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How to tell Salmon from Gravlax from Lox

Deli speak is a language all its own: “I’ll have an everything bialy with schmear and lox, please.” Yet the hardest part of making it up to the counter—besides figuring out what you actually want to order—is sorting your lox and nova from your gravlax and kippered salmon. What’s the difference, anyway?

Well, it all hinges on fat content, smokiness, and texture. Even experiences Salmon lovers can be fooled. There are some distinct differences between Gravlax and Lox. Read this informative article to learn what makes Gravlax different from Lox. Consequently, the next time you go shopping you will know the right product to buy.


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Gravlax is cured (but not smoked) salmon, except there’s not a lot of salt in the cure and some combination of dill, lemon, and alcohol (often vodka, but sometimes gin in newer preparations). In the past, Gravlax was traditionally buried. Grav, stands for “grave” as it was buried in the ground. Consequently, it was common to put some weight on it. Much like putting it under a heavy pan in the refrigerator. There it would cure (often for two days or more) to help the flavors penetrate the fish’s flesh.


As with anything at an old-school counter, there’s tradition, and then there’s the newfangled way of doing things. Lox traditionally refers to belly lox, which is salt-cured, but not smoked. Quite often, shoppers confuse the difference between Lox and Cold Smoked Salmon. Additionally, what most people assume to be lox is actually smoked salmon.

Here’s where it gets tricky: When most people are referring to smoked salmon, what they actually want is cold-smoked salmon.

Cold-smoked salmon is typically wet or dry-brined with salt, sugar (to help the salt penetrate the flesh) and then smoked at no higher than 80°F for between 10 and 15 hours, depending on the smoker, and the size and type of salmon. This is where the art of smoking comes into play. Cold-smoking is a style where the burning wood and smoke are somewhere else and get blown over the salmon from afar over a long period of time. Within that umbrella category of cold-smoked salmon, there is Nova (Nova Scotia), Scottish salmon, Norwegian salmon, Irish salmon, and Western Nova.


Traditionally, Nova refers to where the species is from and also the style of smoking. Nova is supposed to be cold-smoked salmon from Nova Scotia—more specifically, from Gaspé. Gaspé Nova, smoked in the style of Nova Scotia, tends to be fattier, milder in flavor, and less smoky. It is subtle in smoke with little oil and a mild flavor. The Irish is fattier than the Norwegian with milder smoke, and a similar texture to Nova. Wild Pacific Salmon—that “Western Nova”—has a richer flavor, with no real smokiness at all, and a softer texture. And, last, the Scottish has the strongest smoke of all; it’s also general fatty and silky.

If you’re looking to buy a mound of cold-smoked salmon, you opt for our delicious King Salmon from the Pacific Northwest. Traditional Nova is the most popular item on offer, and Scottish is on the rise. Treasure of the Sea produces a remarkably silky Cold Smoked Salmon. Kippered salmon is wet-brined and hot-smoked. Hot-smoked has more of a cooked salmon texture.

Pastrami-Rubbed Salmon

If something is “pastrami-rubbed,” or rubbed with anything else, it’s generally cold-smoked salmon that’s been brined with a spice mixture. Then there’s such a thing as a loin cut (despite the fact that salmons don’t have, er, loins): It’s the most desirable part of Scottish salmon—think of it like a sashimi cut. Also look out for collars and flegals (FLEE-GUHLS), a.k.a. the heads and wings, an underrated trimmed side of cold-smoked salmon that veteran appetizing shop-goers are privy to, even if newbies cringe at the thought of it. Finally, pickled lox, is belly lox that undergoes a pickling process in brine.

Whichever way you go, we’re positive that after reading this article that you’ll be experienced enough to tell the difference.

Written by: Treasures of the Sea

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