Herring

Food Type:
Age Suggestion: 6 months +
Nutrition Rating:How nutritious a food is with a focus on the specific nutrients babies need for optimal growth. The more nutritious a food, the more stars it will have.
Prep Time:How much time a food takes to prepare safely for a baby. The more time-consuming a food is to prepare safely, the more clocks it will have.
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Common Allergen: Yes (
  • Fish
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May cause allergic reactions.

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A gold can of herring with no label and a herring filet in front of it before being prepared for babies starting solids

When can babies eat herring?

Herring may be introduced as soon as your baby is ready to start solids, which is generally around 6 months of age, with a few caveats. Fresh herring can be difficult to find because the fish is highly perishable once caught, which is why most are brined, smoked, or preserved in salty marinades or wine—processing methods that extend the shelf life, but may not always be appropriate for babies, so read labels closely.

Herring are small forage fish that thrive in cold waters and migrate in massive schools along coasts and open seawaters around the world. There are many species of herring, but most on the commercial market come from the northern waters of the Atlantic or Pacific Oceans, where they are an abundant food source for humans and marine life alike. Herring has been a staple for coastal Indigenous Peoples for thousands of years. In Europe, it emerged as early as the 15th century and continues to play a significant role in many communities, particularly Jewish ones, where pickled herring remain a beloved staple on holiday tables and everyday gatherings. The tiny fish’s popularity across cultures is why you see it marketed under many different names—bloaters, kippers, matjes, nishin, rollmops, seledka, sild, and surströmming to name a few!

Callie, 13 months, eats flaked herring from a can.

Is herring healthy for babies?

Yes, though herring is often processed in ways that are not as healthy (smoked, salted, etc.). Herring offers tons of protein, all essential amino acids, and omega-3 fatty acids, including DHA to fuel your child’s cardiovascular health, central nervous system development, cell growth, and eyesight.1 The fish is also a phenomenal source of vitamin B12 for healthy blood and neurodevelopment, as well as other B-vitamins for energy production. Herring is also one of the few, naturally occurring food sources of vitamin D for bone health. It even offers vitamin E and selenium for immune function and iron for healthy blood.

Herring is a sustainable choice because governments in North America and Europe (where herring is caught) manage populations well. It has a “good choice” sustainability rating from Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program and is relatively affordable, too.2 3 However, most herring are preserved in a sodium brine or marinade, so serve packaged herring in moderation and rinse the fish under water in a colander to reduce the sodium levels.4 Unsmoked herring is soft and falls apart easily, while brined and smoked fish have a firmer texture. For older children, preserved herring is a fantastic alternative to packaged tuna, which contains far greater amounts of mercury.5 Just read the fine print on the labels: 

  • Watch the salt. From fish to fruits and vegetables, preserved products often have high levels of sodium. While herring packed in oils and flavorings can have higher levels of nutrients thanks to preservation methods, they are often excessively high in sodium. Look for products less than 100mg of sodium per serving and/or if you are unable to find a low sodium product, look for less than ~300 mg per serving and rinse the fish under water in a colander which can remove up to 80% of sodium.6 Learn all about sodium and babies >>
  • Find the source. Choose Pacific herring when possible and steer clear of the fish from the Baltic Sea. While still low in mercury, Atlantic herring can have more mercury than the Pacific variety, and studies have found herring from the Baltic Sea contain higher levels of dioxins and polychlorinated biphenyls (or PCBs) when compared to herring from other regions.7 8 9 Dioxins and PCBs have been found to disrupt the thyroid’s hormone function and may affect the brain.10

  • Look for a “BPA-free” label. BPA is used to line the interior of food containers and plastic bottles, and studies show that frequent exposure can disrupt your baby’s bodily functions.11 12 Increasingly, companies are moving toward “BPA-free” food packaging, however similar chemicals called BPS and BPF are also used to line containers. While they are also considered to disrupt the endocrine system in our bodies, there is no legislation requiring labeling of these chemicals on food products.13 14 Look for cans or pouches that are marked “BPA-free” or opt for herring in glass jars.

Is herring a choking hazard for babies?

No, herring is not a common choking hazard, but fish bones are. Pin bones are tiny and impossible for fishmongers to fully remove, and it is difficult to diligently remove them from fresh or frozen herring before serving. Canning and other preservation methods soften the bones, making them edible and safe for infants.15 Bones or no bones, make sure you create a safe eating environment, always stay near your baby during mealtime, because in theory, an individual could choke on any food.  

For more information, visit our section on gagging and choking and familiarize yourself with common choking hazards.

Is herring a common allergen?

Yes. Finned fish is a common food allergen.16  While it’s estimated that allergy to finned fish impacts less than 1% of people in the United States, the allergy is typically lifelong.17 18 About 40% of people with finned fish allergies don’t experience their first allergic reaction until adulthood.19

If you have a family history of seafood allergies or suspect your baby may be allergic to fish, make an appointment with an allergist before introducing herring. As with all common allergens, introduce herring in small amounts and watch closely as your baby eats to see if any adverse reaction occurs. If all goes well, gradually increase the serving size to your baby over time. 

How to cut herring for babies with baby-led weaning?

6 to 12 months old: Offer whole or flaked herring fillets, with skin and any lingering bones removed. If the herring is from a can or preserved in a brine, rinse the fish under water to remove excess sodium.

12 to 24 months old: Homemade herring patties can be a great way to go at this age as the round shape is attractive to many toddlers and easy for them to munch on independently. Alternatively, you can offer flaked herring on its own or mixed into grains, pastas, or vegetables.

For more information on how to cut food for your baby’s age, hop over to our section on Food Sizes & Shapes.

★Tip: If you’re a fan of savory flavors when you wake up, small oily fish like herring and sardines are great additions to your morning routine. Use it to boost the protein in your own omelets and scrambled eggs or pile it on your bagel, bialy, or toast. 

