Pickled Herring: Are There Health Benefits?

Pickled herring is consumed throughout the world, but it’s especially popular in the Scandinavian and northern European regions.

Herring are found throughout the North Atlantic Ocean from the Gulf of Main to the Gulf of St. Lawrence, around Iceland, and in the Northeast Atlantic Ocean from the Barents Sea to the English Channel and Celtic Sea. Most of the pickled herring consumed in the U.S. is fished from the Atlantic Ocean off the east coast from Maine to North Carolina. 

Pickling is a traditional way of preserving herring. To pickle herring, producers or home chefs use a two-step curing process. First, the fish is cured with salt, which extracts water. The salt is removed, and then the herring is soaked in a brine made from vinegar, salt, and sugar. Optional flavorings are added during the second step. Common choices include:

  • Peppercorn
  • Bay leaves
  • Raw Onion
  • Mustard
  • Dill
  • Sherry

When herring is pickled by a large volume producer, it is almost always canned in small tins. 

Pickled herring contains many beneficial nutrients, especially heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids.

Nutrition Information

One-quarter cup of pickled herring contains: 

Pickled herring is a good source of: 

Pickled herring is an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, which offer several significant health benefits.

Potential Health Benefits of Pickled Herring

Eating foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids like pickled herring can help you lower your risk of many chronic diseases. Other potential health benefits of eating pickled herring include:

Lowered Risk of Heart Disease 

Research into the link between omega-3 fatty acids and heart disease is promising. 

Researchers have found that they may reduce the risk for coronary heart disease by lowering the risk for abnormal heart rhythm, which can lead to sudden cardiac death, lowering triglyceride cholesterol levels in the bloodstream, reducing the growth rate of blood-vessel clogging plaque, and by preventing inflammation and the formation of blood clots. 

Each of these factors can contribute to increased risks of developing heart disease.

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Supporting Essential Body Functions

The vitamin B12 in pickled herring supports many functions throughout the body, including proper brain function and healthy nerve cell maintenance. Together with folate (vitamin B9), it helps the body create red blood cells.

Preventing Anemia

The iron in pickled herring helps the body produce hemoglobin, the substance in red blood cells that helps blood carry oxygen throughout your body. When you don’t have enough iron, your body can’t make enough hemoglobin to carry out this function well, leading to anemia. Anemia can make you feel tired and dizzy and can lead to breathing trouble and headaches. 

Potential Risks of Pickled Herring

Pickled herring is high in sodium, which can contribute to high blood pressure, increasing your risk of heart attack.

Healthier Alternatives

If you are concerned about the high level of sodium in pickled herring, you could try smoked herring, which contains a much lower level of sodium, or fresh herring that has not been cured or smoked.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on September 29, 2020

Sources

SOURCES: 

Choose Local F.I.S.H., Cornell University: “Atlantic Herring.”

ESHA Research, Inc., Salem, Oregon: “Fish, herring, Atlantic, pickled.”

Harvard Health Publishing: “The A list of B12 foods.”

Harvard Health Publishing: “Ask the Doctor: Is canned fish good for the heart?”

Marine Stewardship Council: “Fishery Factsheet: Atlantic Herring.”

Nutrients: “Nutrient and Mineral Profile of Chosen Fresh and Smoked Fish .”

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration FishWatch: “Atlantic Herring.”

University of Michigan Rogel Cancer Center: “Why is Iron Important in my Diet?”

University of Minnesota Extension: Preserving fish safely.”

University of Rochester Medical Center: “Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Coronary Heart Disease.”

© 2020 WebMD, LLC. All rights reserved.

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