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All about “Herring”

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Health profile

Herring is a very abundant and among the most widely caught sea fish in the world. It is rich in B-complex vitamins, vitamins A and D, selenium, phosphorus and of course omega-3. Fresh, its taste is similar to that of sardines.

Active ingredients and properties

The active ingredients in herring have not been the subject of specific studies. However, herring is considered a fatty fish and its high content of omega-3 gives it undeniable health benefits. Moreover, the impact of the consumption of fatty fish such as herring on the reduction of the risk of cardiovascular diseases is now unanimous among researchers 1 . Studies have also shown that people who eat more fish have fewer cases of depression 2 and are less likely to have Alzheimer’s disease 3 . Finally, other studies have observed a link between the consumption of fatty fish and the decrease in the incidence of arthritis.4 . In fact, the American Heart Association (AHA) recommends that healthy adults eat at least two fish meals a week, mainly fatty fish, in order to benefit from their health effects 5 .

Beware of sodium
For those who limit their sodium intake, an important point to emphasize: 100 g of smoked or marinated herring provides about 900 mg of sodium, or almost 40% of the maximum intake that we should consume in a day.

Omega-3 fatty acids . Herring is an excellent source of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), two fatty acids from the omega-3 family. These fatty acids act as precursors of chemical messengers promoting the proper functioning of the immune, circulatory and hormonal systems . Several epidemiological and clinical studies have shown that the consumption of omega-3 fatty acids (mainly from fatty fish) exerts favorable effects on cardiovascular health and reduces mortality from cardiovascular disease 1 . These fatty acids are known to act on several planes in the body, in particular by reducing theblood pressure , blood triglycerides and blood clots , reducing the risk of atherosclerosis . Regular consumption of omega-3 fatty acids would also decrease heart arrhythmia and may even inhibit the growth of cancer cells , 7, although this anticancer effect has just been contradicted by a recent summary study in which the results of 38 cohort studies from different countries have been listed. The authors of this meta-analysis indicate that the current data do not allow to affirm that there is a significant link between the consumption of omega-3 fatty acids and the decrease in the incidence of cancer 8 . In addition, studies have shown that omega-3 fatty acids may play a role in the regulation of mood and preventing depression 9 . Finally, these fatty acids have certain anti-inflammatory effects, which could be useful in the treatment of diseases such as asthma, rheumatoid arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease and psoriasis 10 .

Even if optimal amounts of omega-3 fatty acids to consume are not established with certainty, scientific studies show that the daily ingestion of 0.5 to 1.8 g of EPA and DHA would allow to enjoy the benefits related to it 11 . A 100 g serving of marinated herring provides 1.4 EPA and DHA, and 100 g of salted and smoked herring provides 2.1 g, approximately the same amount as in salmon. Herring is therefore one of the six fish richest in EPA and DHA, along with sardines, mackerel, tuna, salmon and trout.

Proteins . Fish is an excellent source of complete proteins since it contains the nine essential amino acids (those which are not produced by our organism and which must come from our food). Proteins are used to form digestive enzymes and hormones, and to form, repair, and maintain tissues, such as the skin, muscles, and bones. In addition, several studies in animals have revealed that the consumption of fish protein, in this case cod protein, would improve insulin sensitivity and increase glucose absorption by the body 12-14. Note that human studies are underway and will confirm or refute these results.

Other properties

Is herring antioxidant? Data not available.
Is herring acidifying? Moderately. The PRAL index for herring is 7.
Does herring have a high glycemic load? There is no glycemic load for meats because they do not contain carbohydrates.

Most important nutrients

 Phosphorus . Smoked and salted herring is an excellent source of phosphorus, while marinated herring is a source (see our Phosphorus nutrient overview sheet ). Phosphorus is the second most abundant mineral in the body after calcium. It plays an essential role in the formation and maintenance of healthy bones and teeth. In addition, it participates among other things in the growth and regeneration of tissues and helps to maintain normal blood pH . It is one of the constituents of cell membranes.

 Selenium . Herring is an excellent source of selenium. This mineral works with one of the main antioxidant enzymes, thus preventing the formation of free radicals in the body. It also helps to convert thyroid hormones to their active form.

