Smoked salmon, which is prized for its salty, fireside flavor, is often considered a delicacy owing to its relatively high cost.

It’s commonly mistaken for lox, another salmon product that’s cured but not smoked.

However, like lox, smoked salmon is usually enjoyed on a bagel or crackers with other toppings like cream cheese, cucumber, or tomato.

This article explains everything you need to know about smoked salmon, including its nutrients, curing methods, and health benefits and risks.

Nutrition facts

Smoked salmon is relatively low in calories while boasting high quality protein, essential fats, and several vitamins and minerals.

A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of smoked salmon provides (1):

  • Calories: 117
  • Protein: 18 grams
  • Fat: 4 grams
  • Sodium: 600–1,200 mg
  • Phosphorus: 13% of the Daily Value (DV)
  • Copper: 26% of the DV
  • Selenium: 59% of the DV
  • Riboflavin: 9% of the DV
  • Niacin: 30% of the DV
  • Vitamin B6: 16% of the DV
  • Vitamin B12: 136% of the DV
  • Vitamin E: 9% of the DV
  • Vitamin D: 86% of the DV
  • Choline: 16% of the DV

What’s more, smoked salmon is a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids, supplying a combined 0.5 grams of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) per 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving (1).

These fats are considered essential because your body cannot make them, so you must obtain them from your diet.

EPA and DHA are important for brain function, heart health, and healthy aging (2, 3, 4, 5).

Salt content

Due to how it’s processed, smoked salmon is high in sodium, containing 600–1,200 mg per 3.5-ounce (100 gram) serving (1, 6).

In comparison, the same serving of fresh salmon provides 75 mg of sodium (7).

The Institute of Medicine (IOM) and U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recommend limiting sodium intake to 2,300 mg per day to reduce your risk of heart disease and stroke (8, 9).

The World Health Organization (WHO) and American Heart Association (AHA) advise an even lower threshold — 2,000 and 1,500 mg per day, respectively (10, 11).

As such, you may want to monitor your intake of smoked salmon, particularly if you’re sensitive to salt.

summary

Smoked salmon is an excellent source of protein, numerous vitamins, and omega-3 fatty acids. Yet, it’s much higher in sodium than fresh salmon.

How smoked salmon is made

Smoking is a processing method for flavoring, cooking, or preserving food by exposing it to smoke. It’s commonly used with meat, poultry, and fish.

The smoking process

To smoke salmon, thawed, boneless fillets are covered in salt — and occasionally sugar — and allowed to sit for 12–24 hours to draw out the moisture through a process called curing.

The longer the curing process, the more salt the salmon contains.

By drawing out moisture, the salt enhances flavor and acts as a preservative to prevent the growth of harmful bacteria that could cause food poisoning.

Next, the fillets are rinsed with water to remove excess salt before being transferred to a smoking kiln to dry. The drying process helps the fillets develop a pellicle, which is a coating of protein that allows smoke to better adhere to the surface of the fish.

Attached to the kiln is a smoker that burns wood chips or sawdust — typically from oak, maple, or hickory trees — to produce smoke.

Cold- vs. hot-smoked salmon

Salmon can be either hot- or cold-smoked. The major difference is the temperature of the smoking chamber.

For cold-smoked salmon, the temperature should be 50–90°F (10–32°C) for 20–24 hours. This temperature range is not hot enough to cook the salmon, so extra care should be taken during preparation and curing to reduce the risk of foodborne illnesses (12).

Conversely, for hot smoking, the chamber must be warm enough to achieve an internal temperature of at least 145°F (63°C) for at least 30 minutes to properly cook the salmon (12).

Most smoked salmon on the market is cold-smoked. You can distinguish hot-smoked varieties because their packaging generally states that they’ve been fully cooked (13, 14).

Cold-smoked salmon tends to be smoother and mild while hot-smoked salmon is flaky and smokier in taste.

