What is Pickled Herring?
Pickled herring is a type of preserved fish popular in Scandinavian, Jewish and Eastern European cuisine. People make this dish by soaking the fish for at least a day in vinegar along with sugar, onions and other flavors. The fish can be eaten on its own or mixed into other dishes.
Herring fish are common across the world. They live in both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans and are divided into two main species, Atlantic herring and Pacific herring, which are then divided into over 200 subspecies. All herring species have the same general appearance. They are silver fish with one fin on the back. Herring are usually small in size, though some subspecies can grow up to a meter (3.28 feet) long.
The fish travel in large schools and are caught yearly in the spring time when they come along the shores of America and Europe. In some cases, the size of the school may be so large that the fish run out of air to breath in the water and die. Since herring travel in large schools and eat relatively low on the food chain, they are considered to be a ecologically sound fish to eat.
After the fish are caught, they can either be eaten fresh or pickled. Herring were traditionally pickled to preserve them through the long, cold winters common in Scandinavia and other parts of Europe. The nutritional value of pickled herring provides enough of necessary vitamins to keep a person healthy when fresh food is not available.
Pickled herring is high in several vitamins, including Vitamin A, B12, and B3. It's also a good source of protein and omega 3 fatty acids. The pickling liquid can often add a high amount of sodium, so people who need to keep an eye on sodium intake may want to be wary of this dish.
People eat pickled herring on its own, spread it on toast, or combine it with other ingredients into a casserole or salad. A common dish featuring pickled herring in Sweden is called sillgratin, a casserole made of herring and potatoes. In Germany and Poland, rollmops are a popular way to eat the fish. To make a rollmop, a person wraps a pickled herring fillet around onions, carrots and pickles and secures it with a wood skewer or toothpick. Rollmops are eaten as an appetizer, either on their own or with slices of bread.
I love pickled herring, having grown up with it in a Polish household. However, the downside is the high sodium content, which is not only bad for blood pressure, but as a salt-cured food is associated with stomach and colon cancer.
I used to love my pickled herring in sour cream and onions, but now the large Vita bottles are easier to find with the herring in wine and onions. Unfortunately, in addition to the sodium in the pickling juice (I love the taste of vinegar with pickles, herring or on spinach), Vita also adds sugar in the form of high-fructose corn syrup, one of the worst forms of sugar. All of that salt and sugar tend to counter the health benefits to me, as a diabetic, of the wine, onions and herring, especially because they use white wine and miss out on the flavonoids and antioxidants from the skin of the darker grapes.
However, I had never even had high blood pressure when my doc put me on a low dose of lisinopril (ace inhibitor) for its protective benefit to the kidneys of a diabetic. My BP is always between 110-120 over 70-80 at the highest.
As for the sugar, my diabetes was caught early enough that, even after 15 years, it's well enough controlled that I only need to have my hemoglobin A1c checked three or four times a year and no finger sticks. I'm not insulin dependent. The Metformin, originally with Avandia, and now with Actos, along with acarbose and lots of fish oil, vitamins, minerals, and fiber has it under control.
I was among the first to learn of the effect Actos can have in triggering bladder cancer in the late summer of 2007. Within three months after switching from Avandia due to the higher mortality from heart attacks, I noticed the symptoms, but it went undiagnosed for another six months. Luckily, I didn't have to cancel my already booked trip to Disney World in February, because they couldn't schedule the surgery that until early March 2008.
My doc was shocked I took the news of the tumor so well in stride, probably because I'm from a family of seven, six of whom have dealt with 11 different cancers. Dad and I are the only ones with fewer than two cancers, and one brother is up to three. It seems he and two other siblings have the Lynch Syndrome, a genetic defect which greater increases the risk of the types of cancer they have.
Thus far we're all two to 10 year survivors, between the ages of 51 and 53. Mom's second cancer took her at age 74, and Dad's only cancer got him at age 84. So I'm more worried about running out of cash than I am of dying soon of cancer.
Despite the cancer getting a head start from the time of the first symptoms, it was still only in Stage I, even though it was a grade 3, or a highly mutated form, which typically is fast growing and comes back aggressively.
Thankfully, I'm looking forward to another semi-annual negative result. The last microscopic cancer was detected in August 2008, but a booster treatment of BCG seems to have given me the immunity to knock it out and keep it out thus far.
I'm sticking with the Actos, because it already had its effect in triggering my cancer, and the increased risk is only 40 percent for a recurrence. I can reduce that risk by a matching 40 percent for each of the following in my diet: lots of raw cruciferous vegetables. Fortunately, I love a good coleslaw and I haven't tired of eating a pint to a quart at a single sitting, because I can only deal with small amounts of raw broccoli and cauliflower, and the sauerkraut I eat by the whole can or jar doesn't count, because it's cooked.
I reduce the risk by another 40 percent by consuming cultured milk products such as sour cream, yogurt, and cottage cheese, all of which I love, and the sour cream makes the raw broccoli easier to eat. Unfortunately, the sour cream also goes well with guacamole and tortilla chips, and the sour cream in french onion dip encourages lots of potato chips. Being of Irish and English descent, I'm a meat and potatoes guy anyway. Hurray for acarbose, now the generic for Precose, which blocks the conversion of starches to sugar. I'd starve without my carbs.
Thanks to modern pharma, I've only gone from 150 pounds to 175 pounds between the ages of 40 and 63 years, and all of my ailments are in check, also thanks to PT for spinal and muscular back issues, as well as frozen shoulder. I'm told frozen shoulder is more prevalent among diabetics, even mild ones such as I am.
Oh, the third 40 percent insurance against a return of the bladder cancer is drinking plenty of liquids, to keep flushing the urinary tract. The longer it sits in the bladder, the more environmental damage occurs.
Anyway, I now eat a bowl of pickled herring in wine sauce and onions, but I double the amount of chopped onions and add in a generous amount of sour cream and a bit more vinegar. Then I pour a glass of Chianti, and use it to wash down a couple of 100 mg gel caps of resveratrol. I figure, even if its benefit hasn't been proven apart from the other ingredients in red wine, maybe it will boost the red wine advantage when consumed together. After more than a pint of the herring, onions and wine mixed with sour cream, plus a glass of Chianti and my resveratrol.
By the way, my greatest health secret is to party hardy, putting away four cases of beer a week, while shooting pool and tipping the dancers, between ages 30 and 40, not marrying until 46, then only drinking no more than one or two beers or glasses of wine an average of twice a week, after staying clean and sober from age 40 to 60.
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