Steelhead Trout vs. Salmon: What’s the Difference?

Are you a seafood lover who’s curious about the differences between Steelhead Trout vs. Salmon? Or you’re looking to impress your friends at your next dinner party with some fish facts! Either way, this blog post is for you! We’ll deeply dive into the world of steelhead trout and salmon to find out what sets them apart.

What Is Steelhead Trout?

Steelhead Trout, also known as Oncorhynchus mykiss, is a type of rainbow trout that is native to the West Coast and Alaska. It is an anadromous fish that hatches in rivers and streams and spends most of its life in the ocean before spawning to freshwater. Steelheads have a flavor and appearance similar to salmon, though they are not the same species.

They are a popular sport fish in North America, with an impressive ability to adapt to different environments. Steelhead Trout are known for their perplexing behavior, making them a challenge for anglers.

What Is Salmon?

Salmon is an iconic species of fish that is native to both the North Atlantic and Pacific Oceans. It has a characteristic orangey-pink flesh and is popular among humans as a food source. Salmon are anadromous, meaning they live in fresh and saltwater, making them unique. They are born in freshwater, where they spend a few months before migrating to the sea.

Seven species of Pacific salmon and one species of Atlantic salmon are commercially important. Smoked salmon is a popular preparation of this fish, which can also be eaten raw or cooked in various ways. Salmon is rich in protein and omega-3 fatty acids, making it a nutritious and delicious addition to any meal.

Why Is Steelhead Called Salmon?

Steelhead trout is not a salmon but a type of trout belonging to the same family of salmonids. It is native to cold-water tributaries of the Pacific basin in Northeast Asia and North America and is named after its metallic, almost transparent head coloration. Steelhead has similar characteristics to other Pacific salmon, except for one major difference – they are repeat spawners, unlike other Pacific salmon. Steelhead’s meat is pink like the salmon’s and is more flavorful than the light-colored flesh of the trout. Steelhead is farmed primarily in British Columbia and Chile and is one of the top sport fish in North America.

How to Tell the Difference Between Steelhead Trout and Salmon?

Steelhead trout and salmon may look alike, but some key differences in their appearance are worth noting. To tell them apart, you’ll need to consider size, color, fat content, mouth shape, and spawning behavior.

Size: Steelhead trout tend to remain smaller than salmon and can reach up to 35 inches long. In comparison, salmon can be much larger, with some species reaching up to 70 inches in length.

Color: Steelhead trout and salmon both have bright orange-pink flesh that cooks to an opaque color. However, salmon have dark or black gums when you open their mouths, whereas steelheads have white or light gums.

Fat Content: Salmon contains more fat than steelhead trout, which makes the meat more tender and flavorful. Steelhead offers a milder flavor and is leaner than salmon.

Spawning Behavior: Both steelhead trout and salmons are anadromous, meaning they tend to return to their original birthplace to spawn. However, steelheads start their life as rainbow trout, while salmon is always salmon from day one.

By following these simple steps, you can tell the difference between steelhead trout and salmon when you see them in the wild or on your plate.

Taste Differences Between Steelhead Trout and Salmon

Steelhead trout and salmon are both members of the same family of fish, but they do have some notable differences in taste. Although both fish has a mild flavor and flaky texture, steelhead trout has a milder taste than salmon and lacks the fatty mouthfeel of salmon. Steelhead trout also has a more delicate flavor than salmon, making it more popular with some people.

The other major difference is that steelhead trout starts its life as a rainbow trout, while a salmon is always a salmon from day one to its mature life. No matter which type of fish you eat, steelhead trout and salmon will add great flavor to any dish.

Nutritional Value Comparison Steelhead Trout vs. Salmon

Comparing the nutritional values of steelhead trout and salmon, it is clear that salmon is the healthier option.

  1. Salmon contains higher levels of monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats and vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, and folate.
  2. It also offers more omega-3 fatty acids, minerals, and vitamins than steelhead trout. In terms of calories, salmon has 150 per serving compared to 120 in steelhead trout.
  3. Other differences include saturated fat (3 grams in salmon versus 2.3 grams in trout) and total fat (12% daily value for salmon versus 8% for trout).
  4. Trout may have a slight advantage in terms of cholesterol, with only 60mg compared to 70mg in salmon.

All in all, salmon is the healthier choice due to its higher nutrient content.

Where to Find Steelhead Trout and Salmon?

Steelhead Trout and Salmon can be found in most wide river areas. They are from the Salmon family and are one of the top sport fish in North America. Steelhead Trout and Salmon are anadromous, meaning they spend most of their adult lives in the ocean before returning to freshwater streams to spawn.

Steelhead Trout are scientifically known as Oncorhynchus mykiss, and they have succulent fish meat that sells for around $4.25. Most often, you can find them in the Kamassa River area. If you’re looking to catch Steelhead Trout, using the right lure is important.

In general, they prefer gravel-bottomed, fast-flowing, well-oxygenated rivers and streams.

