King Mackerel vs Mackerel: What’s The Difference? We Compare


The king mackerel and mackerel have many similarities. For this reason many people discuss how they’re different. Let’s answer, what is the difference between king mackerel (kingfish) and mackerel?

King mackerel and Atlantic mackerel are different species. King mackerel is the S. cavalla species, Atlantic mackerel is the S. scombrus species. King mackerel are found more south than Atlantic mackerel and also on the India coastlines. King mackerel are longer and can weigh 40 pounds while Atlantic mackerel weigh 2 pounds.

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 and appearance.

Keto Bread Tip: Great News! Did you know, you don’t have to give up your favorite bread, pizza or sandwiches to follow a 100% Keto diet. Find out more in the KetoBreads website by clicking here, Keto Breads.

Disclaimer: The above link and others in this article are affiliate links which means I may earn a small commission at no extra cost to you. As an Amazon associate I earn from qualifying purchases.

King Mackerel and Atlantic Mackerel: Habitats, Size, Weight and Appearance

When someone is shopping in the fish market for fresh, whole fish or catching a mackerel in the water, it may not be immediately obvious which kind of fish they’re looking at. For this reason, we want to find out a simple method for identifying which fish is which.

How can you tell a king mackerel from an Atlantic mackerel?

To tell the difference between a king mackerel and Atlantic mackerel check their back color and body side markings. King mackerel have an olive green back, Atlantic mackerel have an iridescent blue green back. Atlantic mackerel have 20-30 wavy dark lines on their upper sides. King mackerel doesn’t have any dark lines.

Other ways to tell the differences between a king mackerel and an Atlantic mackerel are:

  • King mackerel have a thin lateral line running down the body that starts high and slopes down. Atlantic mackerel have a dark, narrow, blotchy line running down the body that doesn’t slope.
  • King mackerel front dorsal fin has spines and the rear dorsal fin has soft rays. Both Atlantic mackerel’s dorsal fins are spiny.
  • Juvenile king mackerel, under 10 pounds, have yellow spots on their sides. Atlantic mackerel have no yellow spots.
  • Atlantic mackerel average 2.2 pounds while king mackerel can weigh up to 40 pounds. 
  • King mackerel can be found south of North Carolina, in the Gulf of Mexico, South America and India where Atlantic mackerel aren’t found.

Atlantic mackerel and king mackerel comparison

King Mackerel and Atlantic Mackerel Scientific Classifications, Families, Species

King mackerel are from:

  • Family: Scombridae
  • Genus: Scomberomorus
  • Species: S. cavalla
  • Common nicknames: Sierra, cavalla, kingfish.

Atlantic mackerel are from:

  • Family: Scombridae
  • Genus: Scomber
  • Species: S. scombrus
  • Common nicknames: Mackerel, Boston mackerel, common mackerel, Norwegian mackerel.

King mackerel and Atlantic mackerel are from the same family of fish but are different genus and species. Many times when people say mackerel they are referring to an Atlantic mackerel.

King Mackerel and Atlantic Mackerel Habitats

King mackerel habitats

  • King mackerel are found off the Atlantic Ocean coast of the United States, the Gulf of Mexico and South America. They are as far north as Maine and south past Florida down to Brazil. They are also found in the Indian Ocean and the coast of India.
  • King mackerel can be found in deeper waters from 40 to 590 feet deep.

Atlantic mackerel habitats

  • Atlantic mackerel 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.
    • Atlantic mackerel are also found in the Baltic, Mediterranean and Black Seas.
  • Atlantic mackerel can be found in deeper waters from the surface dow to 660 feet deep. They prefer water above 40 degrees Fahrenheit.

King mackerel and Atlantic mackerel are both found along the eastern coast of the U.S. but king mackerel are found more south. Places where king mackerel are found and Atlantic mackerel are not found:

  • The Gulf of Mexico
  • South America
  • Near the coast of India
king mackerel and Atlantic mackerel photo comparison
(top) King mackerel (bottom) Atlantic mackerel

King Mackerel and Atlantic Mackerel Appearance

King Mackerel and Atlantic Mackerel Colors

  • King mackerel have an olive back, silver sides and white belly. Younger king mackerel, under 10 pounds, have yellowish-brown spots on their sides which fade as they grow older and bigger.
  • Atlantic mackerel 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.

