As a Certified Health Coach many of my clients ask me about fish including mackerel. Atlantic and Spanish mackerel have many similarities which is why people ask about their differences, if any. Let’s answer, is Spanish mackerel the same as Atlantic mackerel?
Spanish mackerel and Atlantic mackerel are not the same and are different species. Spanish Mackerel weigh more and can grow twice as long as Atlantic mackerel. Atlantic mackerel is also found in Europe where Spanish mackerel aren’t found.
This article will compare their tastes, textures, cooking methods, costs, mercury levels and whether one can substitute for the other in recipes. In addition, I’ll do a side-by-side comparison of their nutrients, habitats, species and appearance.
In addition to coaching clients about them, I’ve purchased, researched and consumed both prior to, during and after writing this article.
Atlantic Mackerel and Spanish Mackerel: Habitats, Size, Weight and Appearance
When someone is shopping in the market for fresh seafood or fishing for a mackerel, it may not be immediately obvious which type they’re looking at. For this reason, we want to find out a simple method for identifying which one is which.
Therefore, let’s examine how can you tell the difference between the two mackerels.
To tell the difference between an Atlantic mackerel and a Spanish mackerel is to check their body markings. Spanish Mackerel have yellow spots on the sides while Atlantic mackerel have wavy, dark lines on the upper sides. Spanish Mackerel have a gradual sloping lateral line while Atlantic mackerel have a level, blotchy line.
Other ways to tell the difference are:
- The Atlantic mackerel two dorsal fins both have spines. The Spanish mackerel front dorsal has spines and the second soft rays.
- Spanish Mackerel are heavier and longer. Atlantic mackerel averages 12-17 inches long and weighs 2.2 pounds. Spanish mackerel averages 19-33 inches long and weighs up to 13 pounds.
- Atlantic mackerel are found in Canada and Europe where Spanish Mackerel is not found.
- Spanish Mackerel is found near Florida and the Gulf of Mexico where Atlantic mackerel is not found.
Atlantic Mackerel and Spanish Mackerel Scientific Classifications, Families, Species
Atlantic mackerels are from the following family and species:
- Family: Scombridae
- Genus: Scomber
- Species: S. scombrus
- Other names for Atlantic mackerel include: Mackerel, Boston mackerel, common mackerel.
- Norwegian mackerel is another name for Atlantic mackerel.
Spanish mackerels are from the following family and species:
- Family: Scombridae
- Genus: Scomberomorus
- Species: S. maculatus
- Common nicknames: Spotted mackerel, spotted cybium.
Both are from the same family but are a different genus and fish species. There are more mackerel species some people confuse with these two as being the same. Let’s take a quick look at them.
Sierra mackerel are found in the Pacific Ocean but are a different species than Pacific Chub or Pacific Jack.
The pacific jack mackerel was originally called horse mackerel. The FDA allowed the name to be officially changed in 1948 to increase its marketability.
The mackerel king is found off the Atlantic coast in the Atlantic Ocean, The Gulf of Mexico and South America. They are also found in the Indian Ocean.
Cero Mackerel are found off the Atlantic coast, Gulf of Mexico and South America to Brazil.
Atlantic mackerel habitats
- Atlantic mackerels are found in the western Atlantic Ocean from Canada down to the eastern coast of the United States to North Carolina. In the eastern Atlantic Ocean, they are found from Iceland and Norway and south to Mauritania.
- They are also found in the Baltic, Mediterranean and Black Seas.
- They can be found in deeper waters from the surface dow to 660 feet deep. They prefer water above 40 degrees Fahrenheit.
Spanish mackerel habitats
- Spanish mackerels are found off the Atlantic Ocean coast of the United States and in the Gulf of Mexico. They are far north as Massachusetts and south down to Florida.
- They prefer shallow waters and sand bottoms in depths from 10 to 40 feet.
Both species are found along the eastern coast of the U.S. but Spanish mackerel are found more south to the Gulf of Mexico. Atlantic mackerel are found more north in Canada.
