6 Reasons To Eat More Sardines

by | Apr 28, 2010
sardines

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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72 Responses to “6 Reasons To Eat More Sardines”

  1. I like to just pop a can of sardines in water, drain them, and sprinkle them with lemon juice, sea salt, pepper, and fresh thyme.

  2. Yummy! But trying to entice someone to eat sardines is so hard…

  3. Darya Pino says:

    A couple points I’d like to share for noobz getting into sardines:

    1) As Benjy suggested, try them at a nice restaurant. You’ll be blown away. They are usually an appetizer, so no big commitment.

    2) Also as Benjy suggested, try the fresh ones. They aren’t so different from trout or other small fish.

    3) Buy boneless skinless canned sardines. There’s a lot less yuck in the can to scare off noobz. Then mix it up with other stuff — like making tuna salad, only with flavor.

    Hope this helps!

    • Love the talk of the benefits of sardines…they are soooo good for you! We started our own small business selling gourmet boneless/skinless sardines in Olive Oil, Cannery Row Sardine Co., We believe so much in these little silver fishies…Thanks to John Stienbeck for drawing attention to a time in American that many don’t know about.

    • Drew says:

      Great article! Yay, for sardines. :)

  4. Dani says:

    Hi Darya – I recently discovered your blog and am addicted! This post is great – I too LOVE sardines and oddly enough was planning on making a sardine topped chunky greek salad for dinner tonite.

    I think if people could get over the “idea” of sardines and just give them a try they could love them again!

    I know this is a tough sell, but I love them topped with vinegar and raw red onion… yum!

  5. Madison says:

    I am really sad to hear about the closing of the sardine factories. I love them! I remember my mom use to makes these sandwiches with canned sardines in tomato sauce in a toasted french bread w/ cilanto. It is because of those sandwiches that I still love sardines and the taste of it brings back so many childhood memories.

  6. My favorite part of this article: “they taste like fish.” Isn’t it funny that people will say I don’t eat fish that is fishy. Or it has to be so doubly battered because they do eat their batter. :)

  7. Allie says:

    I know someone (let’s just say he lives with me) who completely refused to eat sardines for the longest time, despite all my ravings. Then I served him sardines and avocado on toast (see here http://locallemons.com/local_lemons/2010/01/sardines-and-avocados.html), which he really wanted to resist but couldn’t because he’s obsessed with avocados. After the first bite, I had an instant convert. Within days, I was finding empty sardine cans littering the countertop, not put there by me, which is amazing since I’m the one who usually does most of the cooking.

    So my recommendation would be to pair them with something you absolutely love, and I think you’ll be more likely to give them the benefit of the doubt.

  8. Michael says:

    I love sardines fresh, canned, anyway I can get them. And sardines with avocado? One of my favorites!

  9. I have never tried sardines because fish skin, bones, and heads are instant gag factors for me (if I find a bone in the first bite of a fish fillet, I’m usually so turned off that I can’t go any further). If I can find a can of boneless, skinless ones I may work up the courage to try them.

    This is perhaps a stupid question, but seeing as they’re such itty bitty fishies… are they gutted before they’re canned? Because if not, I don’t think I could ever get past that.

  10. I’m just learned to love sardines not too long ago and already I’ve discovered that you can have them in a million ways — on toast mashed with avocado, mixed into a tomato sauce or bechamel sauce served over pasta or simply mashed up as a cracker spread. Never thought highly of canned fish, but canned sardines rocked my world!

  11. Sardines are a great source of vitamin D if you like to get your D naturally.

    3.75 ounces of canned-in-oil Atlantic sardines (with bones) provides 250 international units of vitamin D, or 63% of the recommmended Daily Value.

    It’s rare to get that much D without milk products or supplements.

    -Steve

  12. Emmy says:

    Hi Darya – isnt it funny how healthy food converts always end up obsessing about the same foods that get such a bad rap in the ‘normal’ (ie boring and unhealthy) eating world! I too LOVE sardines – I used to really hate them, but when I first started cooking with them, I always used to put them atop brown rice and stuff like that… which was abit too healthy even for me! Anyone who hates them should do the classic twist and put them on top of crackers – but make sure they are totally wholegrain (Kamut are particularly amazing) not old style sardine crackers. I have that for lunch loads and it literally keeps me full until dinner at 7/8… plus crackers (even wholegrain) arent something I consider the IDEAL part of my health agenda most of the time..but I figure if they’re helping me really enjoy sardines… well why the heck not?! This is particularly yum on artisan-y crackers with garlic/onion/poppyseed added. Its also really funny because when I first started eating these at work everyone was like ‘OMG – whats that SMELL?’ (I know – Im selfish). However, on account of getting so much attention via their smell, sardines have come back on the radar and everyones like ‘ I havent had them since I was a kid…I used to really like them’ – and one of my co-workers came in last week and said she had sardines for dinner the night before. total score. Thanks again for the awesome blog! x ps- I live in the UK and around here the BEST sardines are the tins imported from portugal…better than fresh in fact!