King mackerel have an olive back while the Atlantic mackerel’s back is iridescent blue green. Atlantic mackerel have wavy dark lines on their upper sides which king mackerel doesn’t have.

Dorsal Fins

  • King 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.
  • Atlantic mackerel has two dorsal fins both having spines. The two dorsals are spaced far apart.

The Atlantic mackerel two dorsal fins have spines while the king mackerel front dorsal is spiny and the second one having soft rays. Atlantic mackerel’s dorsal fins are spaced farther part than the king mackerel’s dorsal fins.

Anal Fins

  • The king mackerel has one anal fin having soft rays with no spines.
  • The Atlantic mackerel has one anal fin having soft rays with no spines.

Atlantic mackerel and king mackerel only have soft rays on their one anal fin.

Tail Fins

  • The king mackerel tail fin is forked.
  • The Atlantic mackerel tail fin is forked.

King mackerel’s tail fin is more forked than the Atlantic mackerel’s tail fin. The king mackerel deeply forked tail fin resembles a boomerang.

Mouth

  • The king mackerel mouth is large but doesn’t extend past the eye line. King mackerel have a single row of cutting edge teeth on both jaws.
  • The Atlantic mackerel mouth is large but doesn’t extend past the eye line. 

Atlantic mackerel and king mackerel have sharp teeth inside their mouth on the lower and upper jaws.

Body Shape

  • The king mackerel body is long, slender and tapers narrower towards the tail fin.
  • The Atlantic mackerel body is elongated, slender and tapers towards the tail fin.

Atlantic mackerel and king mackerel have a long, narrow body which tapers towards the tail.

Distinguishing Marks

King Mackerel

  • King mackerel have a lateral line on the sides from the rear of the gill cover to rear. The lateral line begins higher and drops sharply half way down the length of the body and continues in the middle towards the tail.
  • King mackerel juveniles, under 10 pounds, have yellowish spots on their side which fade as they grow.

Atlantic Mackerel

  • Atlantic mackerel have 20-30 wavy dark lines on the upper sides running down the length of the body. 
  • Atlantic mackerel have a dark, narrow, blotchy line running down their body on the sides.

Scales

  • The scales on the king mackerel are tiny.
  • The scales on the Atlantic mackerel are tiny.

The scales on the Atlantic mackerel and king mackerel are small.

King Mackerel and Atlantic Mackerel Size and Weight

  • King mackerel can grow to 30-50 inches long and weigh up to 40 pounds or more.
  • Atlantic mackerel averages 12-17 inches long and weighs 2.2 pounds.

King mackerel weigh much more than Atlantic mackerel and can grow three times longer.

King Mackerel and Atlantic Mackerel Lifespan

  • King mackerel lives up to 20 years.
  • Atlantic mackerel lives up to 20 years.

If you’re interested in the differences between a king mackerel and Spanish mackerel, check out my article, Spanish Mackerel vs King Mackerel – What’s The Difference?

Diet

King mackerel consume the following:

  • Squid
  • Menhaden
  • Clupeidea
  • Cutlessfish
  • Striped anchovies
  • Minnows
  • Northern mackerel
  • Blue runners

Atlantic mackerel consumes the following:

  • Small fish
  • Copepods
  • Plankton
  • Krill
  • Shrimp
  • Squid

Mackerel and other fish are known for being a part of many diets like keto or heart healthy.

If you’re eating low-carb or want to give keto a try, many of my clients have followed this 28-Day Keto Challenge with great success. Visit their website and check it out.

Species Resources 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11

photo of a king mackerel and an Atlantic mackerel
(top) King mackerel (bottom) Atlantic mackerel

King Mackerel and Atlantic Mackerel: Tastes and Textures

One of the main reasons people chooses a particular fish to eat is its taste and texture. After all, who doesn’t want to eat a fish, they don’t think tastes good. When comparing the two fish, does Atlantic mackerel taste like king mackerel?

King mackerel and Atlantic mackerel have a similar medium flavor taste. Their flavor is not considered too sweet or mild. Atlantic mackerel and king mackerel have an oily flesh due to its higher fat content. Both mackerel have a similar firm texture which breaks apart into small flakes. 

