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Why Are Salmon Pink?

A picture of Scott E. Nichols

By Scott E. Nichols

April 30, 2012

One of the questions we often hear is: How do farmed salmon get their color? Related to this is: How is the process the same as—or different from—what happens in nature?

All salmon irrespective of their origin, have their pinkish color because they consume a carotenoid anti-oxidant that comes from their diet.  The carotenoid family of anti-oxidants  is what gives oranges, tomatoes and carrots their familiar hues. 

Microorganisms such as yeast and algae make a carotenoid called astaxanthin. These are eaten by small fish and crustaceans which are, in turn, eaten by salmon.  It is when salmon eat these fish and crustaceans, they accumulate levels that  change their flesh color.

Interestingly, this is the same way that pink flamingoes gain the brilliant pink color of their feathers.

Farmed salmon are often fed a diet that contains a chemically produced form of astaxanthin. There are, as well, some biological sources.  One is made by a yeast named Pfaffia and another is from an alga called Haematococcus.  All three of these produce slightly different forms.  The astaxanthin made by Haematococcus, however,  has the same form as what is found in wild salmon.

As part of Verlasso’s commitment to continuous improvement, we have recently switched our diets to include the freshwater alga Haematococcus pluvialis. A simple change like this brings aquaculture more in line with the biological systems found in nature. And that’s our goal. The more closely we replicate the natural environment, the better for the health of our salmon, and for us.

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