  13. Amanda says:

    Great timing on this post … I just bought a can of sardines in lemon & olive oil and am trying to figure out how to use them. The can was just gorgeous and I’ve heard about the health benefits, so I thought I’d give them a try… On a salad? Or maybe that’s too scary for a first-time eater…

  14. Anali says:

    Great post! I used to eat sardines all the time when I lived with my parents. They are big sardine eaters. Since I moved out, quite some time ago, I just never thought to buy them regularly. I really should. I’m adding them to my shopping list. Thanks for the reminder!

  15. Violet says:

    My great-grandmother used to make awesome sardines with tender tamarind leaves and raw mango. Yum!

    Recently, I recreated the recipe from taste memory after getting hold of a can of boneless skinless sardines, tamarind powder and a raw mango. Now, sardines feature for dinner atleast once a week at our house.

    Also, if my great-grandmother can live to be a healthy 91yr-old, following her diet could be good. Right? :)

  16. janiejaner says:

    I smuggle them into midtown toss-to-order salad places and dump them on top–yum!! I do try to be very courteous about cleaning up any accidental oil spills.

    Favorite recipe, though, is big fresh sardines grilled over a wood fire and eaten hot hot hot with a squirt of lemon and a generous sprinkle of sea salt…*drool*

  17. Karen B. says:

    Pop open can, drain, set aside. In another small bowl whisk a little olive oil, mustard, hot sauce, lemon juice. Add sardines, toss lightly (or mash, if you like) and serve on a bed of soft lettuce or on crackers.
    I also like them right from the can, although I have to throw it all away in a sealed baggie because the rest of the family freaks at the smell of sardines.
    I’ve never seen them on a menu but have heard of a club of people who tour Greece just to eat sardines served different ways. My kind of vacation!

  18. Welcome to the Society!

  19. Johanna says:

    I’ve tried sardines, both fresh and canned, and they were yummy – but both had so MANY, tiny hard bones that made eating them difficult. Even though they were”filleted”. Ever since my sister had to get a doctor to remove a fish bone stuck in her throat, I’m a bit scared of fish bones. I guess I’ll stick with salmon and other fish – it’s healthy too, and there are less bones.

    • Phil says:

      If the sardines have been in the can for a while, the bones will become soft enough and become edible. Most store brought ones I’ve found are almost always edible when it comes to bones (they’re extremely soft).

      Not to mention, because the bones are so soft, that’s how you can get some calcium naturally :)

  20. angela says:

    I love them so much, but hate the bones. I eat them so often that i know exactly where to cut them in half with my fork and pull all of the bones out in one motion…. sardines in mustard sauce, right outta the can is my fave…..

  21. Karen says:

    I am a fan of sardines especially in extra virgin olive oil – King Oscar.

  22. Tomas says:

    Just recently rediscovered how great sardines are…however, I also learned not to mix the different kinds of sardines out of the cans,ie eat olive oil sardines and sardines in soybean oil at the same sitting…still worth it-too much burping though…:)

  23. Raul says:

    Nice one Miss Tomato. I remember family holidays in Portugal, seeing my grandad would always result in big bbqs of sardines, boiled potatoes and salad. So delicious! My grandad would pull each sardine onto a slice of bread, allow all the oils to drip into it, and then pull another one onto the bread….right at the end he would eat the bread with all the fishy goodness soaked in! People who haven’t tried sardines are missing out big time.

  24. Gouki says:

    My dad and brother got me started eating them
    since 1998 and i still do it today.

  25. Josh says:

    I’ve been eating sardines in the can since I was a child. I thought the bones were cool, so that’s probably why I ate them to begin with. Nowadays I just eat them plain or with crackers. Every now and then I use some hot sauce or German style mustard along with them. I love the smell of them but I’ve had complaints at work. I usually eat about 12 cans per week LOL.

  26. Adam says:

    2 cans a day. I eat the brands I can find on the supermarket shelf – Crown Prince mainly. I only eat the ones in olive oil. I usually open the can, drain the oil, and put them over ANYTHING. ANYTHING = rice, whole wheat pasta, green beans, salad, this, that……..

    I just love them!

  27. Asif says:

    Been eating them since I was 10, so over 30 years. My dad started me on Sardines on toast. I never minded the skin, bones or guts – ignorance is bliss when you are a kid.
    However, recently I’ve been eating them a lot again, and I have to remove the guts from each one. Its a pain but now I know its in there, I have to do it.
    I would suggest Sardine lovers also try Mackerel in cans. Even tastier!

