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.
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!