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Why Is Salmon Pink? Here’s How It Gets Its Color

Quick Answer

The reason that most salmon is a pinkish-red color is due to the salmon’s diet. Most salmon feed upon small crustaceans, such as krill and shrimp, which contain a keto-carotenoid called astaxanthin. This product essentially gets absorbed into the salmon once it eats the tiny crustaceans, and this tints its flesh a pinkish hue. The more shrimp and krill a salmon eats, the redder its flesh becomes.

There are so many bright colors in the natural world, especially in the ocean. Think about different types of fish, and all the vibrant hues that their skin can be.

Some fish have ‘normal’ colored skin, and it is actually their flesh that is brightly colored.

We cannot see this while the fish are swimming around in the ocean, but we notice it when we see them being sold at the grocery store, sliced up and baring their flesh.

A great example of this is the salmon. When it is alive and whole, the salmon has a shiny, silver skin, covered in glimmering scales.

Why Is Salmon Pink? Here's How It Gets Its Color

When you cut it open, you can see that its flesh is a vibrant reddish-pink color, or sometimes even an orangey hue.

You may be wondering why salmon are pink, red, and/or orange on the inside when their skin is silver.

How can a creature’s flesh become so bright and colorful?

In this article, we will be looking at the different colors of salmon, and how they came to become these pinkish hues on the inside.

Why Is Salmon Pink?

This is quite a strange question, if you think about it.

After all, have you ever wondered why a pig is pink? Or, why are some bears are brown, and others white?

The question about bears actually has a specific answer that is explained by looking at their locations in the world, and how they adapt to their habitats… however, we’re not here to talk about the colors of bears.

The point is, we often take colors for granted. Why do specific animals have specific colors?

Is it natural, or are these colors added once they have been slaughtered and packaged as food items?

Well, let’s take a look at the salmon, and why it is colored pink.

When you see a fillet of salmon on display in the chilled aisle at your local grocery store, you will notice that it has a vibrant, pinkish-red hue that seems almost too bright to be natural.

The skin of a salmon, while it is still alive and swimming around the ocean, is a silver-gray color.

Only the flesh of the salmon is bright pink, and you can only really see the color of its flesh once it has been cut up and placed on display at grocery stores, or fish markets.

Many people believe that salmon meat is dyed pink when it is being manufactured, but this is not true.

The reason that salmon flesh is so pink is, actually, due to their diets while they are alive!

Astaxanthin: A Natural Red Dye

Why Is Salmon Pink How It Gets Its Color

Salmon feed upon several types of crustaceans, including shrimp and krill.

High concentrations of astaxanthin, a keto-carotenoid that is actually extracted and utilized to make red food coloring, are found in these small organisms.

Astaxanthin is responsible for the small crustaceans’ bright pinkish color.

The salmon then consume the tiny animals, absorbing their natural pigments, which gives the salmon’s flesh a pinkish-red hue.

Additionally, it is astaxanthin that gives lobsters its vibrant red hue.

There are several kinds of crustaceans that are colored red due to this naturally occurring product, and there are many sea creatures that, in turn, develop a reddish tint due to consuming these creatures.

So, in a nutshell, the reason that salmon is pink is because, when they were alive and swimming around, they would feed on krill and shrimp.

Once they’d eaten them, the colors of the tiny creatures would absorb into the salmon’s flesh.

What Color Would Salmon Be If They Didn’t Eat Shrimp And Krill?

In certain regions of the world, salmon are not exposed to smaller crustaceans, such as krill and shrimp, so they do not involve them as part of their diet.

When these salmon are harvested, their flesh is actually more of an orange color, rather than pink.

On the flip side, there are some salmon who feed entirely on krill, and nothing else.

These salmon will have extremely bright red flesh, all soaked up from the krill that they have fed upon over the years.

So, if salmon didn’t eat shrimp and krill, therefore not being exposed to astaxanthin, their flesh would not have any red or pink tint to it at all.

Instead, their flesh would be orange.

Why Are Some Parts Of Salmon Gray?

In actuality, there is nothing wrong with finding gray coloring in a piece of salmon.

Anyone who has eaten salmon before will be familiar with the gray-colored flesh that can be found in patches within the pink coloring.

This can be off-putting if you don’t know what it is, as it gives the appearance that the salmon has gone bad, or is rotting.

This gray area of tissue is a fatty deposition that is deficient in the natural pink pigments that are present in the remainder of the fish, but abundant in omega-3 fatty acids.

It is an insulating layer that lies between the skin and the fat of the salmon.

So, if you ever find gray or brown patches on a piece of fresh salmon, it is probably nothing to worry about.

What Other Colors Of Salmon Are There?

Why Is Salmon Pink

As we mentioned earlier, the ‘normal’ color of salmon is a reddish-pink hue, which comes to be due to the salmon’s diet of small crustaceans.

If the salmon was not exposed to astaxanthin, then its natural color would be orange.

So, while most salmon you come across will be an orangey-pink color, or a shade of coral, it is possible to find salmon that is either completely orange, or completely red.

By checking the color of the salmon, you will be able to determine its diet before it died.

Or, at least, you can roughly determine how much shrimp and krill it ate while it was alive.

What Color Should Salmon Be When It’s Cooked?

When salmon is cooked, the interior should be pale pink on the outside and a solid pinkish white on the inside.

Even after it has cooked, the pink color ought to endure.

Your fillet needs to cook longer if the outside is still deep pink. On the other hand, if the inside has gone a pale, solid pink, it has been overcooked.

Again, if you notice gray or brownish-gray spots on the salmon after it has been cooked, it is probably just the fatty layer that lies between the fish’ skin and fat.

In fact, you will most likely find these patches underneath, or close to, the salmon’s skin.

If the salmon has a lot of gray patches, however, or the flesh has completely turned a lifeless gray color, this may be a sign that the fish has gone bad.

In this case, the salmon probably won’t be safe to consume, and you should probably throw it away.

Final Thoughts

So, there we have it.

The reason that a salmon’s flesh is often that bright reddish-pink color is due to the amount of tiny crustaceans that it ate while it was alive.

Astaxanthin, a keto-carotenoid found in certain organisms like shrimp and krill, has a natural red coloration that is absorbed by any organism that chooses to consume it.

So, the more astaxanthin a salmon consumes, the redder its flesh will become.

If a salmon eats little to no krill in its lifetime, its flesh will likely remain an orange hue.

If it eats a lot of krill, its flesh will become a darker red, rather than a reddish-pink or coral hue.

We hope you found this article helpful.

Jess Smith