We know that salmon is the star of the potlatch. We filet it, freeze it, can it, serve it on bagels, or bake it into pies. If we’re lucky, we might get to score a deep red bundle of dried fish called “salmon candy.” But salmon can be even more versatile than you think. We put together this list of surprising salmon product ideas, so you can see all the ways Alaska’s wild-caught migratory fish can be put to use.
1. Salmon caviar
When you think of caviar, you might picture the almost black roe of wild sturgeon from Russia — the kind millionaires eat on their scrambled eggs. Connoisseurs also seek out the so-called “red caviar” made from salmon, which is called икра (or “ikra”) in Russian and イクラ (or “‘ikura”) in Japanese.
Have you ever had boba tea? It’s that cold, fruity tea with the wide straw and the little tapioca balls that pop in your mouth. Salmon caviar tastes sort of like a salty boba, with the same pop and an intense saltwater flavor that melts away on your tongue. You can often find it in Japanese restaurants served on top of a roll of seaweed and rice. It’s usually not much more expensive than the other rolls on the menu.
Salmon caviar is processed throughout Alaska, including at E&E Foods in Kenai. Usually, experienced roe technicians lightly rub salmon skeins over an open-holed mesh to scrape off the eggs, which are then cured in a salty brine. There’s another popular salmon egg product in Japan called すじこ ( or “‘sujiko”), where the eggs are left on the skein.
You don’t need to be a Japanese salmon technician to enjoy salmon caviar. This article from Alaska Knit Nat explains how to take a fresh salmon you’ve caught, brine the eggs, and enjoy this delicacy at a fraction of its price.
2. Dog food
Maybe this one isn’t so surprising. Where, after all, did the nickname “dog salmon” come from? As folk wisdom goes, chum salmon are less tasty than reds or Chinooks, so they get fed to the dogs. According to the American Kennel Club, dogs can enjoy modest portions of cooked, carefully deboned salmon.
Alaska salmon is making inroads into the sustainable pet food industry. AlaSkins, a company based in Kenai has a tasty salmon product idea for pets: dried strips of salmon skin as a rawhide alternative. Trident Seafoods’ line of Alaska Naturals sells salmon oil food toppers that add nutrition and flavor to dry dog food. Candiae sells dry puppy food made from salmon.
3. A beautiful salmon product idea: salmon otolith jewelry
The earbones of fish, called otoliths, are tiny, feather-like flakes that can be turned into beautiful jewelry. Halibut otoliths are bigger than earbones from other fish, so you find them more often. However, one jewelry maker from Sitka named StrawberryDesignsAK has a unique salmon product idea. She uses salmon otoliths for earrings. Another seller uses salmon otoliths, skin, and roe for her creations.
4. Salmon skin in Native crafts
Audrey Armstrong, an Athabaskan artist, teaches a course at the Sheldon Jackson Museum in Sitka about how to create bowls, pitchers, and other vessels using dried salmon skin. She became interested in skin sewing after a late coho salmon run inspired her to think about how her ancestors used salmon to create clothing and other useful objects.
The salmon skin bowls are durable and beautifully translucent. When you hold one, you can see your fingers through the tightly-stretched skin.
Other parts of salmon also figure into Native crafts. At the Alaska Native Heritage Center, expert salmon-skin tanner June Pardue helps visitors learn about how these products have always been a part of everyday life in her Alutiiq culture. By combining other natural ingredients, Pardue can turn slippery, smelling salmon skin into a durable waterproof textile for handbags, jewelry, mukluks, and slippers.
5. ‘You’re putting what on your face?’
Now, this might be a little gross for some of you. Facial serums made in South Korea contain salmon sperm. It’s supposed to help moisturize your skin and preserve its elasticity as you age.
You don’t have to travel to Seoul to find this hot new “K-beauty” product. There are several Amazon listings ranging from $10 to $100.
6. Sustainable salmon sperm plastic
Just when you thought you’d washed your hands of salmon sperm, researchers in China have found a way to create sustainable plastics. They’ve even created a coffee mug made of salmon sperm plastic.
When salmon DNA combines with a chemical made from vegetable oil, it makes a squishy substance called hydrogel. A second freeze-drying process removes moisture. Engineers have “aqua-welded” the new substance into coffee mugs, puzzle pieces, and a model of DNA made from, well, DNA. Carbon emissions from these processes are 97 percent lower than traditional plastic manufacturing.
You may never have coffee out of a salmon sperm cup. This material is still just a laboratory experiment, and other biodegradable plastics, such as those made from algae, cornstarch, or sawdust, show more promise.
7. Salmon in Your Garden
Savvy Alaskans know that a dead salmon in your garden can help your peppers grow. An organic fertilizer company called Bloom City has swapped rotting fish carcasses for a more user-friendly product. Their fertilizers contain salmon emulsions and oils which provide protein, nitrogen, phosphorus, and other minerals to your plants.
A great way to keep abreast of emerging salmon products is through the Symphony of Seafood competition held each year by the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation. If you’d like to learn more about where your salmon comes from on the Kenai Peninsula, visit Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association’s website.