Food scientists generally advise against using cold-smoking methods at home because of the food safety risks involved. Yet, hot smoking can be safely performed at home with the proper equipment and techniques (15).

Selection and storage

Whereas some varieties of smoked salmon require refrigeration, others don’t until the package is opened. Check the product label for recommendations for storage.

Once opened, smoked salmon can be refrigerated for up to 2 weeks or frozen for 3 months (16).

You should avoid smoked salmon that has lots of dark bits. These bits tend to have an unpleasant taste and should have been trimmed off — though they’re sometimes left on the final product to increase package weight and cost.

Summary

Smoked salmon is made by curing fillets with salt, then placing them in a smoking kiln. Most fillets are cold-smoked, meaning the temperature they’re cooked at is too low to kill potentially harmful bacteria.

Health benefits and risks

Smoked salmon provides numerous health benefits, but you should keep a few downsides in mind.

Benefits of smoked salmon

The omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA, which fatty fish like salmon provide, have been linked to a reduced risk of heart disease, certain cancers, and age-related mental decline (17, 18, 19, 20).

These fats may work by lowering triglycerides, reducing inflammation, and maintaining brain structure and function.

Nonetheless, other nutrients in fatty fish may be partly responsible for these effects, as several studies on omega-3 supplements have failed to find the same benefits (21, 22, 23).

The USDA recommends that adults eat at least 8 ounces (227 grams) of seafood per week to obtain around 250 mg of combined EPH and DHA (8).

Smoked salmon also boasts a number of vitamins and minerals that are vital to your health. A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving contains a whopping 136% of your daily vitamin B12 needs, as well as 86% of the DV for vitamin D (1).

What’s more, the same serving size provides over half of your daily needs for selenium, which acts as an antioxidant and may protect against several illnesses (1).

Risks of smoked salmon

A 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving of smoked salmon can harbor over half of the daily limit for sodium set by the USDA (9).

Thus, if you watch your salt consumption, you may want to moderate your intake of smoked salmon or eat fresh salmon instead.

Furthermore, observational studies tie smoked and processed meats to an increased risk of certain cancers, especially colorectal cancer (24).

Smoked salmon may also increase your risk of listeriosis, a foodborne illness caused by the bacterium Listeria monocytogenes (25, 26, 27).

This bacterium is easily destroyed by heat but grows at 34–113°F (1–45°C), the temperature range at which cold-smoked salmon is treated.

Listeriosis is more likely to infect older adults, people with weakened immune systems, and pregnant women and their newborns. Therefore, these groups should avoid cold-smoked salmon — although canned and shelf-stable varieties are considered safe (28, 29).

summary

Smoked salmon provides heart-healthy omega-3s, as well as several other nutrients, but it’s particularly high in salt. Cold-smoked varieties may increase your risk of listeriosis.

Ways to eat smoked salmon

Here are a few tasty ways to enjoy smoked salmon:

  • on a bagel with cream cheese
  • atop your favorite salad
  • on toast with scrambled eggs
  • baked into gratin
  • in potato-leek soup
  • mixed into a pasta dish
  • stirred into a dip for crackers
  • on a platter with vegetables

What’s more, you can make hot-smoked salmon at home if you have your own smoker.

Start by curing fillets in salt for at least 4 hours. Next, pat them dry and place them in a smoker at 225°F (107°C) until they reach an internal temperature of 145°F (63°C). You can monitor their temperature using a meat thermometer.

summary

You can enjoy smoked salmon in countless ways. Many people like to eat it in dips or on bagels, salads, and pastas.

The bottom line

Smoked salmon is a salty, cured fish renowned for its fatty texture and distinctive flavor. It’s packed with high quality protein, essential omega-3 fats, and several vitamins and minerals.

However, it contains a significant amount of sodium, and cold-smoked varieties may increase your risk of listeriosis.

Still, this smoky delicacy can be a healthy addition to your diet when eaten in moderation.