What is it? Born in freshwater, the steadfast, strong salmon swim to the ocean only to turn back several years later, struggling back upstream to their birthplace to spawn. As a food source and as a symbol, the salmon holds much significance in North American native and First Nations cultures. Salmon's shiny scales conceal silky, fatty flesh that ranges in colour from pink to orange and red. Salmon is the second-most consumed seafood in the US, behind shrimp.

What is it good for? Serve up 4 ounces of salmon, and for only 261 calories you'll get over 100% of your recommended daily vitamin D, 76% of your daily protein, and 87% of your daily omega-3 fatty acids. Vitamin D keeps bones and teeth strong by helping the body to absorb calcium, while protein supports overall health, development, and energy. But it's salmon's omega-3 fatty acid levels that make it such a super nutritious food. These unsaturated fats work hard in your body, protecting not just your brain, but your heart, your eyes, and your joints. Western diets often come up short in omega-3s, so salmon is a lean, low-calorie way to fit in this fine fat.

What does it taste like? With its full, savoury flavour and silky, creamy texture, salmon is a fish loved by many who otherwise dislike fish. Some of salmon's flavour and nutritional benefit comes from its oil. Salmon can be prepared in numerous ways - grilled, baked, poached, barbecued, rolled into sushi, sliced into sashimi, pickled and smoked - and it works well with a variety of flavours and spices. Canned salmon makes a nutritious, affordable meal choice and can be easily added to many recipes or simply piled onto bread or rolled into patties.

Should you choose wild or farm-raised salmon? Whichever way the salmon gets to your plate, you will benefit from the omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients. But when looking at the risks versus the benefits of both types of salmon, researchers have found that the wild variety slightly edges out the farmed fish.

How to handle and store: Whichever type you choose, remember that fish must always be handled with care.

  • Get the fish home and in the refrigerator or freezer as soon as possible.
  • If you're refrigerating the fish, place it in a baking dish or bowl filled with ice and store it in the coolest spot in the fridge. Fish can keep for a couple of days in the fridge.
  • If you're freezing the fish, wrap it in plastic and place it in the coldest part of the freezer. Fish can last 4 to 6 months in the freezer.
  • When you're ready to use the fish, rinse it under cool, running water and pat it dry.
  • Keep fish apart from other foods, using a separate cutting board and knife. Thoroughly cleanse and rinse any utensils after use.
  • Cook fish to an internal temperature of 70°C (160°F) or until the flesh flakes off with a fork.

Safety warnings:
Seafood is one of the 9 most common food allergens, and people who are allergic to one type of fish are often allergic to other types. Signs of a reaction include hives, red and itchy skin, swelling of the face, eyes, lips, tongue, and throat, trouble breathing, and even loss of consciousness.

PCBs: Polychlorinated biphenyls are environmental contaminants that can find their way into the foods we eat. Concern about levels of PCBs in farmed salmon compelled Health Canada and the Canadian Food Inspection Agency to analyze samples of both farmed and wild salmon. According to their results, neither type of salmon poses a health risk to those who consume them.

Mercury: Almost every type of fish contains mercury, a naturally occurring metal. When consumed in high enough quantities, mercury can impair nervous system functioning. Since the nutritional benefits of eating fish outweigh the risks, Health Canada advises that most people can eat up to 150 g of certain fish per week (fresh/frozen tuna, shark, swordfish, escolar, marlin, orange roughy). Children and women who are pregnant or may become pregnant, or who are breast-feeding, are advised to reduce consumption of those fish. But salmon contains very low levels of mercury and carries no special recommendations.

Amy Toffelmire