Denmark’s official dietary guidelines recommend its citizens consume less meat, and instead opt for legumes and fish. Three-hundred-and-fifty grams of fish is recommended per week, of which 200g should be a ‘fatty fish’, such as salmon.
Smoked salmon is a particular favourite amongst Danes. Yet not all salmon are created equal. With some farmed, and some wild-caught, which do consumers prefer?
A blind taste test conducted by the University of Copenhagen sought to find out.
The researchers recruited 92 Danes aged between 18 and 65 and asked them to taste samples of conventional, organic and wild-caught smoked salmon.
In the first round, participants had no knowledge of which salmon was which. For the next round, participants were told which salmon had been produced according to which production method.
Conventional and organic salmon were the clear winners in the blind taste test. Between the two favoured by Danish consumers, the conventionally-produced salmon tended to be liked more than the organic.
However, in the second round, the results changed dramatically – with conventional salmon placing last. Organic took first place, followed by wild-caught.
“The test demonstrates that people’s expectations about a product are based on information they receive, and that this affects their overall taste experience. With smoked salmon, there seems to be a perception that wild-caught salmon ought to taste better than salmon that is conventionally farmed,” said lead study author Mausam Budhathoki.
“However, the blind test revealed that people simply preferred the taste of farmed salmon.”
Why the preference for farmed fish?
There could be several possible explanations for consumers’ preference for farmed fish, according to the study author. One could be that Danes are most familiar with the taste and colour of farmed salmon, as this is clearly the most widely available type of salmon on the market.
Indeed, the majority of sliced and vacuum-sealed smoked salmon packets sold in Denmark come from Norwegian aquaculture farms.
“Another reason may be that wild salmon has less flavour due to it being leaner than farmed salmon, as was the case here.”
The study also indicated a lack of knowledge amongst Danish consumers concerning farm-raised salmon.
“It seems that many Danes are quite confused about the differences between various salmon products,” said co-author Helene Christine Reinbach. “This is with good reason, as the salmon production chain is long and relatively opaque.”
Further, the salmon farming sector has been associated with unsustainable practices in the past. When salmon farming areas are not adequately rested, for example, or when farmed salmon escape into the wild, they can pollute the environment.
“Many factors can influence perceptions about a product,” said Reinbach. “Is there any pharmaceutical residue in it? Does it come from an overfished stock? Has it lived a natural life? And what exactly is fish welfare?”
The findings suggest wild salmon is the clear favourite concerning information about its provenance, the co-author continued. “It provides positive associations about being more natural, and consequently, better in terms of animal welfare and health.
“The fact is, however, that only farmed salmon is eligible for organic certification in Denmark, where there are strict requirements for sustainability, health and animal welfare in production.
“On the other hand, most wild salmon stocks in our part of the world are in bad shape and have higher concentrations of environmental toxins than farmed salmon.”
More on-pack information required?
In Denmark, sales of organic fish – including salmon - are slow to take off. At the same time, organic foods more generally have taken an increased market share in recent years – despite their higher price tags.
Given the taste test findings, which showed organic salmon was a favourite in both rounds, could there be potential for organic smoked salmon producers to take more of the market?
Reinbach believes so: “There is a clear opportunity for promotion, in equipping consumers with more information about the positives that differentiate organic salmon from both conventional and wild-caught salmon.
“For example, more information could be included on packaging to help guide consumers, in relation to the sustainability and health benefits of organic smoked salmon.”
The co-author continued: “At the same time, the sector should work to increase the availability of organic choices in local shops, as it can still be tough to get a hold of.”
Source: Food Quality and Preference
‘The role of production method information on sensory perception of smoked salmon – A mixed-method study from Denmark’
Published online 1 July 2021
Authors: Mausam Budhathoki, Anette Zølner, Thorkild Nielsen, Helene Christine Reinbach