What does Atlantic mackerel taste like? Atlantic mackerel have a medium taste. The fish is slightly oily due to its high fat content. The texture is firm and breaks apart into small flakes.

What does king mackerel taste like? King mackerel have a medium taste. The flesh is slightly oily due to its fat content. The texture is firm and flaky. 

Some people find mackerel tastes more like tuna than salmon. Depending where the king mackerel or Atlantic mackerel was caught, it may taste slightly fishy to some people. Although most people don’t think it’s too fishy.

I polled members of food groups I belong to and some readers. The following are the results of my poll which consisted of 26 people. I asked which fish tasted better, Atlantic mackerel or king mackerel?

  • 73% preferred the taste of Atlantic mackerel.
  • 15% preferred the taste of king mackerel.
  • 12% said they had no preference between the two.

Many of the people polled mentioned they didn’t prefer king mackerel due to the higher mercury levels.

Find out what mackerel taste people preferred, Atlantic or Spanish, in my article, Atlantic Mackerel vs Spanish Mackerel – Are They The Same?

King Mackerel and Atlantic Mackerel Substitutions

It’s not always possible to locate the type of fish required for your recipe in the local fish market or store. In addition, you may have one fish already in the refrigerator ready to be used. If you have some Atlantic mackerel, you may ask, can I substitute Atlantic mackerel for king mackerel?

Atlantic mackerel can substitute for king mackerel due to their similar medium flavors. Both fish can be cooked using similar cooking methods due to their similar firm textures. King and Atlantic mackerel can be cooked by grilling, searing, frying, broiling or baking. 

The king mackerel substitutes are:

  • Bass
  • Northern pike
  • Tuna
  • Bullhead
  • Salmon
  • Catfish

Atlantic mackerel substitutes include the following:

  • Tuna
  • Bass
  • Salmon
  • Bullhead
  • Northern pike
  • Catfish

When substituting mackerel 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 12.

How To Cook King Mackerel

Foods For Anti Aging do not recommend consuming king mackerel due to their high mercury levels. Please see the mercury section down further in this article. 

Even though, some people still enjoy eating king mackerel and try to use the smaller ones which probably contain less mercury. Some people may find king mackerel a little fishy therefore the preparation is important.

Many people soak the fish in milk or icy water, rinse the fillets and soak the fish again. Repeat this process until the flesh of the fish and the water become clearer. 

Popular ways to cook king mackerel:

  • Grilling
  • Frying
  • Baking
  • Broiling
  • Searing

Flavor pairings for king mackerel:

  • Lemon juice
  • Olive oil
  • White wine
  • Cajun
  • Italian dressing
  • Smoked paprika

How To Cook Atlantic Mackerel

Popular ways to cook Atlantic mackerel include:

  • Grilling
  • Frying
  • Broiling
  • Baking
  • Searing

Atlantic mackerel flavor pairings:

  • Olive oil
  • White wine
  • Lemon
  • Cajun
  • Smoked paprika

Quick Links To More Fish vs Fish Articles You May Be Interested In:

Herring vs Sardines – What’s The Difference? Let’s Compare

Pacific Cod vs Atlantic Cod – What’s The Difference?

Tuna vs Salmon: Which is Better?

Brook Trout vs Brown Trout – Let’s Compare The Differences

How Much King Mackerel and Atlantic Mackerel Cost

The prices for fish will vary depending on how the fish are caught and where they are sold. When purchasing any fish, be sure to check the label to see if it is farm-raised or wild-caught. Therefore, which fish costs more, king mackerel or Atlantic mackerel?

King mackerel and Atlantic mackerel fillets have a similar price per pound. Whole Atlantic mackerel fish costs $15.98 per pound. Whole king mackerel fish costs $13.12 per pound.

I checked the Fulton fish market online for prices:

  • Wild king mackerel fillet
    • $18.97 per pound
  • Wild whole king mackerel
    • $13.12 per pound
  • Wild whole Atlantic mackerel
    • $15.98 per pound

I also checked Citarella online for prices:

  • Whole Atlantic mackerel fish
    • $10.80 per pound

To save some money on fresh seafood, would you believe some can be purchased on Amazon? Check out their current prices and selection, Fresh Seafood.