Recipe: Forshmak (Jewish Herring Salad)

Serves 2

Ingredients

  • 3 lightly pickled herring fillets
  • 3 tablespoons Greek yogurt
  • 1 apple
  • 3 sprigs dill (optional)
  • 1/8 teaspoon white pepper (optional)
  • 4-6 rye toasts or baby teething rusks

Directions

  1. Rinse the fillets under cold water to remove excess sodium. Pat dry.
  2. Check the fillets to remove any bones. While the pin bones of canned herring may be soft enough for your baby to eat if you see any large ones remaining, pull them out (tweezers can help).
  3. Place the fillets in a small food processor along with the yogurt.
  4. Wash and peel the apple. Use a box grater to shred the flesh into the food processor.
  5. Wash and chop the dill, if using, then add to the food processor. Stems are okay!
  6. Add the white pepper if you like, then blend until smooth.
  7. Spread the forshmak on your vehicle of choice—baby crackers for beginners or rye toasts for older children.

Serve on a plate for your child to eat independently or hand a cracker or toast in the air for your child to grab. Eat one alongside your child to show how it’s done!

This recipe contains common allergens: finned fish and dairy. Only serve to your child after each of these individual allergens have been introduced safely.

Flavor Pairings

Herring is an oily fish that tastes delicious on its own or offset by acidic, creamy, or sweet flavors that are enhanced with herbs and spices. Lightly pickle the herring in apple cider vinegar or marinate in a creamy sauce, then try mixing the preserved fish with sweet fruits and vegetables like artichoke, beet, carrot, shallot, or sweet potato, or acidic ones like apple, lemon, and tomato. Season with your family’s favorite herbs and spices to put your own spin on this beloved little fish!

Reviewed by:

Jamie Truppi, MSN, CNS

Venus Kalami, MNSP, RD

Kimberly Grenawitzke, OTD, OTR/L, SCFES, IBCLC, CNT

Sakina Bajowala, MD, FAAAAI. Board-Certified Allergist & Immunologist (allergy section)

Rachel Ruiz, MD Board-Certified General Pediatrician & Pediatric Gastroenterologist

  1. United States Food and Drug Administration. (2017). Mercury levels in commercial fish and shellfish (1990-2012). Retrieved September 30, 2020
  2. Monterrey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch. Herring Recommendations. Retrieved September 24, 2020
  3. Marine Stewardship Council. Herring. Retrieved September 24, 2020
  4. J. Am. Diet Association. Effect of water rinsing on sodium content of selected foods. 1983. Retrieved January 13, 2021 
  5. United States Food and Drug Administration. (2017, Oct. 25). Mercury levels in commercial fish and shellfish (1990-2012). Retrieved February 2, 2020
  6. J. Am. Diet Association. Effect of water rinsing on sodium content of selected foods. 1983. Retrieved January 13, 2021
  7. Sunderland EM. Mercury exposure from domestic and imported estuarine and marine fish in the U.S. seafood market. Environ Health Perspect. 2007;115(2):235-242. doi:10.1289/ehp.9377
  8. European Food Safety Authority. (2005, July 4). EFSA Provides Advice on the Safety and Nutritional Contribution of Wild and Farmed Fish. Retrieved September 30, 2020
  9. Opinion of the Scientific Panel on contaminants in the food chain [CONTAM] related to the safety assessment of wild and farmed fish. (n.d.). EFSA Journal, EFSA Journal. DOI:10.2903/j.efsa.2005.236. Retrieved September 30, 2020
  10. Sher, E.S., Ming Xu, X., Adams, P.M., Craft, C.M., Stein, S.A. (1998). The Effects of Thyroid Hormone Level and Action in Developing Brain: Are These Targets for the Actions of Polychlorinated Biphenyls and Dioxins? Toxicology and Industrial Health, 14(1-2), 121-158. DOI:10.1177/074823379801400110. Retrieved October 12, 2020
  11. Braun, J.M. (2017). Early-life exposure to EDCs: role in childhood obesity and neurodevelopment. Nature Reviews Endocrinology, 13(3):161-173. DOI:10.1038/nrendo.2016.186. Retrieved October 13, 2020
  12. Acconcia, F., Pallottini, V., Marino, M. (2015). Molecular Mechanisms of Action of BPA. Dose-response : a publication of International Hormesis Society, 13(4), 1559325815610582. DOI:10.1177/1559325815610582. Retrieved October 13, 2020
  13. Wanger, C. (2014). Bisphenol S. Food Packaging Forum. Retrieved September 30, 2020
  14. Jacobson, M.H., Woodward, M., Bao, W., Liu, B., Trasande, L. (2019). Urinary Bisphenols and Obesity Prevalence Among U.S. Children and Adolescents. Journal of the Endocrine Society, 3(9), 1715-1726. DOI:10.1210/js.2019-00201. Retrieved September 30, 2020
  15. Okada, M., Moschino, T. and Kato, T. “Bone softening,” a practical way to utilize small fish, Marine Fisheries Review, 50, 1-7, 1988
  16. Food Allergy Research & Education. Fish Allergy: Video. Retrieved September 1, 2020
  17. Sicherer, S. H., Muñoz-Furlong, A., & Sampson, H. A. (2004). Prevalence of seafood allergy in the United States determined by a random telephone survey. The Journal of allergy and clinical immunology, 114(1), 159–165. DOI: 10.1016/j.jaci.2004.04.018. Retrieved September 1, 2020
  18. Food Allergy and Anaphylaxis Connection Team. Food Allergy & Anaphylaxis – Fish. Retrieved September 1, 2020
  19. Food Allergy Research & Education. Fish Allergy. Retrieved September 1, 2020