Herring has been a staple food source since at least 3000 B.C. There are numerous ways the fish is served and many regional recipes: eaten raw, fermented, pickled, or cured by other techniques. The fish was sometimes known as "two-eyed steak".

Nutrition and Pollution
Herring are very high in the long-chain Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA. They are a source of vitamin D.
Water pollution influences the amount of herring that may be safely consumed. For example, large Baltic herring slightly exceeds recommended limits with respect to PCB and dioxin, although some sources point out that cancer-reducing effect of omega-3 fatty acids is statistically stronger than the cancer-causing effect of PCBs and dioxins. The contaminant levels depend on the age of the fish which can be inferred from their size. Baltic herrings larger than 17 cm may be eaten twice a month, while herrings smaller than 17 cm can be eaten freely. Mercury in fish also influences the amount of fish that women who are pregnant or planning to be pregnant within the next one or two years may safely eat.

Pickled herring is a delicacy in Europe, and has become a part of Baltic, Scandinavian, German, Eastern Slavic and Jewish cuisine. Most cured herring uses a two-step curing process. Initially, herring is cured with salt to extract water. The second stage involves removing the salt and adding flavorings, typically a vinegar, salt, sugar solution to which ingredients like peppercorn, bay leaves and raw onions are added. In recent years also other flavors have been added due to foreign influences. However, the tradition is strong in Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Germany. Onion, sherry, mustard and dill are some of the traditional flavourings. Very small quantities of the exotic flavourings are sold. An overwhelming majority of Scandinavians prefer the traditional flavourings.
In Scandinavia and Germany, once the pickling process is finished and depending on which of the dozens of classic herring flavourings (mustard, onion, garlic, lingonberries etc.) are selected, it is eaten with dark rye bread, crisp bread, sour cream, or potatoes. This dish is common at Christmas, Easter and Midsummer, where it is eaten with akvavit.
In the 19th century, people in Berlin developed a special treat known in English as soused herring or rollmops.
Pickled herring is common in Russian cuisine, where it can be served as simple as just cut into pieces seasoned with sunflower oil and onions, or can be part of herring salads, which are usually prepared with vegetables and seasoned with mayonnaise dressing.
Pickled herrings are common in Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine, perhaps best known for forshmak salad known in English simply as "chopped herring".
Pickled herring can also be found in the cuisine of Hokkaido in Japan, where families traditionally preserved large quantities for winter.
Rollmops are pickled herring fillets rolled (hence the name) into a cylindrical shape around a piece of pickled gherkin or an onion. The word is borrowed from the German.
Pickled herring is one of the twelve dishes served on Ukrainian Christmas Eve.

In Sweden, Baltic herring ("Strömming") is fermented to make surströmming.

A typical Dutch delicacy is Hollandse Nieuwe (Dutch New), which is raw herring from the catches around the end of spring and the beginning of summer. This is typically eaten with raw onion. Hollandse nieuwe is only available in spring when the first seasonal catch of herring is brought in. This is celebrated in festivals such as the Vlaardingen Herring Festival and Vlaggetjesdag in Scheveningen. The new herring are frozen and enzyme-preserved for the remainder of the year. The first barrel of Hollandse Nieuwe is traditionally sold at auction for charity.

Other means
In Scotland the herring is traditionally filleted and after being coated in seasoned pin-head oatmeal is fried in a pan with butter or oil. This dish is usually served with "crushed" buttered boiled potatoes. A kipper is a split and smoked herring, a bloater is a whole smoked herring and a buckling is a hot smoked herring with the guts removed. All are staples of British cuisine. According to George Orwell in The Road to Wigan Pier, the Emperor Charles V erected a statue to the inventor of bloaters.
Smoked herring is a traditional meal on the Danish island in the Baltic Sea, Bornholm. This is also the case in Sweden where one can get hard fried/smoked "Strömming" named "Sotare" in places like Skansen, Stockholm. In Sweden, herring soup is also a traditional dish.
In Southeast Alaska, western hemlock boughs are cut and placed in the ocean before the herring arrive to spawn. The fertilized herring eggs stick to the boughs, and are easily collected. After being boiled briefly the eggs are removed from the bough. Herring eggs collected in this way are eaten plain or in herring egg salad. This method of collection is part of Tlingit tradition.

In the Philippines, dried herring is popularly eaten during breakfast, along with garlic rice and eggs.
Very young herring are called whitebait and are eaten whole as a delicacy.