6 Reasons To Eat More Sardines

by | Apr 28, 2010

Photo by rockyeda

I’m happy to introduce my friend and fellow sardine lover, Benjy Weinberger. Neither of us were particularly happy about the recent news of the last US sardine cannery closing, so I invited Benjy here to defend the honor of one of my favorite sea creatures.

Benjy Weinberger has been eating food for over 30 years, and has held strong opinions for almost as long.

Read his personal blog: http://jamknife.blogspot.com/
Follow him on Twitter: @benjyw

Yes, We Can! Why We Should Be Eating More Sardines

The whole street rumbles and groans and screams and rattles while the silver rivers of fish pour in out of the boats and the boats rise higher and higher until they are empty. The canneries rumble and rattle and squeak until the last fish is cleaned and cut and cooked and canned.
– John Steinbeck, Cannery Row

A few days ago we were told the last sardine cannery in the US closed its doors for good. A symbol, so the story goes, of how far sardines–once a staple of working-class pantries across the nation–have fallen out of favor with the American palate.

But if you get past the bad “last sardine factory canned” puns, this narrative starts to seem, ahem, fishy. Because, in fact, the sardine is like Bad Company, alive, well and making a comeback.

Fresh sardines are showing up on menus in restaurants from San Francisco to New York. Your local supermarket still offers plenty of canned sardine choices, albeit imported. In Monterey, California, where Steinbeck romanticized the sardine industry in Cannery Row, a group of self-styled “Sardinistas” is working to return the sardine to its rightful place in the American diet. Meanwhile, nearby, small-scale gourmet canning operations have resumed. So it seems the supposed death of the sardine industry has been exaggerated.

So what are sardines, exactly? The term means slightly different things in different countries, but in the US it denotes any of several species of small, oily, silvery fish related to herring.

What all types of sardine have in common is that we should be eating a lot more of them.

6 Reasons To Eat More Sardines

1. They’re good for you.

Sardines pack an awesome nutritional punch. A single serving has around 23 grams of protein and is loaded with omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, iron and potassium, and only 200 calories. And even with canned sardines, all this goodness comes with only around 400 mg of sodium, which is relatively little for a canned product. Plus, they’re often packed in olive oil, itself an important component of a healthy diet.

2. They aren’t bad for you.

Sardines are low on the oceanic food chain, and therefore contain low amounts of mercury, PCBs and the other toxins that accumulate in longer-living marine predators such as salmon and tuna. This makes them a particularly good choice for children and pregnant women.

3. They’re sustainably fished.

Monterey Bay Aquarium’s SeafoodWATCH rates sardines as a “Best Choice”. Sardine stocks are, once again, abundant, healthy and are now well-managed.

4. They’re affordable.

Prices per oz. of canned sardines are on a par with canned tuna, poultry, ground beef and other supermarket protein sources. Prices of fresh sardines vary with availability, but they are usually among the less expensive fresh fish on display.

5. They taste like fish.

In a supermarket landscape dominated by bland, artificially dyed salmon fillets, pale tuna steaks, frozen fish sticks, artificial crab meat and other attempts to sell seafood as generic chicken-like protein slabs to people who aren’t sure if they actually like it, sardines stand out. You simply can’t ignore the fact that they are, well, fish. They look like fish, being too small to fillet or grind up. They smell like fish. They are oily. They have heads and tails, scales and bones. And they taste fishy.

This is, as most people who genuinely enjoy food know, a good thing.

6. They’re delicious.

This is ultimately the most important point in favor of consuming more sardines: they are a pleasure to eat. Simple, easy to prepare and downright delicious.

If you get your hands on some fresh sardines, they feature in fabulous recipes originating from all over the Mediterranean basin. But sardines are so simple and basic, you really don’t need a recipe to get the best out of them. Just scale and gut them, brush them lightly with olive oil and coarse sea salt, or whatever marinade you make up, grill them for around 5 minutes per side, until the skin is crispy, and serve them up with a drizzle of lemon juice and your favorite fresh herbs.

And if you can’t be fussed to cook, there are few pleasures greater than mashing canned sardines, bones and all, onto buttered toast, or perhaps over a slice of camembert.

The sardine is dead. Long live the sardine!

What are your favorite sardine recipes?

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95 Responses to “6 Reasons To Eat More Sardines”

  1. Walid says:

    I’m a cave MAN, I eat them straight with only salt and black pepper. The Sardines rule.

  2. Monica says:

    I would eat more fresh sardines, but their bones put me off. How can we cook sardines and make the bones edible?

    • Michael says:

      Put them on top of Triscuits, and the crunch of the Triscuts will distract you from the other things.

    • denise says:


      O k I live in the Southern Med and fresh sardines { and obviously the tinned kind} are abundant. In ten minutes on a sunday afternoon I can be down on the beach, at a beach bar with a cold glass of dry wine and have my sardines cooked on a stick over a wood fire in an upturned boat. However, Get your fishmonger to clean and gut your sardines. Then cook your sardines either under the grill {broiler?} or over hot bricks on your Barbie, with flakes of salt and a dash of olive oil until the skin is crisp. using a very sharp knife {the flesh is delicate when cooked and you don’t want to be hacking at it} cut under the head from left to right,and straight down the back bone then pull the head back and pull. pulls the skeleton completely out in one piece. You really wouldn’t want to eat those bones. The little flakey ones you find left are edible and a good source of calcium. Similarly the bones in tins of sardines arenot the main bones of the sardine. Serve with fresh lemon wedges, flakes of sea salt and a cold glass of chardonnay. fresh watercress stands up well if you feel you want a few leaves { not mache watercress s wimp of a brother} enjoy.

  3. diannne says:

    No one would ever guess that I eat sardines! I just tried boneless skinless saltless kind from Walmart! Delicious, I wanted to keep them for my boyfriends parents to try. they didn’t make it 3 hours. nom nom nom

  4. anita says:

    I m so glad I bumped into this article.I was always a bit saddened when every one made fun of me a south indian for eating sardines.My north indian friends, my south indian relatives now settled in western countries! I know so many dishes of fresh sardines. Pickled,fried curried oh every thing.we eat fesh sardines and we knowingly eat it coz of its nutrient factor. My mom always tells me that eating raw sardines can cure even leprosy, but of course we have medicines for every thing. sardines are low cost yet healthy food …

  5. Greentree says:

    I’m originally from Brazil and my family has always bought canned sardines because they are affordable. I continue to eat them here in America, and I’m so excited now that I know of its nutritional content. I lightly cook canned sardines with a bit of coconut oil, dried herbs in a skillet and topped with lemon juice. I eat them with jasmine rice, avocado slices, cucumber, tomatoes, and some soy sauce. I love it, it reminds me of sushi that I love too.

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