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The Herring Hearing: Which is best for your food stash?

Avatar for Samantha Biggers Samantha Biggers  |  Updated: January 22, 2020
The Herring Hearing:  Which is best for your food stash?

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I have to admit that the canned meat tests that my husband and I have been doing have been a bit of fun!  This next installment concentrates on herring or kippers. We will be testing other types of canned fish but after buying up a lot of varieties we determined that the fish taste tests would have to be done in a series all to themselves. We will be testing tuna, sardines, and “fancy fish products”, in separate posts so don’t feel like your favorite fish is left out! Testing 30 cans of fish products at once is simply too much!

I have been around fish a lot!

When Matt and I lived in Alaska I worked at a fish processing facility. I did office and inventory work and helped get the fishermen’s paperwork and processed so they could get paid for their catch. It was a beautiful view from the office but downstairs was downright smelly at times especially when they were cooking off sea cucumber skins to be shipped to Japan for soup.

We took turns checking to make sure workers showed up every morning because of the seasonal nature of the job of the processors meant that some did not take it as seriously as they should have. Sometimes they wrote their names on the back of the rain slickers but the regulars you got to know pretty fast.

During the summer I got to manage the caviar lab which was kind of fun and interesting. Caviar has to be tested for bacteria and contamination before being packaged up and sold.

Halibut and King Salmon were my favorites to eat. We also processed a lot of shrimp. I have to say I miss those good deals on seafood I got for working there!

Well enough of that, let’s talk about kippers and herring!

Kippers and herring are the same fish. Kippers are just usually smoked and butterflied before being canned.

Kippers were very popular with the WWII generation in the UK. The baby boomer generation were not as big of fans but they have increased in popularity once again due to nostalgia and honestly, after doing this test, I think they can be very tasty! Kippers are often called “kippered snacks”. I have to say they do make great picnic food.

Herring itself is not always smoked and not butterflied.

Store brands and regional brands

There are plenty of other types of kippers and herring out there. Places like Costco are popular with many Backdoor Survival readers. We do not live very close to a Costco, Wal-Mart or Sam’s Club so if they have a store brand that you like, please let us know in the comments. If you live somewhere that has a big herring fishery there may be other options too.

Serving sizes

The servings per can vary from 1-3.5.  I have listed the protein and fat grams per serving so remember to multiply that by the servings per container to get your total grams of fat and protein per can.

Flavor and country of origin

Some of the differences in the flavor of the fish we tried are likely due to them being caught in different waters. Also, the type of wood used for the smoking process can affect the flavor.

Canned Kippers

BEACH CLIFF Kippered Snacks

contain boneless herring fillets with a lighter smoke
perfect choice for your recipes and are a reliable keto food and keto snack

Bar Harbor Wild Smoked Kippers

Naturally wood smoked for delicious flavor
Made with all natural ingredients
Fresh off the docks of Maine

MW Polar Herring Kipper Snacks

All natural smoked boneless fillets of herring
BPA Free, and excellent source of protein
Low Sodium

Bar Harbor All Natural Smoked Wild Kippers

Country Of Origin: USA. Wild caught near Maine!

Container Size: 6.7 0z

Servings Per Can: 3.5

Calories Per Serving: 110

Calories Per Can: 385

Protein Per Serving: 11 grams

Total Fat Per Serving: 8 grams

Salt Content Per Serving:  230 mg or 10% based on a 2,000 calorie diet

Ingredients: Herring Fillets, water, salt

This was the favorite of all the herring we tested. First off it is hard not to love the fact that this herring is caught wild near Maine! A lot of canned fish comes from foreign waters and some of those you have to wonder about the water quality. Most of the oceans are polluted at least some but some areas are definitely higher risk zones than others.

We were surprised at the quality and value that Bar Harbor offered. Remember that this is a much larger can of kippers than most on this list even though the cost is so low.

They really nailed it in terms of balancing the smokey flavor and the salt content of the kippers. The only real negative is that there was a significant amount of brine in the can. That was true with a lot of the kippers we tasted but there may have been a little more with the Bar Harbor.

Beach Cliff Kippered Snacks

Cost: Around $1.33

Country Of Origin: Canada

Container Size: 3.53 0z

Servings Per Can: 1 can drained

Calories Per Serving: 130

Calories Per Can: 130

Protein Per Serving: 16 grams

Total Fat Per Serving:  8 grams

Salt Content Per Serving: 460 mg or 19% based on a 2,000 calorie diet

Ingredients: Fillets of herring, water, salt, natural smoke flavoring, sodium phosphate (to maintain texture)

This variety is hard to find reasonably priced online. If you have a local discount store you may be able to find them. We bought ours at Freds, a southeastern chain variety store. I bet you can find them at drug stores and local Wal-Marts too.