Before going fishing, be sure to check your State park’s education programs and wildlife websites. Visitor centers are also a great place to learn about more marine life and other species.
To catch mackerel fishing, refer to the State or county for any limitations and waters where fishing may have regulations.
Many people target May and June as a good time for mackerel fishing, this may be different depending on your area. Dawn or dusk may be a good time for fishing.
- Atlantic mackerels have an iridescent blue green back and upper sides, silvery white lower sides and belly. The top half of the body has 20-30 wavy black lines running down the length of the body.
- There’s a dark streaky line running the length of the body half way up the sides, directly under the wavy lines and blueish green coloring.
- Spanish mackerels have a greenish back, silver sides and belly. They have yellow or olive green spots on their sides.
Spanish mackerels have a greenish back while the Atlantic mackerel’s back is iridescent blue green. Atlantic mackerels have wavy dark lines on their upper sides which Spanish mackerels doesn’t have. Spanish mackerels have yellow spots which Atlantic mackerel doesn’t have.
- Atlantic mackerel has two dorsal fins both having spines. The two dorsals are spaced far apart.
- Spanish mackerel has two dorsal fins. The front dorsal has about 15 spines and the front is taller than the rear. The second dorsal has about 15 soft rays.
- Both mackerels have one anal fin each with soft rays and no spines.
- Both have a forked tail fin but Spanish mackerel’s tail fin is more forked resembling a boomerang.
- Spanish and Atlantic mackerels have sharp teeth inside their mouth on the lower and upper jaws.
- Their mouths are large but doesn’t extend past the eye line.
- Spanish and Atlantic mackerels have a long, narrow body which tapers towards the tail.
- The scales on the Spanish and Atlantic mackerels are small.
Size and Weight
- Atlantic mackerel averages 12-17 inches long and weighs 2.2 pounds.
- Spanish mackerel averages 19-33 inches long and weighs up to 13 pounds. The females grow longer and weigh more than the males.
Spanish mackerels weigh much more than Atlantic and can grow two times longer.
- Atlantic mackerel lives up to 20 years.
- Spanish mackerel lives up to 12 years.
If you’re interested in the differences between a king mackerel and Spanish, check out my article.
Atlantic mackerels consumes the following diet:
- Small fish
Spanish mackerels consumes the following diet:
- Small fish
Tastes and Textures
One of the main reasons people chooses a particular type of species is its taste and texture. At the end of the day, nobody wants to eat something they don’t think tastes good. When comparing the two, let’s examine if they taste the same or which one is better.
Atlantic and Spanish mackerel have a similar medium flavor taste. Their flavor is not considered mild or sweet. Both of them have an oilier flesh than other mackerel due to their higher fat content. Both mackerel have a similar firm texture which breaks apart into small flakes.
Some people find mackerel tastes more like tuna than salmon. Depending where it was caught, it may taste slightly fishy to some people. Although most people don’t think it’s too fishy.
To conduct some original research, I polled clients, members of food groups I belong to and some readers. The following are the results of my poll which consisted of 33 people.
I asked which mackerel tasted better?
- 53% preferred the taste of Atlantic.
- 41% preferred the taste of Spanish.
- 6% said they had no preference between the two.
If you’re interested in the differences between a king mackerel and an Atlantic, check out my article.
It’s not always possible to locate the type of food required for your recipe. In addition, you may have one type already in the refrigerator ready to be used. If you have one, you may be wondering if it can substitute for the other.
Spanish mackerel can substitute for Atlantic mackerel due to their similar medium flavors. Both fish can be cooked using similar cooking methods due to their firm textures. They can be cooked by frying, searing, grilling, broiling or baking.
Atlantic mackerel substitutes include the following:
- Northern pike
Spanish mackerel substitutes include the following:
- Northern pike
When substituting always stick to the following:
- Same size and weight.
- Stick with similar fillets, whole fillet or cross section.
