Sardines as food

Sardines are a nutrient-rich fish widely consumed by humans. They are commonly served in cans, but fresh sardines are often grilled, pickled, or smoked.

Sardines, or pilchards, are several types of small, oily fish related to herrings, family Clupeidae.[1] The term sardine was first used in English during the early 15th century, and may come from the Mediterranean island of Sardinia, around which sardines were once abundant.[2][3]

The terms sardine and pilchard are not precise, and what is meant depends on the region. The United Kingdom's Sea Fish Industry Authority, for example, classifies sardines as young pilchards.[4] One criterion suggests fish shorter in length than 6 inches (15 cm) are sardines, and larger ones pilchards.[5] The FAO/WHO Codex standard for canned sardines cites 21 species that may be classed as sardines;[6] FishBase, a comprehensive database of information about fish, calls at least six species "pilchard", over a dozen just "sardine", and many more with the two basic names qualified by various adjectives.

Sardines are commercially fished for a variety of uses: for bait; for immediate consumption; for canning, drying, salting, or smoking; and for reduction into fish meal or oil. The chief use of sardines is for human consumption, but fish meal is used as animal feed, while sardine oil has many uses, including the manufacture of paint, varnish, and linoleum.


Sardines are rich in vitamins and minerals. A small serving of sardines once a day can provide up to 13% of the RDA (recommended daily allowance) value of vitamin B2; roughly one-quarter of the RDA of niacin, and about 150% of the RDA of vitamin B12.[7] All B vitamins help to support proper nervous system function and are used for energy metabolism, or converting food into energy.[8] Also, sardines are high in the major minerals such as phosphorus, calcium, potassium, and some trace minerals such as iron and selenium. Sardines are also a natural source of marine omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce the occurrence of cardiovascular disease.[9] Recent studies suggest the regular consumption of omega-3 fatty acids reduces the likelihood of developing Alzheimer's disease and can even boost brain function.[10][11] These fatty acids may also help lower blood sugar levels a small amount.[12] They are also a good source of vitamin D,[13] calcium, and protein.

Because they are low in the food chain, sardines are very low in contaminants, such as mercury, relative to other fish commonly eaten by humans.[14]

Canned sardines

Canned sardines
See also: Canned fish

Sardines are canned in many different ways. At the cannery, the fish are washed, their heads are removed, and the fish are cooked, either by deep-frying or by steam-cooking, after which they are dried. They are then packed in either olive, sunflower, or soybean oil, water, or in a tomato, chili, or mustard sauce.

Canned sardines in supermarkets may actually be sprat (such as the “brisling sardine”) or round herrings. Fish sizes vary by species. Good-quality sardines should have the head and gills removed before packing.[6] They may also be eviscerated before packing (typically the larger varieties). If not, they should be purged of undigested or partially digested food or feces by holding the live fish in a tank long enough for them to empty their digestive systems.[6]

Sardines are typically tightly packed in a small can which is scored for easy opening, either with a pull tab (similar to how a beverage can is opened), or with a key attached to the side of the can. Thus, it has the benefit of being an easily portable, nonperishable, self-contained food.

The close packing of sardines in the can has led to their metaphorical use of the name in describing any situation where people or objects are crowded together, for instance, in a bus or nightclub. It has also been used as the name of a children's game, where one person hides and each successive person who finds the hidden one packs into the same space until only one is left out, who becomes the next one to hide.[15]

Around the world


The last remaining sardine packing plant in North America is in Blacks Harbour, New Brunswick. The Brunswick brand, which started as the Connors Brothers in the 1880s, produces sardines (actually, juvenile herring, Clupea harengus) with many flavours.[16][17] Brunswick claims to be the largest sardine producer in the world.


