Will spend the whole herring

07 July, 2022

The jars of midsummer herring may start to feel passé, but the fact is that herring is a climate-smart raw material we could eat more of.

“If we’re talking about eating insects, we should be able to eat smoked herring fins without any problems,” says food scientist Ingrid Undeland.

Today, only around twelve percent of the herring and sprat fished in Sweden ends up on our plates. Most of it is exported for the production of fishmeal or oil for animal feed. Traditionally, in Sweden, only the fillet from these fish becomes food, which contributes to the low utilization rate. But now a project is underway where a form of sorting will do the little fish more justice.

With a newly developed sorting technology, they are now testing to separate the other nutritious parts from the herring in different vessels. Depending on whether it is the dorsal fillet, head, tail fins or viscera, the parts are utilized in different ways.

Detour in the food chain

“Considering how much energy and time is spent on fishing for herring itself, it is a pity that so much of it becomes animal feed. Not least for the sake of the climate, we need to save resources and then it is better to take advantage of more parts of the fish directly for food use. To make animal feed is to take an unnecessary detour in the food chain, says Ingrid Undeland, professor of food science at Chalmers University of Technology in Gothenburg.

She has spent much of her research career finding new ways to take advantage of more parts of fish, with herring in focus. With the project Waseabi industries as the finances of the EU and region Västra Götaland, she and her research group are testing new ways to use herring.

Research has, among other things, laid the foundation for developing a minced meat made from herring’s inner fillet, the part that today remains on the back leg when the rest of the fillet is cut out. It has been tested in the form of burgers at, among other places, schools in the Gothenburg area, which she says has received very positive feedback.

Climate impact and nutrient content statement of facts
Climate impact and nutrient content for some examples of foods consumed in Sweden. Photo: Johan Hallnäs

Vegetarian not always the best

Ingrid Undeland thinks that there is too much focus on kimatsmart food only being vegetarian or vegan.

“But it gets a little crazy to focus solely on imported soy protein and products that are made from it when you have a fantastically good protein raw material that is Swedish and that we do not use as much as we could. Den har ett mycket högt näringsinnehåll och ger dessutom en låg klimatpåverkan, säger hon.

The new sorting technology has now been tested in a herring pickle factory on the west coast with good results. Together with researcher Haizhou Wu and other research colleagues from Chalmers, Undeland has published his results in the scientific journal Food Chemistry, which show that the method works to utilize fish parts in a way that minimizes rancidity and other degradation.

Many options are needed

“In order for all parts of the fish to serve as food for people, it is important that the logistics work and that the cold chain is not broken. If it has once ended up in the box that will become animal feed, it takes a lot for it to be able to become food again. Now we’re trying to do the right thing from the beginning,” she says.

There is a lot of talk about having to eat insects and grow meat in the laboratory to meet the protein needs of the earth’s population while reducing climate impact. Ingrid Undeland believes that many alternatives are needed, and exploiting the Swedish fish that are still caught now is an important part.

“Fishing is sometimes questioned, but in my eyes there are elements of green washing if, instead of using the incredibly fine fish raw material, we buy imported soy protein and serve in schools, for example,” she says.

In Sweden, around 80,000 tonnes of herring are fished every year. It is the species that fishermen fish the most of.

Herring in the North Sea, Skagerrak and Kattegat can grow up to 30 centimeters in length. The weight of adult herrings varies greatly, usually between 40 and 200 grams.

The Baltic herring, which is the same species, is slightly smaller.

A herring in rare cases can grow up to 25 years old.

They live in large shoals, which can move down to a depth of 200 meters.

Sources: Swedish Agency for Marine and Water Management

Text: Petra Hedbom/TT
Photo: Johan Hallnäs

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