 Vitamin B2 . Smoked and salted herring is an excellent source of vitamin B2 for women and a good source for men , given their different needs. Pickled herring is a source of vitamin B2. This vitamin is also known as riboflavin. Like vitamin B1, it plays a role in the energy metabolism of all cells. In addition, it contributes to tissue growth and repair, hormone production and the formation of red blood cells.

 Vitamin B3 . Smoked and salted herring is an excellent source of vitamin B3, while marinated herring is a good source. Also called niacin, vitamin B3 participates in many metabolic reactions and contributes particularly to the production of energy from the carbohydrates, lipids, proteins and alcohol that we ingest. It also participates in the DNA formation process allowing normal growth and development.

 Vitamin B6 . Smoked and salted herring is an excellent source of vitamin B6, while marinated herring is only one source . Vitamin B6, also called pyridoxine, is part of coenzymes that participate in the metabolism of proteins and fatty acids as well as in the synthesis (manufacture) of neurotransmitters (messengers in nerve impulses). It also contributes to the production of red blood cells and allows them to transport more oxygen. Pyridoxine is also necessary for the transformation of glycogen into glucose and it contributes to the proper functioning of the immune system. This vitamin finally plays a role in the formation of certain components of nerve cells and in the modulation of hormone receptors.

 Vitamin B12 . Herring is an excellent source of vitamin B12. This vitamin works together with folic acid (vitamin B9) to make red blood cells in the blood. It also ensures the maintenance of nerve cells and cells that make bone tissue.

 Vitamin A . Pickled herring is an excellent source of vitamin A. Smoked and salted herring is a source of vitamin A for women only. The retinol is one of the active forms of vitamin A in the body. It is one of the most versatile vitamins, playing a role in several body functions. Among other things, it promotes the growth of bones and teeth, keeps the skin healthy and protects against infections. In addition, it plays an antioxidant role and promotes good vision, especially in the dark.

 Vitamin D . Herring is an excellent source of vitamin D. Vitamin D is closely involved in the health of bones and teeth, making calcium and phosphorus available in the blood, among other things for the growth of bone structure. Vitamin D also plays a role in the maturation of cells, including those of the immune system.

 Iron . Herring is a good source of iron for men and a source for women , because their respective needs for this mineral are different. Each body cell contains iron. This mineral is essential for the transport of oxygen and the formation of red blood cells in the blood. It also plays a role in the production of new cells, hormones and neurotransmitters (messengers in nerve impulses). It should be noted that the iron contained in animal foods (including fish) is very well absorbed by the body, compared to iron from plants.

 Zinc . Smoked and salted herring is a good source of zinc for women and a source for men , their needs being different. Pickled herring is a source for women only. Zinc is involved in particular in immune reactions, in the production of genetic material, in the perception of taste, in the healing of wounds and in the development of the fetus. Zinc also interacts with sex and thyroid hormones. In the pancreas, it participates in the synthesis (production), the storage and the release of insulin.

 Copper . Smoked and salted herring is a good source of copper while marinated herring is a source. As a constituent of several enzymes, copper is necessary for the formation of hemoglobin and collagen (protein used for the structure and repair of tissues) in the body. Several copper-containing enzymes also help the body’s defense against free radicals.

Pantothenic acid . Smoked and salted herring is a good source of pantothenic acid. Also called vitamin B5, pantothenic acid is part of a key coenzyme that allows us to adequately use the energy present in the food we eat. It also participates in several stages of the synthesis (manufacture) of steroid hormones, neurotransmitters and hemoglobin.