We tasted these 2nd and they were a big disappointment after the wild caught Bar Harbor Kippers. While the Beach Cliff cost a mere $1.19, they have a salty and smokey burnt flavor that neither of us cared for at all. I love smoked fish but this tasted more burnt than smokey. These were discarded and fed to the dogs and cats shortly after the test. I don’t think these are worth the money and will not be buying again.

MW Polar Herring Kipper Snacks

Country Of Origin: Germany. Harvest in the North Sea and Northern Atlantic

Container Size: 3.53 0z

Servings Per Can: 2 drained servings

Calories Per Serving: 90

Calories Per Can: 180

Protein Per Serving: 8 grams

Total Fat Per Serving: 7 grams

Salt Content Per Serving:  50 mg or 2% based on a 2,000 calorie diet

Ingredients: All Natural Smoked Boneless Fillets of Herring, water, salt.

The Polar was decent and definitely had a firmer texture than the other herrings we tested.  A big difference we both noticed was that the fish also seemed drier when you cut into it with a fork and that trend continued when it got to your mouth as well. It reminds one of dry smoked salmon. The smokey notes were very pronounced and a little bitter but still good.

When researching this brand I came across some information on the company. It appears that they are very concerned about quality and green practices. The fact that their fish is wild caught and contains no preservatives beyond salt means a lot in a world full of fish products with added dyes and preservatives. The natural birch wood smoking process also helps with preserving the fish. It is good to know that Polar is actually smoking the fish and not just using smoke flavoring additives.

Polar is the herring that Matt and I both agreed would be our 2nd choice with the Bar Harbor being our first. It is easy to find online and the price is right.

Brunswick Kippered Seafood Snacks

Country Of Origin: Canada

Container Size: 3.53 0z

Servings Per Can: 1

Calories Per Serving: 160

Calories Per Can: 160

Protein Per Serving: 16 grams

Total Fat Per Serving: 2.5 grams

Salt Content Per Serving:  320 mg or 13% based on a 2,000 calorie diet

Ingredients: Herring Fillets, water, salt, natural smoke flavoring, sodium hexametaphosphate

We actually thought the Brunswick tasted pretty good for inexpensive kippers, but the fact that they contain added preservatives may turn some preppers off. The flesh of the fish was firm, and the taste was smokey but not overdone or burnt tasting which was a pleasant change from the Beach Cliff Kippered snacks.

The ingredients list for these kippers is unfortunately not great. The smoke flavoring may be a problem for some that want only naturally smoked fish. It is worth mentioning again that these kippers did have a more pleasantly mild smoke flavor. It can be harder to control the smokiness in a naturally smoked product.

Roland Kippers Snacks

Country Of Origin: Canada

Container Size: 3.25 0z

Servings Per Can: 1

Calories Per Serving: 190

Calories Per Can: 190

Protein Per Serving: 19 grams

Total Fat Per Serving: 13 grams

Salt Content Per Serving:  390 mg or 17 % based on a 2,000 calorie diet

Ingredients: Smoked herring and salt

The Roland had a less smokey flavor than the Polar. While the flavor is better than a lot on this list, the high salt content is something to watch out for. I suppose if you do not consume the brine then that will significantly reduce the amount of sodium. At the same time, there was no indication if nutritional information was based on the drained or wet weight.

Beach Cliff Herring Fish Steaks

Country Of Origin: Canada

Container Size: 3.75 oz

Servings Per Can: 1

Calories Per Serving: 190

Calories Per Can: 190

Protein Per Serving:19 grams

Total Fat Per Serving: 12 grams

Salt Content Per Serving: 310 mg or 12% based on a 2,000 calorie diet

Ingredients: Herring, soybean oil, hot peppers, water, vinegar, salt, calcium chloride, natural flavor, sodium benzoate (preservative) 

These are a bit spicy but that is mostly if you intentionally eat the chili peppers with your fish. If you just grab a fish steak and eat it there is some chili flavor but it is not actually hot. This might be good to know if splitting a can with someone that likes hot food better than the other person does.

I like the flavor of these fish steaks more than Matt did. I think that a good compromise might be to eat kippers with a can of green chilis. Both us did not care for the fact that there was a noticeable spine bone running through each steak. They were kind of soft but if you don’t like bones at all, then always go with kippers when it comes down to buying herring.

The fish steaks did benefit from the chilis, and we both preferred this variety of herring steak over the steaks that were just packed in soybean oil.

This brand also had extra preservatives in it that some may not like.

Beach Cliff Herring Steaks In Soybean Oil

Cost: Around $1.08 but I have found these for as low as $0.88.