How Do Steelhead Trout vs. Salmon Differ in Diet and Feeding Habits?

Steelhead trout and salmon may look and taste similar, but they are actually distinct fish species. Steelhead trout are more omnivorous than salmon, feeding on various small fish, insects, and crustaceans. Wild steelhead trout diets include a larger contribution from freshwater habitat than hatchery fish, making them more likely to feed on pupating and emerging aquatic insects.

Salmon has a stronger flavor and is higher in fat than steelhead trout, which has 1.5 times less fat than salmon. In a single serving of 100 grams of steelhead trout, there are 2 grams of saturated fat, 20 grams of protein, and other vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids. Therefore, steelhead is considered one of the healthier seafood choices, even more so than salmon, due to its lower fat content and higher nutritional value.

Which Is Healthier, Salmon or Steelhead Trout?

When it comes to healthy eating, salmon and steelhead trout are both excellent choices. Salmon is higher in monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, and folate. Steelhead trout provides slightly better health benefits with more omega-3 and 6, less fat, and calories. However, salmon stands out because of its stronger flavor and higher number of omega-3 fatty acids. Steelhead trout is milder in flavor and better suited for a dip. Both salmon and trout possess high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, but salmon contains less total cholesterol but total fat. Therefore, when it comes to health benefits, salmon is the winner here.

You may want to read: Keta vs. Sockeye Salmon

Is Steelhead Trout More Expensive than Salmon?

Steelhead trout and salmon are both popular fish choices for many people, but there is a difference in price between them. Salmon is generally more expensive than steelhead trout due to its limited availability; salmon can only spawn once, making the stock of salmon more limited than other fish. Salmon is also richer in monounsaturated, polyunsaturated, and vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, and folate.

Steelhead trout has softer flesh and higher fat content than salmon but is not as rich in nutrients. While the price varies per season, steelhead trout is usually way more affordable than salmon; the price difference ranges from $1-3 per pound, depending on the market. Additionally, steelhead trout starts its life as a rainbow trout, while salmon is always a salmon from day one to its mature life. All in all, steelhead trout is the perfect substitute for salmon in most recipes and a great choice if you’re looking for an affordable option.

FAQS about Steelhead Trout vs. Salmon

Is Steelhead Trout Better than Salmon?

Steelhead trout and salmon are popular fish varieties offering a wide range of health benefits. Although both species belong to the family of salmonids and can be found in fresh and saltwater, steelhead is rainbow trout, not salmon. Steelhead trout contains slightly more omega-3 and six fatty acids and also has less fat and calories than salmon.

The texture of steelhead is softer, with higher fat content. In comparison, salmon is richer in monounsaturated fats, polyunsaturated fats, and vitamins B1, B2, B3, B5, B6, and folate. Both species are excellent sources of omega-3 fatty acids, but salmon has more vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids per serving and a stronger flavor. In most recipes, steelhead trout is an ideal substitute for salmon, but salmon is the better choice when it comes to health benefits.

Does Steelhead Taste Like Salmon?

Steelhead trout and salmon are both types of fish that belong to the same family and spend considerable time in saltwater. Despite this, their taste is quite different. Salmon has a rich, buttery flavor with a slightly oily taste, while steelhead trout tastes like a combination between trout and salmon without the fatty mouthfeel of salmon. Steelhead trout caught in the ocean tend to taste more like salmon and have a milder, slightly less fishy flavor that is perfect for those who want to enjoy a crowd-pleasing fish dish. However, the flavor of both salmon and steelhead trout can be affected by the area they are harvested from and other factors.

Can I Substitute Steelhead Trout for Salmon?

Steelhead trout is often mistaken for salmon, as they both have bright orange-pink flesh that cooks to opaque. However, steelhead trout offers a slightly milder flavor than salmon, and many people find it has a less pungent fish flavor. Substituting steelhead trout for salmon in recipes is easy and doable. Steelhead trout can be used in recipes such as baked meals, sushi, and grilled dishes without any issue due to their strong similarities in appearance and taste. Jon Lavelle, the executive chef at Portland’s Woodsman Tavern, recommends using steelhead trout as a thriftier substitute for salmon since it offers a distinct taste and is just as flavorful. Therefore, if you’re looking for a substitute for salmon in your recipes, then steelhead trout is definitely worth considering.

Is Steelhead Trout Actually Salmon?

Steelhead trout and salmon may look similar and come from the same family, but they are actually two different species. Steelhead trout are considered rainbow trout or Oncorhynchus mykiss and are anadromous, meaning they migrate upriver from the sea to spawn. Steelhead is distinct from other rainbow trout in that they have a pronounced ocean phase, while other rainbow trout remain primarily in their freshwater environment. Salmon, on the other hand, also belong to the family of salmonids but are found in both fresh and saltwater. Therefore, while steelhead trout may look like a salmon, it is not a salmon.


This article has helped to clear up any confusion you had about the differences between steelhead trout and salmon. If you have further questions, please leave a comment below or reach out to us directly. Thanks for reading, and happy fishing!


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