Lox vs Smoked Salmon: What’s the Catch?

New York City is a bagel town. Other cities like Philadelphia and Los Angeles… I’m sorry, they just aren’t the same. I lived in NYC for five years and I still dream about some of the bagels I had while I lived there. My go-to order: lox, scallion cream cheese, red onion, tomato, capers (if they have them) on a pumpernickel bagel. One time I ordered that and the person behind the counter said, “You mean smoked salmon?” And I thought…do I?! What is the difference between lox and smoked salmon? Is there one? Let’s find out what’s the deal when it comes to lox vs smoked salmon. 

What is lox?

Lox is cured salmon. Specifically, it is the filet from the belly of the salmon that is dry cured, meaning it is rubbed in salt and left to sit for a while. This is a preservation technique, so it helps keep the salmon fresh while also infusing it with a salty flavor. Once the curing is complete, it is sliced paper thin and slapped on a bagel

The word lox is a borrowed word from Yiddish and harkens back to the long association of lox and bagels with Jewish delis. One of the rules for kosher food is that meat and dairy cannot be served together. However, lox is considered pareve—a neutral food—so it can be eaten with dairy, making lox and cream cheese a kosher-friendly deli staple.

What is smoked salmon?

Smoked salmon is also salmon. It can be cut from the belly, but also from other parts of the fish. To make smoked salmon, you first cure the fish (rub it with salt, just as you would with lox). But then, after the curing, you smoke the salmon (makes sense), which helps further preserve the fish and adds a smoky flavor. 

There are two types of smoking: hot and cold. The “cold” in this situation is around 90 degrees Fahrenheit; the “hot” is around 120 degrees. Cold smoked salmon has a lighter smoky flavor and a more delicate texture, whereas hot smoked salmon is smokier and the texture is slightly flaky. 

Smoked salmon vs lox: What’s the difference?

Side by side, they seem pretty much the same. But if you’re asking, is lox smoked salmon? The answer is no. And you can tell from tasting the two side-by-side. Here’s the breakdown of lox vs smoked salmon: Lox is saltier and maintains more of its fishy-ness, both in texture and taste. Smoked salmon often has a more complex flavor—especially if you smoke it using a wood with a distinct flavor like hickory. 

But often, you’re being tricked at the deli. It’s not uncommon for a menu to say “lox” when what they really have is smoked salmon. The words are frequently swapped for each other, which can make it difficult to distinguish between them by taste alone. For me, it’s not a problem though. Whatever it is, it’s going on my bagel.

About the Author

Luke Field

Luke Field is a writer and actor originally from Philadelphia. He was the former Head Writer of branded content at CollegeHumor and was also a contributing writer and actor to the CollegeHumor Originals cast. He has extensive improv and sketch stage experience, performing both at The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater and with their Touring Company. In addition to writing, he also works as a Story Producer, most recently on season 4 of Accident, Suicide, or Murder on Oxygen. Keep your eyes peeled for his brief but impactful appearance as Kevin, the screaming security guard, in the upcoming feature The Disruptors, directed by Adam Frucci.

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