What is a “portion” of herring worth?
Weight / volume Atlantic herring, marinated, 100 g Atlantic herring, smoked and salted, 100 g
Calories 262 217
Protein 14.2 g 24.6 g
Carbohydrates 9.6g 0.0 g
Fat 18.0 g 12.4 g
– saturated 2.4g 2.8g
– monounsaturated 12.0 g 5.1g
– polyunsaturated 1.7g 2.9 g
– Omega 3* 1.4 g 2.3 g
Cholesterol 13 mg 82 mg
Dietary fiber 0.0 g 0.0 g

Source  : Health Canada. Canadian Nutrient File , 2005.
* EPA, DHA and Alpha-Linolenic Acid

Fish for pregnant women?
During pregnancy, the need for several nutrients is higher. Herring is an excellent source of vitamins D and B12 and a source of iron , three nutrients essential for the health of the mother and fetus . In addition, the high content of omega-3 fatty acids in herring allows optimal neurological development of the fetus . If we add to that its high protein content, we get an excellent food to eat cooked during pregnancy.


Raw fish!
Raw, smoked or marinated fish can contain bacteria, viruses and even parasites that only cooking can destroy. It is therefore recommended for people more susceptible to toxic infections such as pregnant women, young children and people with weakened immune systems to avoid eating raw, smoked or marinated fish unless they are cooked.

Herring is a food very rich in purines , substances which make it possible to produce uric acid. Thus, people suffering from gout must limit their consumption in order to prevent the onset of seizures. In people with this condition, there is an abnormally high amount of uric acid in the blood, causing specific symptoms, such as joint pain. The purines contained in certain foods help to further increase the concentration of uric acid in the blood, which is why it is important for people suffering from gout to avoid its consumption (see our fact sheet on gout).

Fish are among the nine most common food allergens in Canada. People allergic to fish react abnormally to proteinswho are there. According to the Canadian Food Inspection Agency, a person with an allergy to a particular fish or seafood may also be allergic to other species in the same group. For example, a person allergic to herring could also be allergic to pike since both are fish. On the other hand, a person allergic to one type of fish or seafood (crustacean or fish or mollusk) will not necessarily be allergic to the other types. It is strongly recommended that people allergic to these foods consult an allergist before introducing new ones into their diet.


Fish is the main source of mercury to which we are exposed. This metal is naturally present in the environment, but the discharges caused by industrialization make the consumption of certain fish less safe for health. It is predatory fish that have high levels of mercury. Other fish species, such as herring, have mercury concentrations below the Canadian standard of 0.5 ppm. They can therefore be consumed without danger to health. In addition, according to a study carried out by Health Canada researchers, the levels of various contaminants (such as PCBs) detected in fish sold in Canada are lower than the Canadian standard and therefore do not constitute a health risk.15.16 .


Herring over time

The term ”  herring  ” appeared in the language in the XII th  century. It derives from the Germanic Haring , who was Latinized aringus in III th  century.

In Canada, young canned herring are sold under the name of ”  sardines  “, although this word actually designates another fish belonging to the same family.

The clupeidae family includes some of the most abundant fish species on the globe and the most important in human food, including herring. It lives in the North Atlantic, the North Pacific and the cold seas of Northern Europe, where it has been consumed for millennia. Cold water fish, it was unknown to the Greeks and the Romans, but it was of great importance for the Gauls of the North who called it “the wheat of the sea”. In the Middle Ages, he reigned supreme during Lent and the many other lean days of the year. In fact, for centuries, it was the main fish that was caught in the seas.

It has long been believed that Atlantic herring and Pacific herring belong to two different species, but taxonomists today classify them under one single species.

Fresh, my herring!
Herring once played such an important role in France, as in the rest of Europe for that matter, that the fish sellers bore the name of “herring” even if they offered other seafood products.

As the fatty flesh of herring deteriorates rapidly, we understood very early in history that we could keep it much longer if we treated it with salt. More than any other people, the Dutch will be able to take advantage of this conservation technique. Sailors gut the fish directly on the boat, then put them in barrels in brine, bringing back to the end of their long stay at sea enough to feed entire populations for many months. This fishery held such a place in this country, that the city of Amsterdam was said to be built on a foundation made of herringbone.

In Europe, herring is mainly sold salted, dried, smoked or marinated. In America, small herring are canned while the larger ones are used as bait for fishing other species, including tuna, crab and lobster. In the West, until recently, it was mainly fished for oil and flour, but Asian demand (especially Japanese) for value-added products such as eggs taken directly from female fish or harvested from kelp has changed the profile of this industry.