King Mackerel and Atlantic Mackerel Mercury Levels

The EPA and The Food and Drug Administration have issued warnings and suggestions regarding mercury levels in fish and how often they should be consumed 13. This is especially important for the following:

  • Developing children
  • Young infants
  • Pregnant women

They established a list of the following:

  • Best fish
  • Good choices
  • Fish to avoid

Therefore, does king mackerel or Atlantic mackerel have more mercury?

King mackerel has more mercury than Atlantic mackerel. Atlantic mackerel is listed on the FDA’s best choices of fish regarding mercury levels. King mackerel is listed on the FDA’s choices to avoid list. 

If you’re pregnant, breast feeding or has a young child, Always check with a physician prior to eating new foods or changing your dietary habits.

If you’re consuming fish from the best list, The FDA recommends eating two to three servings per week total for adults. From the good choices list, they recommend eating them once per week.

Mercury warnings can change over time or affect only a particular area or state. Please check with your local EPA and FDA for the current recommendations 14.

I recently published an article comparing Cero Mackerel and Spanish Mackerel. You can check it out here, Spanish Mackerel vs Cero Mackerel – What’s The Difference?

King Mackerel and Atlantic Mackerel Nutrient Comparison

Below is a nutrient comparison of king mackerel and Atlantic mackerel per four ounces raw:

Nutrient King mackerel, raw (4 Ounces) Atlantic mackerel, raw (4 Ounces)
Calories 119 232
Fat 2.3 g 16 g
Saturated Fat 0.4 g 3.7 g
Cholesterol 60 mg 79 mg
Protein 23 g 21 g
Omega-3 0.37 g 2.85 g
B-6 0.5 mg 0.4 mg
B-12 17.6 mcg 9.8 mcg
Thiamin 0.11 mg 0.20 mg
Riboflavin 0.54 mg 0.35 mg
B5 0.9 mg 0.9 mg
Iron 2.0 mg 1.8 mg
Niacin 9.7 mg 10.2 mg
Folate 9.0 mcg 1.1 mcg
Potassium 493 mg 356 mg
Magnesium 36 mg 86 mg
Phosphorus 281 mg 246 mg
Calcium 35.1 mg 13.6 mg
Zinc 0.6 mg 0.7 mg
Selenium 41.3 mcg 50.0 mcg

Nutrient Resources 15 16 17 18

Both mackerel contain a wide variety of similar nutrients. Atlantic mackerel contains more of some nutrients while king mackerel contains more of others. Many people like knowing what fish is better for them. Therefore, which is healthier, Atlantic mackerel or king mackerel?

Atlantic mackerel is healthier than king mackerel due to its higher percentage of heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids and lower levels of mercury. The FDA recommends avoiding king mackerel due to its high mercury levels. Atlantic mackerel provides more thiamin, niacin, magnesium, zinc and selenium than king.

It’s unfortunate king mackerel contains a high level of mercury because it also provides many beneficial nutrients. King mackerel provides more folate, B6, B12, riboflavin, potassium, phosphorus and calcium.

The calories and fat content of Atlantic mackerel are higher, but it’s due to its heart healthy fats, particularly omega-3 fatty acids. Keep reading the next section to find out why omega-3s are considered healthy.

Atlantic Mackerel Health Benefits

Editor’s Note: The information on FoodsForAntiAging 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:

  • Reduce plaque buildup.
  • Reduce inflammation.
  • Help keep the heart rhythms more regulated.
  • Lowering triglycerides.
  • 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 19.

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 Atlantic Mackerel and Pacific Chub Mackerel in a recent article. Find out which mackerel tasted better in my reader poll, Atlantic Mackerel vs Pacific Chub Mackerel: The Differences.

B Vitamins

The B vitamins provided by Atlantic mackerel include the following:

  1. B1 (thiamin)
  2. B2 (riboflavin)
  3. B3 (niacin)
  4. B5
  5. B6
  6. B9 (folate)
  7. B12

B vitamins help support the following:

  • Brain function.
  • Red blood cells.
  • Nerve function.
  • Digestion.
  • Energy levels.
  • Cardiovascular disease.