  28. SexyZombieKilla says:

    i really love sardines! especially the ones canned in mustard sauce! i recently bought 2 cans from walmart (or the navy commissary), and enjoyed both cans! my husband HATES seafood, but i had him try a bit of my sardines and he absolutely LOVED them! i remember first trying them when i was super young, before we moved into this house my dad was fixing up. my dad had stocks of sardines in the pantry, and when we got hungry, he would pop open can after can and we would eat them for a snack.

  29. Sam says:

    Actually the best recipe for folks who are scare of bones in sardines is what I tried for my daughter, clean them (fresh ones) put them in boiling water for about a minute, they will be cooked, remove them and start skinning them off, split them remove all possible signs of the smallest bones or whatever u call it. The pulp u collect is cooked sardine flesh, now add spices salt and various sauces along with a little lemon and alittle salad oil, now mix and marinate this mixture for around 15 mins, then add some all purpose flour and alittle mashed potato and mix the contents to make it thick enough to make a patty, make several patties like this, roll then in bread crumb and shallow fry in a pan, as they turn a light brownish shade, they are ready, serve with tar tar sauce.

  30. John says:

    A can of King Oscar’s, crackers, tabasco and a nice tree to eat them under. What could be better?

  31. dr. koura says:

    try cooking them in fresh garlic and thyme with a hint of salt and pepper…to die for over a bed of rice! yummy, yummy yummy! …i eat them regularly for an excellent source for b-12, protein, and calcium.

  32. Kathleen says:

    Sardines are one of the top ten foods from heaven. My dad hooked me, pun intended, when I was just a tiny tot [I'm nearly 60 now] and I’ve been an addict ever since. Sardines in mustard sauce with a small spatter of hot sauce, if I have any handy, is a must have for a quick supper. Love those little, silver knights in a tin can. Do wish my husband loved them as much as I do, but then I’d have to share. :D

  33. Cleeo2 says:

    The King Oscar brand of canned is VERY good. The heads are cut off and very little bones. If you have fresh Sardines, you have to learn to gently flake it off both sides of the body bone(the large one that runs down the middle of the fish) and be careful or avoid taking the meat near the head/gills–there seems to be more little loose bones in that area.
    I prefer eating my Sardines the portuguese way—with a portuguese roll. But a hunk of french or Italian is good too!

  34. Laura says:

    I just tried Alton Brown’s Sherried Sardine Avocado Toast recipe – it is OFF THE HOOK. I love it!

    http://www.foodnetwork.com/recipes/alton-brown/sherried-sardine-toast-recipe/index.html

  35. Rita coker says:

    I was told by my doctors that sardines is the best food I could! Before then I never thought Of getting those tiny fish in my diet! Now I look for them at every supermarket! They are #1

  36. Celeste says:

    I used to eat canned sardines in mustard as a child (my family loved them!) and I am still eating them to this day, introducing my children to them now. One of my newest favorite ways to eat them is rolled into sushi, then drizzle the mustard over the top. YUMMY!

    • Marie says:

      My grandmother used to eat them in tomato sauce with onions. I prefer to caramelize onions in the olive oil the sardines are packed in, pour them over the sardines and then I sprinkle chipotle seasoning and lime juice. Next time I will include a bed of brown rice.

  37. sahar says:

    I just loooooooooooooooove sardines

  38. Scott says:

    I like to pop open a can and use them to top saltines as a snack.

  39. Colin says:

    Sardines, red onion and butter on rye bread. Mmmmmmmmm…..

    • Kit says:

      Try the skinless/boneless sardines. I like Seasons brand. Put them on a plate, squeeze some fresh lime juice on them. Cut up 1/2 avocado to them. You may also add some thinly sliced red onion and have with toast. DELICIOUS!

  40. Joe says:

    Growing up, I ate sardines on fishing trips with my grandfather and other family members. I still don’t know how it’s possible to fish without eating Sardines.

  41. Angeli Yuson says:

    I use to eat sardines when i was a kid, then i stopped for a long time. I looked up “paleo snacks” and saw sardines on the list. I went off to the supermarket and bought myself two tins of sardines, one in tomato sauce and the other in olive oil.

    I have fallen in love with sardines again. It is more oily than the canned tuna, and tastes much better. I find canned tuna very dry and hard to eat, but absolutely LOVING sardines!

    My love of sardines has been revived!

  42. Xam Takorian says:

    In putting together my “emergency america’s dollar collapses food kit” I am going to make sardines a significant part of it. They store for up to 5 years!

  43. Tanya says:

    True I grew up eating sardines it is hard to get people to try them if they never had I love them with saltine cracker or croutons they’re more healthy for u then tuna I’m dieting and I just ate a can of them with a salad and used the croutons to soak up the soy bean oil on my plate may sound weird but it was delicious hopefully I can shed the 50lbs of pregnancy weight this summer with this healthy food

  44. Dan Plock says:

    After my mid morning run, at the trail head, out of the car trunk, out of the can (lightly smoked in oil variety), dumped straight onto a SESAME Wasa Crisp. Two crackers, one can- mighty tasty AND satisfying for muchas horas.

