesting that you have different names for (what we call) all the varieties of Salmon. It makes sense I guess – Russia has some incredible fishing for them!
All the best!
Linda Marie Centineo
November 12, 2020 Nov 12, 2020
very informative. learning much about different types of fish
Replied on November 13, 2020 Nov 13, 2020
I’m glad you liked it. If you feel like diving deeper down the rabbit hole of Salmonids, check out our Trout vs. Salmon article next.
All the best!