Which Trout Has Pink Meat? It’s All in the Fish’s Diet

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Man catching trout with both hands.

The flesh of any trout is completely dependent upon the fish’s diet. If a trout lives in a cold tailrace river below a dam and eats a diet of carotene-rich mysis shrimp, its flesh will be pink or orange. If a trout lives in a freestone river where its diet consists of mostly aquatic insects or small fish, its flesh will be more pale in color.

A few years ago, I caught two really nice trout within the span of a couple of days. I harvested both fish. 

One was a 20-inch rainbow trout. It was caught in a mainstem reservoir on the Snake River in eastern Idaho. The other was a 21-inch rainbow-cutthroat hybrid (often called a cuttbow) from a higher-elevation reservoir. 

At the time, we were a family of three. I fileted both trout for the grill one evening, and was surprised at the difference in the color of their meat. The cuttbow’s flesh was a bright orange, much like a salmon. The rainbow’s meat was a pale pink — almost white. 

What’s more, the cuttbow’s flesh had a much better taste, and it was quite firm. I suspect the rainbow was likely a hatchery-raised trout released into the lake. The cuttbow was a wild fish, born and raised in the drainage where I caught it.

This was when I learned that the color of a trout’s flesh is almost completely dependent upon its diet. Fish that eat food sources rich in carotene will have deep pink, orange or even red flesh. Trout that eat food sources without as much carotene will have paler flesh. 

Diet Over Species

Man's hand holding a trout fish.
Hatchery-raised trout, like this rainbow from a fish hatchery in Idaho, will likely have pale flesh due to its basic diet that’s just designed to help the fish grow quickly.

Certainly, there are some modest differences in the flesh of trout that depend on the species of the fish. For instance, you might notice a subtle difference between the flesh of a brown trout and a rainbow trout that share the same habitat.

But, generally speaking, a trout’s flesh is going to depend on what the trout eats. Also, it will depend on the origin of the fish. 

If you’re fishing where local fish and game managers have stocked trout, chances are, you’re going to catch trout that have pale flesh. This is due to the very basic diet fed to hatchery-reared trout.

Hatchery trout are fed grain- and filler-heavy diets to encourage quick growth. When they’re released, their flesh is pale.

If you’re fishing in a river or stream where trout are wild or native, you’ll likely catch fish that eat natural prey that contains carotene. The color of their flesh might be pink or even bright orange, depending on what they eat. 

Now, of course, if you give hatchery fish time to adjust their diets to what’s available to them after they’re released, their flesh will take on the same color as wild trout.

Farm-raised Trout

Grilled fish recipe on a dish with a plain backdrop.
Trout raised for the consumer market are fed diets rich in carotenoids, which gives their flesh a pink or orange hue, even when cooked.

You’ve likely been to a trout hatchery before. And you may have even paid a bit of money to feed the fish the pellets that farm-raised trout get for food. 

Most hatcheries that raise trout for eventual release into rivers and lakes feed the fish a diet that doesn’t have any carotenoids.

But farm-raised trout that are grown for commercial purposes, like the famous Ruby Red trout, are fed diets rich in canthaxanthin or astaxanthin. These chemicals contain carotenoids and are added to the diets of the farmed fish. 

This makes the fish more appealing to consumers when it shows up on grocery store shelves. Ruby Red trout filets look like salmon filets because of the diet they are given. 

Does It Matter?

Truth be told, I stay away from farmed fish, both salmon and trout. I’m sure there are trout farms that are very responsible and take the surrounding ecosystem into account when they raise fish. But if you have to add chemicals to the fish’s food to make the fish marketable, I’m just not interested. 

As for taste, I suppose it depends on you, as the angler or the consumer. I think wild trout simply tastes better than hatchery trout. I also think the flesh of wild trout  is firmer and has more flavor than hatchery trout. 

But, in the end, you get to be the judge. Hatchery trout are released by fisheries managers for the sole purpose of being caught and harvested. And the difference in taste might not be noticeable. 

Final Thoughts

In most scenarios, the color of a trout’s meat is going to depend on its diet. Wild trout that eat natural prey containing carotene will have more colorful flesh. Hatchery trout raised in raceways and fed a diet of pellets will have paler flesh.

Trout raised for commercial purposes are fed diets that contain carotenoids that give the flesh color. This is done purely to make the fish more appealing to consumers. 

In the end, you get to decide which is better — wild trout or hatchery trout. Keep in mind that hatchery trout are raised for the sole purpose of being caught and harvested

While the flesh of certain trout will vary in color depending on the species, that’s usually not a dominant factor. A fish’s diet is almost completely responsible for the color of its flesh. 

Q&As:

Why Do Some Trout Have Pink Meat?

The color of a trout’s meat is largely dependent on what it eats, not what species it is. If a trout has a diet high in carotenoids, the flesh will be pink or even orange. Otherwise, the flesh will be pale or even white. 

What is Ruby Red Trout?

Ruby Red trout is a commercially raised trout from the northern Great Lakes region of Ontario, Canada. The rainbow trout farmed in the lakes are fed a diet rich in carotenoids, which makes their flesh a bright orange or even red. 

Can You Eat Trout That Don’t Have Pink Meat?

Certainly. Pale-colored trout isn’t necessarily bad. It just means the trout was fed a diet that didn’t contain carotenoids. It may taste perfectly fine and be perfectly healthy.

Do Different Trout Have Different Colored Meat?

Sometimes, but the predominant factor in the color of a trout’s flesh is its diet. 

Chris Hunt Avatar

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