Arctic char is a member of the salmonidae family that can live in either freshwater or saltwater. It’s a healthy fish that lives further north than any other freshwater fish. Native to the waters of Alaska, this aptly named species has a long history as part of the Intuit Indian diet. It maintains that status, and has also become an important Alaskan gamefish. They’re native to the coasts of Canada and inland sub-arctic lakes in North America. Char can also be found in cold lakes in Scotland, Ireland, Iceland, the Alps, and even Siberia.
Unlike wild Atlantic salmon, which is commercially extinct, wild caught char is readily available, and can be ordered by most supermarkets. Consumers can also ask for farmed char, as Iceland, Norway, Canada, and Sweden are the leading exporters of the aquacultured fish. Environmentalists consider the farm-raised fish sustainable, as they are grown in inland tanks, which reduces the environmental impact on ocean fisheries. Iceland is the leading global producer, at 200 metrics tons each year.
In the wild, arctic char can grow up to 20 pounds (9 kg). Commercial fish are usually about a quarter that size. Nutritional information for this healthy fish is as follows:
- Serving size: 3 ounces
- Calories: 153
- Protein: 18 grams
- Fat: 6 grams (half of this is saturated fat)
- Cholesterol: 24 mg
From the information on salmon nutrition, char has similar health benefits.
From the diner’s viewpoint, this species has a less powerful flavor than salmon, and a moist, flakier texture. Most people find it to be milder than salmon. Recipes generally call for broiling or lightly baking. It is also popular to prepare in cedar plank recipes. Chefs often take advantage of the mild flavor, serving this fish lightly baked alongside fruit compotes, which makes for a nice contrast.
Like its cousin, arctic char is an good source of omega-3 fats, providing 0.37-grams of omega-3 fatty acids per 100-gram serving. It is also a good source of iron and potassium, which makes it a good choice for heart patients.
Consumers will likely see more of this species in the U.S., as pressures on salmon stocks keep rising. It has the potential to provide similar health benefits. Pair this with its milder flavor, and its a natural fit for the American diner.