  45. Jon-Paul Bibeau says:

    A great lunch. Some chopped onion, garlic, some basil. Mix up and eat with your favorite cracker. Absolutely delicious. Get adventurous buy them whole and grill them. Out of this world!

  46. Romina says:

    Lol…I just read this article as I am standing here eating some sardines with lemon…sooooo good…thanks for the info!

    =)

    …Romina

  47. Alejandro says:

    I had a can of wild pacific sardines for breakfast, and will have some again for lunch, with lemon, a few drops of tabasco, crackers, and a glass of pinot noir. Life is sooo goood.

  48. James says:

    Ive always liked sardines even as a kid..is that weird? ha ha ha. I just found a can of sardines in the back of the cupboard and ate them, felt so satisfied afterwards which tells me sardines have “the stuff” my body wants

  49. Mike K. says:

    On a wooden skewer over a wood charcoal barbeque (smoked) marinated in olive oil, herbs, and salt (kosher or himalayan) and fresh ground pepper. When they are done (usually slightly blackened and crispy on the outside) douse with lemon and I like to savour them with a tall flute glass filled with a cold, crisp, golden refreshing summer wheat beer!

    Bonus points if I do it all on a cabana on the beach!

  50. Christine says:

    Went 100% plant-based for the past 3 months and have been having skin issues Vegan protein is fine and all but when on a plant-based diet, a person has to eat a lot to get the same protein absorption rate as when they were eating meat. I for one can’t eat that much legumes/beans/grain without getting stomach upset. I decided to be 90% plant-based at this point and only eat sardines 3x a week as my only animal protein. I believe in protecting the environment and being conscious of the effects my purchasing choices might have on the world at large. I figured sardines get to live a happy life at sea before they are caught and what’s said in the article…they are sustainably sourced. Compared to eating other animal products, it’s the only option left to me so that I can be plant-based most of the time while also respecting the needs of my body. Also, this is the only fish out there that has little to no mercury!

  51. RonC says:

    have always loved sardines right out of the can since growing up on Long Island. We always had a bunch on our boat to munch on for snacks. I especially love the ones in tomato sauce. Now living in Arizona. Have started eating them again only in last few months. bought 6 cans of boneless skinless by accident. I miss the bones and heads and stuff. I must be crazy huh? I will eat them and then make sure i look for the real cans of sardines as they should be.

  52. InOhio says:

    Make sure you buy good ones—here in Ohio, the brands that sell for $1.75 or less/can are generally not good—but you can get really excellent (tasting) varieties for just a little more, like $2.25/can—

  53. Tasha says:

    You can drain most of the olive oil from canned sardines then pop them under the grill (broiler? I don’t know I’m British) they go lovely and crispy and are fab with plain crusty bread Mmmmmmmmm where’s my can opener?

  54. Aven says:

    I love Sardines they are amazing usually I get the canned variety in Virgin oil, Mediterranean oil style, or with Tomato sauce. I use the Sardines in my salads or simply snack on them out of the can or even on a slice of bread. Amazing for you one can packs a punch that any health conscious man or woman should pay attention to. Omega 3 fatty acids and the protein you get are amazing for the male or female body. We often hear of how bad fats are, not these guys, 200 calories that your body uses in every bit. Yeah its alot of calories but if you think about it whether your a man or a woman, your body will use healthy calories over empty calories any day.

  55. Lucy Platt says:

    I buy the brand Walmart has, EL MEXICANO, they are delicious. They do not have the aftertaste. Good for the brain among other properties. Easy to eat, I got the oine’s in tomatoe sauce, sooo good.

  56. Don says:

    Ate sardines in tomato sauce occasionally as a kid and have eaten them off and on (mostly off, because my dad and I were the only ones who ate them) for years. Ditto for kippered herring-my wife practically leaves home when I eat them. Bought a couple of cans on sale on a whim yesterday and ate them both for dinner tonight. Didn’t really realize how nutritious they are. I just like them and enjoy the nostalgia factor.

  57. gmf479 says:

    I hope we r the only ones that love them…Shh….dont let anyone else know or I they will become twenty bucks a can

  58. Jason says:

    Just grilled up some sardines on a charcoal bbq earlier tonight!
    Finding mixed messages on whether or not they need to be gutted before grilling whole. Mine were frozen (landlocked in Ontario Canada) so the extra work of scaling and gutting was justified in my mind. Perhaps fresh I’d reconsider.
    Definitely a staple on my grill! Fish that tastes like fish, go figure!

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