The stargazy pie - pilchards cooked in pie crust from Cornwall

Pilchard fishing and processing became a thriving industry in Cornwall, England, United Kingdom, from around 1750 to around 1880, after which it went into an almost terminal decline. However, as of 2007, stocks are improving.[18] Since 1997, sardines from Cornwall have been sold as "Cornish sardines", and since March 2010, under EU law, Cornish sardines have Protected Geographical Status.[19] The industry has featured in numerous works of art, particularly by Stanhope Forbes and other Newlyn School artists. A traditional Cornish pilchard dish is stargazy pie. The traditional "Toast to Pilchards" refers to the lucrative export of the fish to Catholic Europe:

"Here's health to the Pope, may he live to repent
 And add just six months to the term of his Lent
 And tell all his vassals from Rome to the Poles,
 There's nothing like pilchards for saving their souls!"[20]


Fishing for sardela or sardina (Sardina pilchardus) on the coasts of Dalmatia and Istria began thousands of years ago. The region was part of the Roman Empire, then largely a Venetian dominion, and has always been sustained through fishing mainly sardines. All along the coast, many towns promote the age-old practice of fishing by lateen sail boats for tourism and on festival occasions. Today, industrial producers continue this tradition. Currently, the four factories of canned sardines are in Rovinj, Zadar, Postira, and Sali (the latter founded in 1905). Several famous dishes made with sardines include, for instance, komiška pogača (a pie with salted sardines and tomato sauce), saur or inšavor (sardines fried and then cooled, seasoned with olive oil, vinegar, garlic, black pepper and rosemary) and sardines roasted on stick from Sali, dugi otok.


Sardine fishing and canning is a traditional industry in Brittany, where most French canneries remain. The area is known as the place where sardine canning was invented. Douarnenez was the world's leading sardine exporter in the 19th century. The sardines are fried, dried, and then canned (this traditional process is labelled préparées à l'ancienne), whereas in most other countries, processing consists of steam cooking after canning.


The sardine is a favorite food of the Keralites and the people of Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, and coastal Karnataka. The fish is typically eaten fresh, and canned sardines are not popular. Fried sardines are a much sought-after delicacy. They are called chala (Malayalam: ചാള) or mathi (Malayalam: മത്തി) in Tamil Nadu and Kerala. In Andhra Pradesh, they are called kavallu amongst the fishing community. In West Bengal, they are called khoira (Bengali: খয়রা). People from coastal Karnataka call them pedvo (Konkani) or bhootai (Tulu). Sardines are cheaper in India than larger fish like seer or pomfret, making them a low-cost delicacy. They are consumed in various forms, including deep-fried and pan-fried preparations, or made into curries of various types.


Owing to proximity with Sardinia, both the northern and southern regions of Italy claim main courses or appetizers with sardine fish as a primary ingredient. Sicily's national dish, pasta con le sarde, is a spaghetti or bucatini entree with sardines, fennel seed, saffron, raisins, garlic, onion, olive oil, white wine, lemon juice, pureed tomato, toasted breadcrumbs, and crushed almonds. In Venice, sardines in saor is an antipasto that consists of sardine steaks marinated in white wine, raisins, and vinegar, subsequently covered in flour and fried in olive oil, then garnished with parsley, onions, crushed almonds, and raisins.



Morocco is the largest canned sardine exporter in the world and the leading supplier of sardines to the European market. Sardines represent more than 62% of the Moroccan fish catch and account for 91% of raw material usage in the domestic canning industry. Some 600,000 tonnes of fresh sardines are processed each year by the industry. Famous Moroccan recipes include Moroccan fried stuffed sardines and Moroccan sardine balls in spicy tomato sauce.


Until the discovery of oil fields in the fishing areas, sardine canning was the main activity of the city of Stavanger. Today, only a sardine museum remains among the refineries in Stavanger.


Peru has a long history of direct human consumption of Engraulis ringens and other sardines, reaching into ancient cultures, including Chimú culture, Paracas culture, Pachacamac, and most importantly the oldest known civilization in the Americas, the Caral-Supe civilization, which was based almost completely on E. ringens consumption. Nonetheless, since the 1950s, the overwhelming destination for captured E. ringens (anchoveta or Peruvian sardine) has been as the principal input for reduction fishery in the production of fishmeal and fish oil, with minuscule quantities destined for direct human consumption. Due to a combination of environmental and regulatory effects, since 2000, the Peruvian catch has ranged from 9.58 million metric tons (MT) to a low of 5.35 million MT, with the reported 2009 catch concluding at 5.35 million MT.[21] E. ringens - Catch 2000-2009 (Spanish) In recent years, direct human consumption (local and for export) has reached about 110,000 MT (about 2% of catch) due to evangelical promotion of health, environmental, and economic benefits, such as Mistura 2010, coupled with government and NGO activities, e.g., and private-sector offers from local supermarkets.


