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What's the Difference Between Canned Sardines and Anchovies Anyway?

How well do you know your tiny fish? Well enough to spot the difference between canned sardines and anchovies without a label? If you said yes, then skip ahead and whip up one of these canned fish recipes. For the rest of us, read on to help eliminate some of the confusion when it comes to sardines vs anchovies.

The mix up between sardines and anchovies is a very common one. They are both tiny fish, both come in an oil-packed can, and both get stocked next to each other in the grocery store. Heck, if it weren't for the label, most of us wouldn't even know the difference at all. Yet aside from their similarities there is a difference between these two fish. Let's take a look at the breakdown so you can become a tiny fish aficionado in the kitchen.

The Difference Between Sardines and Anchovies: Species

Sardines and anchovies may both be in the small fish family, but they're in completely different families. Sardines are members of the Clupeidae family which is the same family as herrings. Also known as pilchards in the United Kingdom, they are native to the Island of Sardinia in the Mediterranean and include 18 different species.

Anchovies are part of the Engraulidae family. Also native to the Mediterranean, they can be found as far north as near Scandinavia. Unlike sardines, there are over a whopping 140 species of anchovies.


anchovies vs sardines

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A quick glance at these silvery, oily fish and you may not realize these are two different fish. Take a good look, however, and you'll see they couldn't be more different. To start, sardines are the bigger guys. They can grow up to 12 inches, sport white flesh, and have a discernible protruding lower jaw. Anchovies, on the other hand, are slimmer, growing up to 10 inches. Their flesh is much darker, taking on a red-grey color during the curing process.

Nutritional Value

Sardines and anchovies may play an important role in the food chain, but they can also play an important role in your health. Both are loaded with Omega-3 fatty acids which is a major health benefit, especially when it comes to heart health. They are considered to be an excellent source of protein and calcium and a good source of iron and vitamin B-12.

The main difference you'll find is the sodium content. Anchovies are typically packed in salt. Canned anchovies can contain well over your daily value of sodium. So if you have any health problems requiring a low sodium diet, it may be best to skip the anchovies.


anchovies vs sardines

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Here's the major difference: taste. Because of the process the two undergo, they take on a completely different flavor. Sardines are lighter in flavor and are canned whole, head, tail and all. Anchovies meanwhile pack a potent punch. Since they are dried in salt during curing, they have a much more intense, umami flavor. Taste alone tells you the difference between these two silvery fish.


Now that you know all about sardines and anchovies, let's get cooking. The intense flavor of anchovies makes them perfect for pizza and Caesar salad dressing. They flavor up pasta sauces nicely, make for a good sandwich, and can be used as a meat rub. If you find something can use a salty umami boost, add anchovies.

Since sardines are more on the mild side, they won't pack the same briny punch. This is good news for dishes that require a milder, less intense fish. Try them with a squeeze of lemon juice, hint of black pepper, and drizzle of olive oil. They can be a tasty snack on toast with some tomatoes. If you're looking to make more of a meal, grill up some fresh sardines with Moroccan spices, add them to a pasta, make some fish cakes, or batter and fry then pair with an aioli for dipping. You can even toss them into a salad for an extra omega-3 fatty acid boost.

Or, you can take some inspiration from these sardine and anchovies recipes. Showing you how folks eat these two fish around the world, we gathered up some tasty dishes for you to try. Enjoy!

1. Boquerones

In Spain boquerones, or fresh anchovies, make delightful tapas out of anchovies by soaking them in vinegar with some garlic. Give this recipe a try with some toast points.

Get the recipe here.

2. Pissaladiere

Forget what you know about American and Italian pizza for a second and broaden your horizons to how they do things in France. Unlike a New York style slice, they have their own take on pizza. It's more like a tart that comes topped with olives, caramelized onions, and anchovies. It may not be what you're used to, but it's damn good.

Get the recipe here.

3. Portugal Sardine and Potato Salad with Arugula

In Portugal, sardines are a big part of the diet. This sardine recipe centers on grilling fresh sardines Portuguese style, then adding them to potatoes and arugula to turn this dish into a full, delicious meal.

Get the recipe here.

4. Candied Sardines

The Japanese know how to turn sardines into a sweet, savory snack. Toasted until slightly brown and crispy, they are then coated in a honey and soy-based sauce that's incredibly easy to make. Give it a try. It will change your whole perspective.

Get the recipe here.

This article was originally published on August 15, 2018.

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