Culinary uses

Powerful gastronomy!
In the north of Sweden, we eat surströmming . It is prepared according to an ancestral recipe with herring fermented for several months and canned. When the hostess opens the box, the guests must take a deep breath to soak up this powerful smell … reminiscent of that of rotten fish. The flesh of the fish would however be tasty, spicy and salty, and of an indescribable softness.

Choose well

Fresh herring are found from April to October, the fishing season for this fish. Certain specimens could contain milt (term which indicates the sperm of the male), substance which one should not reject, because it is excellent. Frozen herring is available year-round, as are many preparations made with salted, smoked, marinated or canned herring.

Culinary dishes

Fresh herring

  • Lyonnaise-style: flour the fish and cook in butter. Sauté minced onions, add them to the fish and cook for ten minutes. Place in a serving dish, sprinkle with chopped parsley; deglaze the pan with a good vinegar and pour over the fish.
  • Flemish style: take the laitance and mix with herbs, chopped onions and mustard. Stuff the fish and put them in a buttered dish. Moisten with red wine, add a few dabs of butter and bake for half an hour in an oven set to 200 ° C (400 ° F). Halfway through cooking, sprinkle with breadcrumbs.
  • With the Picardy: cook potatoes until half-cooked. Cut them into rings. Put lemon herrings in a baking dish, cover with potato rings and onion slices, pour a mixture of white wine and wine vinegar (about equal parts), cover with a sheet of aluminum and put in the oven for half an hour.
  • Stuff whole herring with a preparation based on bread crumbs soaked in milk, then drained, and fine herbs (watercress, tarragon, parsley, chives). Simmer them for about twenty minutes in white wine seasoned with thin slices of gray shallot. When serving, you can, if desired, bind the sauce with crème fraîche.
  • Grilled herring with their laitance: prepare a sauce with tomato coulis and a few spoonfuls of Dijon mustard. Dip the milt in this preparation and put it back into the fish. Brush the latter with sauce, put them in breadcrumbs and put them on the grill of an oven set to 200 ° C (400 ° F). Cook for about ten minutes on each side, basting two or three times with melted butter during cooking.
  • Steamed herring: put fine herbs, celery, onion and finely chopped carrots in the cooking water, close tightly and cook the fish for five to six minutes. It is one of the healthiest ways to eat herring. Serve with a sauce made of mushrooms returned in oil to which yogurt will be added at the end of cooking.

Marinated, smoked, dried, salted herring

  • Rollmops: this popular dish made of marinated herring fillets wrapped around a pickle can be prepared at home, but it is easier to buy it ready. Serve with thin apple slices and a dill and lemon sauce. Or eat it as a sandwich with greens and mayonnaise.
  • Smoked herring in a salad: cut the herring into bite-size pieces and serve them on a bed of snow peas blanched in boiling water, then cooled. Add thin slices of sweet onion and drizzle with vinaigrette.
  • Marinated herring in a salad: this traditional dish from Northern Europe combines diced beets, cooked potatoes and sour apples, with pieces of marinated herring, pickles and onions in vinegar; season with a yogurt and mayonnaise sauce. Or mix diced beets, sliced ​​apples, grated carrots and cabbage, herring and yogurt sauce seasoned with thin strips of fresh ginger. Add herbs to taste.
  • Disgorge salted herring in water, pat them dry and cut into pieces that will be marinated in a preparation based on oil, mustard, dill and finely chopped leek. Serve as a starter.

Eggs (or spawn)

They will be prepared in sushi or in salad, with soy sauce and edible seaweed.


Refrigerator: fresh herring can be kept for one day, at most two.

Freezer: a few months, if you want to preserve its flavor.

Ecology and environment

Herring fishing is currently considered one of the most sustainable from an environmental point of view. The resource is abundant and shows no signs of exhaustion. In addition, the gear used for fishing does not cause any damage to the seabed and, therefore, to the habitats of other species. Finally, bycatch seems unimportant, although marine mammals (dolphins, seals) are sometimes accidentally caught in the nets. Experts from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch Program give an almost perfect score to this fishery.

Herring also has the advantage of being inexpensive compared to other seafood products and of being particularly rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

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