Either the Atlantic or the Pacific subspecies of Clupea harengus (once considered two separate species), slab-sided, northern fishes that are small-headed and streamlined, with silvery iridescent sides and a deep-blue, metallic-hued back. The name also refers to some other members of the family Clupeidae. Adults range in length from 8 to 15 in. (20–38 cm). One of the most abundant species of fish, herring travel in enormous schools. They eat planktonic crustaceans and fish larvae. In Europe they are processed and sold as kippered herring; in eastern Canada and the northeastern U.S., most of the herring used are young fishes canned as sardines. Herring taken in the Pacific are used mainly to make fish oil and meal.
Learn more about herring with a free trial on Britannica.com.
Herring are small, oily fish of the genus Clupea found in the shallow, temperate waters of the North Atlantic, the Baltic Sea, the North Pacific, and the Mediterranean. There are 15 species of herring, the most abundant of which is the Atlantic herring (Clupea harengus). Herrings move in vast schools, coming in spring to the shores of Europe and America, where they are caught, salted and smoked in great quantities. Canned "sardines" (or pilchards) seen in supermarkets may actually be sprats or round herrings.
In The Netherlands, herring have played a major role in historical and economic development dating back to the 14th century.
Young herring feed on phytoplankton and as they mature they start to consume larger organisms. Adult herring feed on zooplankton, tiny animals that are found in oceanic surface waters, and small fish and fish larvae. Copepods and other tiny crustaceans are the most common zooplankton eaten by herring. During daylight herring stay in the safety of deep water, feeding at the surface only at night when there is less chance of predation. They swim along with their mouths open, filtering the plankton from the water as it passes through their gills.
Large Baltic herring slightly exceeds recommended limits with respect to PCB and dioxin. Nevertheless, the health benefits from the fatty acids are more important than the theoretical risk from dioxin; their cancer-reducing effect is statistically stronger than the cancer-causing effect of PCBs and dioxins. The contaminant levels depend on the age of the fish which can be inferred from their size. Baltic herrings larger than 17 cm may be eaten twice a month, while herrings smaller than 17 cm can be eaten freely.
Pickled herring is a delicacy popular in Europe and has become a basic part of both Jewish and Nordic cuisine. Most cured herring uses a two-step curing process. Initially, herring is cured with salt to extract water. The second stage involves removing the salt and adding flavorings, typically a vinegar, salt, sugar solution to which ingredients like peppercorn, bay leaves and raw onions are added.
In Scandinavia, once the pickling process is finished and depending on which of the dozens of classic herring flavourings (mustard, onion, garlic, lingonberries etc.) are selected, it is usually enjoyed with dark rye bread, crisp bread, or potatoes. This dish is a must at Christmas and Midsummer, where it is enjoyed with akvavit.
Pickled herrings are also common in Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine, perhaps best known for forshmak salad known in English simply as "chopped herring".
Very young herring are called whitebait and are eaten whole as a delicacy.
A kipper is a split and smoked herring, a bloater is a whole smoked herring, and a buckling is a hot smoked herring with the guts removed. All are staples of British cuisine. According to George Orwell in The Road to Wigan Pier, the Emperor Charles V erected a statue to the inventor of bloaters.
In Scandinavia, herring soup is also a traditional dish.
In Southeast Alaska, western hemlock boughs are cut and placed in the ocean before the herring arrive to spawn. The fertilized herring eggs stick to the boughs, and are easily collected. After being boiled briefly the eggs are removed from the bough. Herring eggs collected in this way are eaten plain or in herring egg salad. This method of collection is part of Tlingit tradition.
Figuratively, a red herring is a false lead in a mystery. In this context, red means smoked, and a smoked herring has such a strong smell that it can be used to create a false scent that causes hunting dogs to lose a track.
Herrings are focus of many jokes as a result of a scene in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, where the Knights who say Ni ask King Arthur to "cut down the mightiest tree in the forest with ... a herring!"
Ula from The Producers eats "many different herrings" as part of a Swedish breakfast.
In the 1959 movie Some Like it Hot, the character "Joe" (Tony Curtis), masquerading as "Junior", describes a large fish trophy as "a member of the herring family". "Sugar" (Marilyn Monroe) ponders "how they get those big fish into those little glass jars." Joe replies, "They shrink when they're marinated."
Smoked herring is especially a traditional meal on the Danish island in the Baltic Sea, Bornholm.
In Gogol Bordello's song "American Wedding" refers to the fish. "Have you ever been to American Wedding? Where is the Vodka, where is marinated herring?
In the movie MirrorMask, Helena asks a sphinx the riddle "What's green, hangs on a wall, and whistles?" to distract it. When the sphinx gives up, she responds "A herring."
Herring? Let the good times roll ; It's raw, fishy and salty; Dutch try to position it as their Beaujolais nouveau
Jun 24, 2010; JOHN TAGLIABUE International Herald Tribune 06-24-2010 Herring? Let the good times roll ; It's raw, fishy and salty; Dutch...