What are Kippers?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Kippers are herring or sometimes salmon which have been split in half, cleaned, salted, and then cold smoked. The result is a highly flavorful, nutritious fish which can be eaten in a wide assortment of ways. Many people associate kippers with British cuisine specifically, as they are a popular breakfast item in the British Isles, but similar versions of preserved fish are eaten in many nations around the world. Chances are very good that there are some canned kippers in your neighborhood, as this delicacy is popular in many corners of the world.

Kippers are either herring or salmon which have been cold smoked.
Kippers are either herring or salmon which have been cold smoked.

Any food which has been salted and coldsmoked could be said to be “kippered,” and kippering is a time-honored method of preservation. The salt keeps the meat from going bad while it cures in the smoke, causing the food to shrink and become easier to handle and transport. Like other cold smoked foods, kippers should be cooked before they are consumed, just in case they contain harmful bacteria, and some companies sell pre-cooked kippers in cans for people who want to be able to serve them cold right out of the tin.

Though kippers are popular throughout the British Isles, the Isle of Man is particularly famous for its version of the plate.
Though kippers are popular throughout the British Isles, the Isle of Man is particularly famous for its version of the plate.

The invention of the kipper is often credited to John Woodger, a fish processor who supposedly accidentally developed the kippering process in 1843. In fact, fish have been salted and cold smoked in Europe since well before the birth of Christ, so Woodger could not have invented kippering, but he certainly popularized it, making the kipper one of the more enduring legacies of the British Isles in the eyes of many food historians.

The word “kipper,” incidentally, appears to come from the Old English word for a spawning male salmon, cypera, which comes from an older word, cyperen, which means “copper.” The copper link is probably a reference to the distinctive coppery tinge which salmon acquire during the spawning season. People have been talking about kippering salmon since the 1300s.

The Isle of Man is particularly famous for its kippers, and several processors there ship kippers all over the world to people with a soft spot for this fish delicacy. Kippers are also produced by several other fisheries around Britain and Ireland. They can also be made from fish other than herring and salmon, and some people like to make their own versions of kippers at home with their catch.

The classic use of kippers is on toast at breakfast, but kippers can also be added to omelets and quiches, sauces, and a variety of other dishes. They are high in useful vitamins and minerals, making them nutritious as well as tasty.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments


I love grilled kippers. Since the meat is already smoked, grilling adds to that smoky flavor. Also, if you use the grill outside, then you don't have a house full of that fishy smell when you are done!

I like kippered herring with the bones still inside, because this makes for a better flavor when they are cooked. I take some foil and put it in a metal baking dish, and I spray it with butter-flavored cooking spray. Then, I put the kippers in and take the dish out to the grill.

It doesn't take long to cook them. I do about a minute or two on each side, and when I flip them over, I spray them with more buttery spray.


@shell4life – If you buy the kind of kippers that need to be cooked before serving, then they should taste totally different from what you are describing. I bought some kippered salmon last month and cooked it in a little bit of butter inside my wok, and it tasted great.

However, the kipper fillets that come ready to eat in a tin might not be up your alley. They probably taste a bit like the smoked salmon you ate.

I suppose it's an acquired taste, because many people love it. I prefer the kind that I need to cook, though, because it tastes more like restaurant quality fish.


I am hesitant to buy kippers, because I had a bad experience with smoked salmon in the past. A recipe I was planning to use called for it, so I bought a package of cold smoked salmon from the deli.

It tasted salty and nasty. It didn't even have the flavor of canned salmon. It almost tasted like bacon gone wrong!

Is this what kippers taste like? If so, I want nothing to do with them.

However, the salmon I bought was meant to be eaten straight out of the package. Since kippers need to be cooked, they might taste differently altogether.

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