coho salmon illustration
coho salmon illustration

What is Coho Salmon? Everything You Need to Know

December 7th, 2018

A One-Sheet Guide on One of the Milder Salmon Species

Coho salmon (Oncorhynchus kisutch), also known as silver salmon, is an easy fish to work with and slightly milder in taste than some of the other Pacific salmon species, such as sockeye or king.

Coho’s Modest Hue

Depending upon the species of salmon and it’s particular habits, the color of wild salmon flesh can run the gamut of reds, from jewel pink to deep garnet. Coho salmon is a luscious red-orange, slightly less saturated in color than sockeye due to differences in diet.

Whereas sockeye consume a diet heavy in the zooplankton that give it its vibrant hue — a color that indicates high levels of the antioxidant astaxanthin — coho eat higher up on the food chain once they hit the seas, feeding on small fish, squid, and even other salmon juveniles. One analysis found that sockeye contain about twice as much astaxanthin as coho, with approximately 14 mg/kg to 7 mg/kg, respectively.

Coho Salmon's Fat Content 

Coho salmon has 5.9 grams of total fat per serving and 1.3 grams of Omega-3 fatty acids, making it a slightly leaner variety compared to sockeye salmon and king salmon (aka chinook salmon). Generally, wild salmon is already much lower in fat than farmed salmon — and the last thing you want to do is overcook your wild coho (or any of the wild salmon species) fillets.

Cooking coho for a shorter period of time or with gentler methods will help prevent the fish from becoming overdone. Keep this in mind if you intend on grilling your salmon. 

Pro-tip: Because it has less fat, when smoking coho to make into lox or salmon jerky, use a cold-smoker rather than a hot-smoker to keep things from drying out.

What Does Coho Salmon Taste Like?

Coho also has a mild flavor relatively speaking, which is perfect for those who like a more subtle-tasting salmon. It will still pack a more flavorful punch than a fillet of white fish like Pacific cod or Pacific halibut, but it will have a dialed back gaminess compared to the fuller-flavored sockeye.

Texturally, coho is firm-fleshed, lending it versatility in the kitchen or on the grill where it will hold up nicely.

Pro tip: A fillet of coho will allow gentle cooking methods and elegant flavor profiles to take the spotlight.

Other Facts About Coho Salmon

Coho salmon is native to the North Pacific Ocean. In the wild, coho thrive in the ice cold waters of Southeast Alaska and off the coast of British Columbia and Washington. Aside from the Pacific Northwest, coho can also be found as far south as the central California coast. There, coho salmon population numbers have been dwindling for decades despite being listed as an endangered species. Even in the far easterly reaches of the Columbia River system, coho were once considered extinct. But, they were successfully reintroduced several decades ago by the Nez Perce tribe, one of many tribes who depend on the survival of these ancient fish.

Certain species of coho have also been able to survive in the Great Lakes, where they have been stocked as game fish since the late 19th century; hatcheries continue to replenish their numbers there where the fish feed on invasive alewife, helping to keep the balance of predator to prey in check.

Coho are the most acrobatic of the five wild Alaskan salmon species, with the astounding ability to jump up to six feet out of the water. They are considered to be one of the best salmon species among sport fishermen.