- Stick with skinless or skin when the recipe calls for one.
- Texture is more important for certain cooking methods. Like using a firmer texture when grilling 3.
How To Cook Atlantic Mackerel
Some people may find it a little fishy therefore the preparation is important. Many people soak the fish in icy water or milk, rinse the fillets and soak it again. Repeat this process until the flesh and the water become clearer.
Popular ways to cook include:
- Olive oil
- White wine
- Smoked paprika
How To Cook Spanish Mackerel
Popular ways to cook:
- Italian dressing
- Smoked paprika
- Lemon juice
- Olive oil
- White wine
Quick Links To More Fish Articles You May Be Interested In:
The prices for each one will vary depending on how they are caught and where they are sold. When purchasing any seafood, be sure to check the label to see if it is farm-raised or wild-caught. Let’s take a close look at which one costs more.
Spanish and Atlantic mackerel fillets and whole fish have a similar price per pound. Whole Atlantic mackerel fish costs $15.98 per pound. Whole Spanish mackerel fish costs $15.59 per pound.
I checked the Fulton fish market online for prices:
- Wild Spanish fillet
- $22.40 per pound
- Wild whole Spanish mackerel
- $15.59 per pound
- Wild whole Atlantic
- $15.98 per pound
I also checked Citarella online for prices:
- Whole Atlantic mackerel fish
- $10.80 per pound
- Whole Spanish mackerel fish
- $13.19 per pound
- Spanish fillet
- $20.56 per pound
I checked Fresh Direct online and found the following prices:
- Wild Spanish fillet
- $16.99 per pound
Below is a nutrient comparison of both mackerel per four ounces raw:
|Nutrient||Spanish mackerel, raw (4 Ounces)||Atlantic mackerel, raw (4 Ounces)|
|Fat||7.1 g||16 g|
|Saturated Fat||2.1 g||3.7 g|
|Cholesterol||86 mg||79 mg|
|Protein||22 g||21 g|
|Omega-3||1.64 g||2.85 g|
|B-6||0.4 mg||0.4 mg|
|B-12||2.7 mcg||9.8 mcg|
|Thiamin||0.14 mg||0.20 mg|
|Riboflavin||0.19 mg||0.35 mg|
|B5||0.8 mg||0.9 mg|
|Iron||0.5 mg||1.8 mg|
|Niacin||2.6 mg||10.2 mg|
|Folate||1.1 mcg||1.1 mcg|
|Potassium||505 mg||356 mg|
|Magnesium||37 mg||86 mg|
|Phosphorus||232 mg||246 mg|
|Calcium||12.4 mg||13.6 mg|
|Zinc||0.5 mg||0.7 mg|
|Selenium||41.3 mcg||50.0 mcg|
Both mackerel contain a wide variety of similar nutrients. Spanish mackerel contains more of some nutrients while Atlantic mackerel contains more of others.
Many people like knowing what fish is better for them. Therefore, let’s examine which one is healthier.
Atlantic mackerel is healthier than Spanish mackerel due to its higher percentage of heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins and minerals. It provides more B12, thiamin, riboflavin, B5, niacin, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, calcium, zinc and selenium.
Spanish Mackerel also contains a good number of omega-3 fatty acids. In addition, it provides more potassium, protein and similar amounts of B6 and folate.
Both of them contain a high amount of fat but it’s the healthy fat like the omega-3s which drives the number higher. Omega-3 fatty acids may be the best reason why most fresh fish are healthy. Keep reading the next section to find out why omega-3s are beneficial.
I recently published an article comparing Cero Mackerel. You can check it out and find out if it was better.
Health Benefits of Mackerels
Editor’s Note: The information on Food Storage, Choices and Alternatives is meant to be informative in nature and not meant to be taken as medical advice. The articles and opinions on this website are not intended to be used as as a treatment, prevention or diagnosis of health problems. Before modifying or starting any new nutritional, fitness, exercise or/and supplement routine, always check with your doctor first.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
Atlantic mackerel provides one of the highest percentages of omega-3 fatty acids in the seafood world. It provides 2.85 grams of omega-3 fatty acids per four ounces.
