This article is about fish. For other uses see kipper (disambiguation).

A kipper is a fish which has been split from tail to head, eviscerated, salted, and smoked. Typically the species is a herring or salmon but traditionally it would be any fish found in great numbers caught during its spawning period. Spawning fish are not good to eat fresh, and usually arrive in great abundance, thus they are salted and smoked to improve flavour and preservation.

The Old English origin of the word comes from various sources such as Icelandic kippa which means "to pull, snatch" and the Danish word kippen which means "to seize, to snatch". From this the English word kipe is a basket used to catch fish. Another theory traces the word kipper to the kip, or small beak, that male salmon develop during the breeding season.

This photo shows the place, in a street about 50m from Seahouses harbour, where the kipper "accident" in 1843 is said to have occurred.
This photo shows the place, in a street about 50m from Seahouses harbour, where the kipper "accident" in 1843 is said to have occurred.

The exact origins of kippers is unknown. According to Mark Kurlansky "Smoked foods almost always carry with them legends about their having been created by accident - usually the peasant hung the food too close to the fire, and then, imagine his surprise the next morning when..."1. One example of this legendary origin can be found in the story of John Woodger at Seahouses in Northumberland, England around 1843. Local legend states that kippers happened accidentally, when fish for processing was left overnight in a room with a smoking stove. We know this to be false because the origin of the word kipper is Old English which dates to at least 1000 years ago. Walter William Skeat, an English philologist and ethnographer, derives it from the Old English kippian, to spawn. We know smoking and salting of fish, in particular spawning salmon and herring which can only be made edible by this practice, predates 19th Century Britain and indeed written history, probably going back as long as man has been using salt to preserve food. We also know it was eaten in Germany and reached Scandinavia sometime during the Middle Ages.

As a verb, to kipper means to preserve by rubbing with salt or other spices and drying in the open air or in smoke. So beef or other meat preserved in the same fashion can logically be called "kippered."

kipper time is the season in which fishing for salmon is forbidden [Eng. & Scot.]. Originally the period (May 3 to January 6) in the Thames, by an act of Parliament.


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