You get what you pay for when buying supermarket smoked salmon

Published on
November 1, 2016

In so many things in life, you get what you pay for. Supermarket-purchased smoked salmon, it turns out, is one of those things.

With one notable exception – a taste comparison test between British supermarkets' own-label sliced smoked salmon carried out by consumer organization “Which."

Just published, the results show that of the nine premium supermarket varieties tested, samples from the Co-operative, Sainsburys’ and Marks & Spencer came out on top, while those from the discounters Aldi and Lidl were rooted at the bottom of the table.

Listed at GBP 24.90 (USD 30.54, EUR 27.92) per kilogram, the smoked salmon purchased from Aldi and Lidl was about 50 percent cheaper than the others, while the most expensive came from Marks & Spencer priced at GBP 50 (USD 61.11, EUR 56.27) per kilogram.

The Co-operative Irresistible Beech and Oak Smoked Salmon was top of the table with a test score of 89 percent and priced at GBP 47.90 (USD 58.54, EUR 53.90). Sainsbury’s Taste the Difference Oak Smoked Salmon came second with 84 percent, and priced at GBP 37.50 (USD 45.83, EUR 42.20). Marks & Spencer’s new Smoky and Robust Smoked Salmon came in third with 81 percent. These three supermarket varieties “really stood out,” according to Which and all three varieties were rated as “Best Buys.”

Best Scottish Smoked Salmon from Morrisons, Tesco’s Finest Scottish Smoked Salmon and Asda’s Extra Special Rich and Intense Smoked Salmon filled the next three places in the table, with scores of 64 percent, 61 percent and 59 percent, respectively. They were priced at GBP 41.67 (USD 50.92, EUR 46.89), GBP 40 (USD 48.88, EUR 45.01) and GBP 33.33 (USD 40.73, EUR 37.51) per kilogram, respectively.

Surprisingly given its reputation as an upmarket chain, Waitrose’s Peat and Heather Scottish Smoked Salmon received a surprising seventh place in the table with 58 percent, just above Aldi’s Specially Selected Beechwood Smoked Salmo, which received a score of 50 percent, and Lidl’s Deluxe Hickory and Applewood Scottish Smoked Salmon, which won a 45 percent rating.

The Waitrose 1 brand was rolled out in April this year and marks the supermarket chain’s largest own food brand launch since 2009; it was introduced to provide customers “the very best of Waitrose.” However, the panel assessing the smoked salmon samples “wasn’t fond of this salmon’s wet appearance, visible pellicle (outer skin) and mushy texture.”

The Waitrose 1 brand salmon was one of the costliest purchased at GBP 46.35 (USD 56.84, EUR 51.92) per kilogram.

It is notable that all the smoked salmon tested had very descriptive labels – downright longwinded, in some instances. Clearly, the days of simply labeling smoked salmon as smoked salmon are long gone.

The Which study points out that some of the labeling could be considered misleading. “Scottish Smoked” (used by Morrisons, Tesco, Waitrose and Lidl) simply means smoked in Scotland, whereas customers might be thinking they had purchased salmon from Scotland which is generally regarded as being superior to salmon produced in other countries.

To reinforce the point, Which cited the fact that at least two-thirds of the salmon eaten in the U.K. is from Norway.

Three salmon experts served as judges for the test: Lance Forman, owner of Britain’s oldest salmon curer, H Forman & Son; Paul Trudgian, founder of online fresh fish supplier and Cornish family business Fish for Thought; and chef Adam Bryant, who owns Michelin-starred Trinity restaurant in London, and regularly appears on BBC One’s Saturday Kitchen.

They awarded 50 percent of the total score based on taste, 20 percent on aroma, 15 percetn based on appearance and 15 percent for texture.

According to Which, “good smoked salmon should be a soft orangey color – not too pale a pink, nor too dark. It shouldn’t have any red-brown chewy edges: this is the pellicle, which good producers will remove. It should taste and smell clean and fresh, not overpoweringly smoky.”

In preparation for the fast-approaching holiday season, all of the products reviewed by the Which study will likely be available in abundance in coming weeks and months. And while all the varieties of smoked salmon in the Which test were in packs ranging from 100 grams to 140 grams, customers will likely be able to find whole smoked sides of salmon on display in the run up to the festive season.

Sharp-eyed shoppers on the lookout for it might also be able to find rarer, unusually flavored smoked salmon, as this is the time of the year when some truly weird and wonderful varieties make their appearances.

For example, for Christmas 2015, Good Housekeeping magazine gave its top rating to two products not examined as part of the Which study: Morrisons’ M Signature Oak Smoked Salmon with Black Pepper and Morrisons’ Christmas Tree Smoked Salmon. The magazine’s runner-up was Aldi’s Specially Selected Rowse Honey & Mora Seaweed Smoked Salmon.

Want seafood news sent to your inbox?

You may unsubscribe from our mailing list at any time. Diversified Communications | 121 Free Street, Portland, ME 04101 | +1 207-842-5500