Magnesium

Atlantic mackerel provides 86 mg of magnesium per four ounces. Magnesium helps to calm and relax the whole body including blood vessels. It has been shown to help improve sleep related problems like insomnia 20.

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 21.

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.

Selenium

Atlantic mackerel provides 50 mcg of selenium per four ounces. 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 22 show selenium may help to protect the following:

  • Cognitive issues
  • Heart disease
  • Thyroid
  • The immune system

Calcium

Calcium which Atlantic mackerel provides 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 23.

Calcium also helps the following:

  • Muscles require calcium to function properly.
  • Build and maintain strong bones.
  • Improve nerve function.

Potassium

Atlantic mackerel provides 356 mg per four ounces. Potassium helps the body get rid of excess sodium which helps reduce fluid build-up. The result keeps systolic and diastolic blood pressure lower 24.

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 25.

According to Harvard Health, a number of studies have shown a connection between low potassium levels and increased blood pressure 26.

Phosphorus

Atlantic mackerel provides 246 mg of phosphorus. Phosphorus has been shown in scientific research to help with the following:

  • Help the body manage and store energy.
  • Help the kidneys with waste removal.
  • Promote teeth and bone strength.
  • Muscle recovery after exercise.
  • Muscle contraction.
  • Promote healthy nerve conduction.

Another Mackerel vs Mackerel article I recently published, Chub Mackerel vs Jack Mackerel: What’s The Difference?

Read Next – More Fish vs Fish Articles!

Walleye vs Cod – What’s The Difference? Let’s Compare Them

Rock Bass vs Green Sunfish – Are They The Same? We Compare

Sea Bass vs Cod – Is One Better? Let’s Compare

Pacific Cod vs Sockeye (Pacific Salmon) Which Is Better?

Tuna vs Mahi Mahi – What’s The Difference? Let’s Compare

 

Article Resources: Foods For Anti-Aging follows strict guidelines to ensure our content is the highest journalistic standard. It's our mission to provide the reader with accurate, honest and unbiased guidance. Our content relies on medical associations, research institutions, government agencies and study resources. Learn more by reading our editorial policy.
  1. Wikipedia: King mackerel[]
  2. NOAA Fisheries: King Mackerel[]
  3. Delaware.gov: King Mackerel[]
  4. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission: King Mackerel[]
  5. Sea Grant Louisiana: King Mackerel[]
  6. North Carolina Environmental Quality: State urges fishermen to learn the difference between king mackerel and Spanish mackerel[]
  7. Wikipedia: Atlantic mackerel[]
  8. NOAA Fisheries: Atlantic Mackerel[]
  9. Mass.gov: Learn about Atlantic mackerel[]
  10. Delaware.gov: Atlantic Mackerel[]
  11. Fishwatch U.S. Seafood Facts: Atlantic Mackerel[]
  12. Sea Grant North Carolina: Fish Flavors and Substitutions[]
  13. FDA: Advice about Eating Fish[]
  14. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Mercury accumulation in largemouth bass (Micropterus salmoides) in a Florida lake[]
  15. Nutrition Value: Fish, raw, king, mackerel[]
  16. USDA: Fish, mackerel, king, raw[]
  17. USDA: Fish, mackerel, Atlantic, raw[]
  18. Nutrition Value: Fish, raw, Atlantic, mackerel[]
  19. National Center for Biotechnology: Marine Omega-3 Supplementation and Cardiovascular Disease[]
  20. National Institutes of Health: Magnesium[]
  21. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Effect of magnesium supplementation on blood pressure: a meta-analysis[]
  22. National Institutes of Health: Selenium[]
  23. Harvard Health: Key minerals to help control blood pressure[]
  24. American Heart Association: How Potassium Can Help Control High Blood Pressure[]
  25. National Center for Biotechnology Information: The Effect of the Sodium to Potassium Ratio on Hypertension Prevalence: A Propensity Score Matching Approach[]
  26. Harvard Health: Potassium lowers blood pressure[]

Kevin Garce

Kevin Garce is a Certified Health Coach who encourages people by informing them on nutrition and food topics important to them. His years of research and knowledge inspire people to achieve their goals. Read more here About Me

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