Country Of Origin: Canada

Container Size: 3.75 oz

Servings Per Can: 1

Calories Per Serving:1

Calories Per Can: 110

Protein Per Serving: 14 grams

Total Fat Per Serving: 6 grams

Salt Content Per Serving:  220 mg or 9% based on a 2,000 calorie diet

Ingredients: Herring and soybean oil

Neither of us were big fans of the plain fish steaks. The bones were off-putting and without the addition of chilis, the fishy flavor was incredibly strong. I actually like strong tasting fish but this was just too much. Matt and I gave these to our dog. If you have to eat these or get a good deal on them I highly recommend putting back some type of sauce to enhance them.

Note on kippers versus herring steaks

I try to avoid soy oil when possible but during SHTF I am not going to be too picky about meat and neither will you if hungry enough. That being said, Matt and I are probably going to choose kippers in the future since they are typically in a brine.

I can use that brine for flavoring rice or something during a long term emergency or even use it as a supplement for our cats. Kitties are valuable during SHTF if you can keep them around. Mice and other vermin are a threat to your food supplies and health, and during a long term emergency, it can be much worse.

All the cans opened and lined up after the taste test. Clockwise from the top left corner we have: Bar Harbor All Natural Smoked Kippers, Roland Kippered Snacks, Beach Cliff Kippered Snacks, Brunswick Kippered Seafood Snacks, Beach Cliff Herring Steaks with Hot Green Chilis in Soybean Oil, Beach Cliff Herring Steaks in Soybean Oil, and Polar Kipper Snacks

Shelf Life

Kippers have a much better shelf life than some fish and a lot of poultry. To us, that means they are a decent way to put back some long term shelf stable protein and a source of salt and brine for soups and flavoring. The kippers we taste tested had a best by date of 2021 in most cases.

I think kippers are an excellent way to indulge a love a smoked fish without spending a fortune too. Where I live, smoked trout is $18-$25 per lb, making it a splurge for a special picnic in the vineyard or something like that. Kippers, on the other hand, I could eat regularly if I wanted to.

Sale prices and shelf life can be connected. If you find a really good deal on canned foods online or in a store, it is a good idea to ask what the best by date is on what you are ordering. Sometimes an exceptional deal means the seller is trying to clear out their inventory before it expires and is not sellable.

Cost versus tuna

Tuna is cheaper but who wants to eat the same thing all the time? Kippers make an excellent alternative to tuna and the smokey flavor is something that makes fish, in general, more appealing to some, including those that hate tuna generally. Kippers are good right out of the can whereas when I buy tuna I am going to feel like I need to add a lot more to it.

Ways to eat kippers or herring steaks

  • Straight out of the can with crackers, bread, cheese, etc.
  • Kippers and eggs in the morning
  • Kippers and potatoes combined with some onion and spice can make a good alternative to traditional fish cake recipes
  • Brine and oil can be used to flavor soups, chowders, and stews or you can throw a whole can of fish and brine into a pot with vegetables and spices for a flavorful soup

Do you have any good recipes that use herring? Is there a brand that you like better than any on this list?

Special thanks to Ginny for cleaning up and disposing of the less tasty kippers and herring. Sadie Grove the Great Pyrenees helped out a lot too!

Samantha Biggers can be reached at [email protected].

All photos by Matthew Biggers
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6 Responses to “The Herring Hearing: Which is best for your food stash?”

  1. We’ve been getting the Polar at a sale price lately, and sometimes find them at the discount food outlet, nearing their best-by date. While hunkered down during the covid thing I cleaned our ‘root cellar’ (pantry and safe room where it stays very cool) and found some cans of the Brunswick Kippered Snacks that are over 5 years beyond their best-by date. Hating to toss them, I’ve been eating them and turns out they are excellent. No ill side effects. I’ve read that in some countries, especially western EU, ‘aged’ herring and sardines are sold at a premium. Seems they improve with age according to some folks. As long as the can is in good shape, not swollen, and the fish smells fine, they last a LONG time. I have to say that these were great. So glad I didn’t throw them out.

  2. I eat a can of kippered each day at work with cream cheese filled herb crackers. I’m diabetic and need to eat often so during my 12 hour shifts it’s a great pick me up (plus the smell keeps my coworkers out of my work area)

  3. One suggestion – whenever making a comparison between various brands and sizes of items like kippers or whatever, one of the comparisons should be the cost per pound or per ounce. Then we can look at the rating and decide if a cheaper one is worth the drop in quality or vice versa.

  4. Thank you for posting this interesting review of the different brands of kippers. I’ve never had any type of kippers before (although I do enjoy herring in cream sauce) but will definitely be getting some smoked kippers to try out based on your recommendations!

  5. Personally, I’m not fond of canned fish. Except for tuna. I will probably get some of the above mentioned brands (Bar Harbor & Polar, based on your recommendation) because, like you said, when you’re hungry you will eat whatever you have.

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