Lox vs Smoked Salmon: Is There a Difference?

I’ll eat salmon in any form, but I’ll admit it: all of the different types and names for salmon gets really confusing. I mean, is there a difference between lox vs smoked salmon? And what about Nova vs gravlax?

First thing’s first, the raw salmon you eat in your sushi and the raw salmon lox you eat on your bagel are very different. Sushi-grade salmon is fresh, high-quality raw fish that’s served as is, while the salmon on your bagel has been cured. The technique of curing fish arose from a time before refrigerators when fish needed to be preserved. This is done through a variety of techniques that ultimately serve to dehydrate the fish and keep bacteria at bay. Here are some of those curing techniques explained.

Lox, derived from the German word for salmon, lachs, has not only become a Jewish-American staple, but a New York staple. Typically it’s served on a bagel with cream cheese, capers, onions, and tomatoes, and the combination is magical. Most people don’t pause to consider what they’re eating and assume that it’s plain ol’ salmon, but the process to turn salmon into lox is worth understanding.

The term lox refers to salmon that has been cured in a salt-sugar brine for a long time. This process makes it salty, silky, and perfect for bagels and cream cheese. You can make your own lox, but it takes some time.

Smoked salmon is a type of prepared salmon that has been cured with smoke. It’s not always raw since smoked salmon that’s been hot-smoked is cooked all the way through. Hot-smoked salmon is great for dips, and in my family we often serve it with mayo on crackers with a squeeze of lemon, which is amazing and delicious.

But there’s also cold-smoked salmon, which is uncooked, but has the same smokey flavor. Like lox, cold-smoked salmon is great on a bagel, but don’t limit yourself there. There are a lot of other ways to eat it too, like in pasta, in an omelette, or even on a pizza.

Gravlax is the Scandinavian version of lox. It involves the same brine as lox with the addition of dill and other spices as well as some alcohol like brandy or gin and sometimes lemon juice. The result is a very flavorful salmon that’s often served on rye bread with mustard, or with potatoes.

Nova lox originated in Nova Scotia. The process for making it varies depending on who you ask, but generally it is a process that combines both the curing of lox and the smoking of smoked salmon. First it’s cured in a brine, and then it’s cFrom a Medieval way to preserve fish, to a Jewish delicacy, and now a universally-known brunch favorite, the bagel and lox/smoked salmon combo has been through a lot. It’s pretty amazing that that same cured salmon people were eating hundreds of years ago is still popular to this day.

Next time you’re eating your bagel and lox, be sure to thank your distant ancestors for creating the culinary masterpiece that is cured salmon. And remember: there’s a big difference between lox vs smoked salmon.


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