Sardines play an important role in Portuguese culture. Historically a people who depend heavily on the sea for food and commerce, the Portuguese have a predilection for fish in their popular festivities. The most important is Saint Anthony's day, June 13, when Portugal's biggest popular festival takes place in Lisbon, where grilled sardines are the snack of choice. Almost every place in Portugal, from Figueira da Foz to Portalegre, from Póvoa de Varzim to Olhão, has the summertime tradition of eating grilled sardines (sardinhas assadas).


In the Timanfaya Volcanic National Park on Lanzarote in the Canary Islands, a popular tourist snack is freshly caught sardines grilled over the heat from a volcanic vent. On the Atlantic coast, fried sardines are commonly served as tapas with drinks or as the first course of a meal. On the Mediterranean coast, grilling is more common.


Sardines (sardalya in Turkish), a delicacy in Turkish cuisine, are very commonly found in fish markets throughout coastal western regions of Turkey. They are generally prepared grilled or steamed in ovens, most commonly served as a main course alongside alcoholic beverages, most notably rakı, the archetypal Turkish liquor. Particularly in the Gallipoli peninsula (Turkish: Gelibolu Yarımadası) and in the Aegean region of Turkey, sardines are oven-cooked rolled in grape leaves. They are also canned especially in factories in coastal cities such as İstanbul, Gelibolu, Çanakkale, Bandırma, Karadeniz Ereğli, Ordu, and Trabzon.

United States

Sardine fleet in Maine c. 1940s

In the United States, the sardine canning industry peaked in the 1950s. Since then, the industry has been on the decline. The last large sardine cannery in the United States, the Stinson Seafood plant in Prospect Harbor, Maine, closed its doors on April 15, 2010, after 135 years in operation.[22]

See also


  1. "What's an oily fish?". Food Standards Agency. 2004-06-24.
  2. Sardine Online Etymology Dictionary. Retrieved 15 April 2012.
  3. "Sardine". The Good Food Glossary. BBC Worldwide. 2009. Retrieved 2009-11-01.
  4. "FAQs". Seafish. Retrieved 22 February 2010.
  5. Robin Stummer (17 August 2003). "Who are you calling pilchard? It's 'Cornish sardine' to you...". The Independent. Retrieved 2009-11-01.
  6. 1 2 3 "Codex standard for canned sardines and sardine-type products codex stan 94 –1981 REV. 1-1995" (PDF). Codex Alimentarius. FAO/WHO Codex Alimentarius Commission. pp. 1–7. Retrieved 2007-01-18.
  7. "Vitamin B12". George Mateljan Foundation. Retrieved 2012-04-11.
  8. Retrieved 2012-2-22
  9. Kris-Etherton; Harris, WS; Appel, LJ; American Heart Association. Nutrition Committee; et al. (November 2002). "Fish Consumption, Fish Oil, Omega-3 Fatty Acids, and Cardiovascular Disease". Circulation. 106 (21): 2747–2757. doi:10.1161/01.CIR.0000038493.65177.94. PMID 12438303.
  11. Sharon Johnson (6 November 2007). "Oily brain food ... Yum". The Mail Tribune. Retrieved 2009-11-01.
  12. "Omega-3 fatty acids, fish oil, alpha-linolenic acid: MedlinePlus Supplements". Retrieved 2010-01-22. Fish oil supplements may lower blood sugar levels a small amount. Caution is advised when using herbs or supplements that may also lower blood sugar. Blood glucose levels may require monitoring, and doses may need adjustment.
  13. "Vitamin D and Healthy Bones". New York State Health Department. November 2003. Retrieved 2009-11-01.
  14. "Mercury Levels in Commercial Fish and Shellfish". U S Food and Drug Administration. 5 July 2009. Retrieved 2009-11-01.
  16. The Brunswick Story
  17. Brunswick FAQ
  18. River Cottage: Gone Fishing 22/11/08
  19. EU Directory of PGI/PDO/TSG - Cornish Sardines profile (accessed 1/11/2010)
  20. Traditional Cornish Stories and Rhymes, 1992 edition, Lodenek Press
  21. Ministry of Production, Peru (PRODUCE)
  22. Clarke Canfield (15 April 2010). "Last sardine plant in U.S. shuts its doors". Associated Press. Retrieved 2010-04-15.
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