Known as a delicacy exported worldwide, these little fishes have little to do with the state capital. The name „Kiel sprats”, denies namely the actual origin of the sprats, which originally come from Eckernförde. Since about 1844, the mass smoked fish were carted for export by horse and buggy from Eckernforde to the Kiel station, where they were marked with the name of the railway station “Kiel” and transferred to the Hamburg-Altona train. By using a large shipping stamp the assumption of the fish being produced in Kiel was born, whereby the name Kiel sprats became a natural fit quite quickly.
But what is it about the sprats? They resemble the herring, but are much smaller and are characterized by a flat body. The color of the back is silvery to greenish and the sides and the belly are white-silvery with yellow shimmering spots. This European sprat species can be found in the eastern regions of the Atlantic Ocean, from Lofoten to Gibraltar in the Mediterranean, and in the North, Baltic and Black Sea. The largest collections are found in the North Sea and the Northeastern Atlantic. They are also caught in the Baltic Sea around Kiel in small amounts, which are not ecologically relevant.
For the production of the Kiel sprats they use specimen about 10 cm long (25 grams) and sometimes small herrings as well. To preserve the typical flavor of the Kiel sprats, the sprats were originally smoked in Altona ovens over beech and alder wood. However, the old Altona stoves have given way to modern day, gas-fired smokers because of environmental protection reasons. Rehbein & Kruse is a nearly 100-year old family business from Eckernforde and one of the last smokehouses and manufacturers of the real Kiel sprats in Eckernforde and Schleswig-Holstein, they are still committed to an old Eckernförde smoking motto:
„Wat plagt ji ju
un quält ju af mit dusend lege Saken?
In Eckernför dar hebbt wi’t
rut ut Sülwer Gold to maken.“
(What do you bother and torment yourself with a thousand difficult things ?
In Eckernförde, we know how to make silver into gold)
After smoking, the Kiel sprats are shipped in flat raw wood boxes, both to the reseller and to the end user. Each smokehouse has its own imprint with the name of the smokehouse and its logo.
You can eat the sprats complete with tail and bones, as they are very soft and fine. It is however, normal to eat the fish without head, tail and bones. To do this, the sprat can be taken with thumb and forefinger and lightly pressed on the stomach and back so the head is separated. Then the tail can be carefully pulled out with the main bone, without opening the body of the sprat.
Enjoy your meal!
Text : Bieniossek · Fotos: Raphael Jahnke