FOOD HISTORY: Lox/Smoked Salmon

The term Lox comes from the German word for salmon - "lachs". Lox, is not smoked, however, as is commonly believed. While all Lox is cured (dry or wet, in a brine) with salt/ sugar and sometimes spices, Lox  becomes Smoked Salmon when it is further cold smoked (submitted to smoke at between 70 - 90F for 1 - 3 days). This does not cook the salmon but imparts a smokey flavor to the fish. The salting of fish became known to populations living by the sea in ancient times when they discovered that they could make salt by evaporation of sea water.They discovered that, in addition to the salt enhancing the flavor of  fish, packing it in salt or placing it into a salt solution (brine) could preserve the fish, as well. The earliest record of salt preservation of food comes from the writings of Cato the Elder, in about 200 BC. In the Middle Ages, fishermen in Scandinavia found that salmon buried in the sand  at seaside could be cured and, thus, have enhanced flavor and, also, be preserved  by the salty ocean water washing over the buried fish. In Scandinavian languages, this kind of cured salmon is called Gravlax"; "grav" meaning "coffin" or "hole in the ground" and "lax" or "laks" meaning salmon. While this way of curing salmon is not used today, cured, unsmoked salmon still is called Gravlax in the Scandinavian countries. In Britian and Europe, smoking and drying fish as a means of preserving was known from very early times. This knowledge allowed merchants  to be able to transport the preserved fish very long distances as a means of  trade. However, in the 1840's more rapid means of  transportation (railroads, steamships, etc.) made the demand (and need) for heavily salted and heavily smoked preserved fish decline. At the same time, Lox and Smoked Salmon, as we know it today, came into being. Because  heavily salted, smoked fish was not needed for long distance transportation any more, the reason to lightly cure salmon, with or without further smoking, was only to flavor the fish rather than preserve it. The various and diversly flavored cured salmon products available today from different parts of the world have to do with several factors; the local source of the salmon used, the salting process (wet or dry cured), the smoking process, if used, and the type of wood (usually of local origin) used to provide the smoke.