The fatty acids provided help keep arteries healthy and are considered heart healthy.
The omega-3s may help with the following:
- Lowering triglycerides.
- Reduce plaque buildup.
- Reduce inflammation.
- Help keep the heart rhythms more regulated.
- Keeping bad cholesterol low.
- Keeping good cholesterol high.
DHA and EPA, two of the fatty acids, are associated with lowering blood pressure and improving the health of blood vessels 6.
Studies suggest omega-3s boost the effectiveness of anti-inflammatory drugs. In addition, they’ve been shown to help reduce joint pain and stiffness in people with rheumatoid arthritis.
I also compared Pacific Chub Mackerel in a recent article. Find out which mackerel tasted better in my reader poll.
Magnesium helps to calm and relax the whole body including blood vessels. It has been shown to help improve sleep related problems like insomnia 7.
Magnesium helps keep blood pressure levels balanced and stable. A recent study researched 22 studies and concluded magnesium supplementation decreased diastolic and systolic blood pressure 8.
Magnesium helps control muscle and nerve function, blood sugar and blood pressure.
In the muscles and heart, magnesium competes with calcium to help the muscles relax after contracting. When the body is low in magnesium, calcium can over stimulate the heart muscle’s cells causing a rapid or irregular heartbeat.
Atlantic provides a higher percentage of 5 of the 7 B vitamins listed in the table above. The B vitamins provided include the following:
- B1 (thiamin)
- B2 (riboflavin)
- B3 (niacin)
- B9 (folate)
B vitamins help support the following:
- Cardiovascular disease.
- Brain function.
- Red blood cells.
- Nerve function.
- Energy levels.
Phosphorus has been shown in scientific research to help with the following:
- Promote teeth and bone strength.
- Help the body manage and store energy.
- Help the kidneys with waste removal.
- Muscle recovery after exercise.
- Muscle contraction.
- Promote healthy nerve conduction.
Potassium helps the body get rid of excess sodium which helps reduce fluid build-up. The result keeps systolic and diastolic blood pressure lower 9.
The more potassium you consume, the more sodium your body will lose. Consuming too much sodium or not enough potassium throws off the delicate balance the kidneys need to remove the excess water 10.
According to Harvard Health, a number of studies have shown a connection between low potassium levels and increased blood pressure 11.
Calcium is important for blood pressure and the heart.
Harvard Health reports calcium helps maintain blood pressure because it helps to control the relaxing and tightening of blood vessels 12.
Calcium also helps the following:
- Muscles require calcium to function properly.
- Build and maintain strong bones.
- Improve nerve function.
Selenium is a nutrient which doesn’t receive much attention in nutrient articles. I’m unsure why many people don’t write about it more.
Many studies 13 show selenium may help to protect the following:
- Cognitive issues
- Heart disease
- The immune system
Another Mackerel article I recently published compares Chub and Jack.
Read Next – More Fish vs Fish Articles!
- NOAA Fisheries: Atlantic Mackerel
- NOAA Fisheries: Spanish Mackerel
- Sea Grant North Carolina: Fish Flavors and Substitutions
- USDA: Fish, mackerel, Atlantic, raw
- USDA: Fish, mackerel, Spanish, raw
- National Center for Biotechnology: Marine Omega-3 Supplementation and Cardiovascular Disease
- National Institutes of Health: Magnesium
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: Effect of magnesium supplementation on blood pressure: a meta-analysis
- American Heart Association: How Potassium Can Help Control High Blood Pressure
- National Center for Biotechnology Information: The Effect of the Sodium to Potassium Ratio on Hypertension Prevalence: A Propensity Score Matching Approach
- Harvard Health: Potassium lowers blood pressure
- Harvard Health: Key minerals to help control blood pressure
- National Institutes of Health: Selenium