What Is Dutch Haring?

Dutch herring with onions

Ira Heuvelman-Dobrolyubova / Getty Images

Haring is the Dutch name for herring, a small, oily silvery-colored fish found in the North Atlantic and North Pacific ocean. 

A Culinary Icon

The Dutch are obsessed with the season’s first herring, called Hollandse Nieuwe, which starts appearing at the beginning of June. The arrival of this slippery treat is usually front-page news (see Herring Season, below). It's safe to say that herring is a bit of a Dutch culinary icon.

Herring may only be called Hollandse Nieuwe (Dutch new herring) or Nieuwe haring (new herring) if it is caught between May and July, contains at least 16 percent fat and is prepared according to the Dutch tradition.

What Makes Dutch Herring So Special?

The fish are gutted on board the fishing boats, leaving the pancreas in place. The pancreatic enzymes do most of the conservation so that the brine they are kept in needs much less salt. This could explain why Dutch herring is so much more flavorful than other salted or pickled herring varieties in the rest of Europe.

How the Dutch Eat Herring

The way the Dutch eat their herring is pretty unusual. They serve it with chopped raw onions and sliced gherkins on a bun or, more commonly, as is, with head and innards removed. The idea is that you grab the herring by its tail, dip it in the raw onions, throw your head back and down the hatch it goes. That's the proper "Dutch way."

A Little Herring History

Herring and the Dutch go back more than 1,000 years when they began fishing and trading this much-loved fish. Historians believe much of Holland’s wealth, sea trade and colonization can be attributed to herring. After a Dutchman by the name of Willem Beukelszoon invented a popular process for curing the fish in brine, the love affair was cemented.

There is a local saying that Amsterdam was built on herring bones. And, in fact, historians believe that the Netherlands gained its upper hand on the world seas in the 17th century because Dutch sailors were fed on herring, an excellent source of protein and omega fatty acids. Therefore it seems that Holland can thank its Golden Age, at least in part, to this silvery-blue fish.

Herring Season

Dutch people also make a big deal out of herring season, which starts in mid-May and runs through July. In early June, however, the herring are considered to be the best, and every year the first tub of Nieuwe Haring is auctioned off for charity. After that, everyone can indulge as the herring is sold everywhere and herring feasts are held, including Vlaggetjesdag or "Flag Day" in Scheveningen.