Virgin herring can be prepared as nigiri sushi.
Virgin herring prepared as nigiri sushi. Photo: Arjen Kraiijeveld

Ready for Virgin Herring

The North Sea herring reinvented. In close cooperation with the herring industry, Nofima has developed new, exciting products from the traditional fish.

Contact person
Portrettbilde av Torstein Skåra
Torstein Skåra

Senior Scientist
Phone: +47 450 15 281

Contact person
Portrettbilde av Morten Heide
Morten Heide

Phone: +47 908 49 530

Currently several different products are made from North Sea herring, where Matjes herring is the most famous. The Netherlands has been an important market, but in recent years Matjes consumption has stagnated in the Netherlands. In recent years production has sometimes exceeded consumption, which has caused stocks to pile up. This is happening while North Sea herring stocks are stronger than in a long time. Access to high quality raw material has therefore constantly improved.

Renewal of process and product

The North Sea herring is a high quality raw material. It has a high level of freshness, a fat content of up to 20% and a very delicate texture, and is very well suited for producing lightly salted herring products. Nofima has therefore looked into opportunities to develop new products from this raw material.

By developing new processing methods, researchers have preserved the raw material’s excellent taste and texture properties, while developing new market-adapted products. Development of the product has taken place in close cooperation with the industry, and with funding from the Norwegian Seafood Research Fund.

Small and fat

The result was Virgin herring. The name originates from the Dutch Matjes herring. Matjes is derived from the Dutch word “maagd,” which means virgin. The same raw material is used for Virgin herring as for Matjes herring; first class North Sea herring.

The herring used must have the right gut content of copepod and have a high fat content. The virginal aspect is related to the small size of the herring, which is to be spawning for the first time. The catches of Virgin herring and Matjes herring are smaller than ordinary herring catches. This is because the gut content, copepod, could cause the belly to rupture. High quality requirements toward the raw material entails an exceptionally short time from catch to delivery.

Produced from fillet

Based on trials conducted in the past two years, full-scale processes have been developed for the production of new fillet products. While Matjes herring is filleted after processing is completed, the new products can be produced directly from fillets – with or without skin. This is both more rational in terms of production, as well as more consumer-friendly. At the same time, valuable by-products are made available for further processing to meal and oil, and transport costs are reduced.

Trials started on a small scale by investigating what the most important factors were to achieve the maturing that takes place in the Matjes process. Several interesting connections were uncovered, and methods were developed to adapt the products’ taste and texture properties to the markets’ desires and needs. In the summer of 2013 processes were upscaled to industrial scale.

Herring that people will want?

In market terms, Virgin herring has several potential competitive advantages. Consumers want uncomplicated products with less salt. As Virgin herring is filleted and lightly salted compared to most other traditional herring products, it is in keeping with consumer desires in several areas.

We also see that the traditional herring products that are strong in flavour lack appeal among younger consumers. In the Virgin herring products, new processes ensure that one can make products with a milder “Matjes flavour” that can be tailored to the preferences of younger consumers.

Currently work is ongoing on testing the products with leading manufacturers in several markets. Feedback from the market evaluations will be decisive for further adjustment and development of the processes and products, and one aims to launch the products for industrial customers and the HoReCa sector (hotel, restaurant and catering) after the year’s season.

North Sea herring for Matjes and Virgin herring

The North Sea herring is found in the North Sea, Skagerrak and Kattegat. Fishing is primarily with purse seine and trawlers. The Dutch Matjes herring is a lightly salted, matured herring product made from fat North Sea herring around June every year. Virgin herring is made from filleted, fresh, small North Sea herring that are lightly salted and matured to provide a mild taste.

Marketing Research   Processing Technology  

Related content

  • News