Sardines are small white fish, but they pack a mighty amount of nutrients. They are the equivalent of liver in the fish world in terms of nutritiousness!! You’ll understand the comparison if you’ve read my previous liver posts!
Apparently, sardines were Napoleon’s fish of choice for feeding his army. For this reason, they became the first fish to be preserved by canning. He chose well as the nutritional content of sardines could keep his army strong.
Where did they get their name?
Many years ago, sardines were harvested off the coast of Sardinia – and thus were given the name “sardines”. The name actually refers to a variety of tiny, soft-boned saltwater fish that are silver with iridescence. So this includes sprat, pilchards, and herring.
Key features of sardines
- readily available
- a store cupboard food – so you can always have some on hand
- excellent source of omega 3 fats – the anti-inflammatory fats
- their size means they have less mercury than other larger omega-rich fish
- sustainable fish
- excellent source of many other nutrients including selenium and B vitamins
Sardine nutritional facts
Take a look at the infographic below which compares tinned/canned sardines with tinned tuna.
The best nutritional aspect of sardines is their high levels of omega 3 fats but without the bad accompanying mercury that you find in larger omega 3 fish. Omega 3 fats are very anti-inflammatory in the body and as most diseases have an inflammatory component to them, we should all be aware of consuming sufficient levels.
The bonus of selenium (anti-oxidant and part of thyroid hormone), vitamin D (anti-inflammatory) and B vitamins (methylation) just adds to their mightiness.
If you are new to sardines, I recommend you look for some that are skinned and without bones. While the bones are small and edible – and a great source of calcium – a lot of people don’t like that idea. So go with boneless and skinless and it makes it easier. I also find the taste is better of those packed in olive oil rather than water. Look for a BPA-free can. I like to get the Mediterranean ones, not those from China.
And yes, they are packed tightly in a can, which is why you may hear the phrase “packed in like sardines” when lots of people are all in a small space!
You can also buy fresh sardines and cook them on the grill. They are popular in the Mediterranean countries so look for them on the menu in those types of restaurants. I know the Portuguese restaurant near me prepares delicious fresh sardines.
Cooking with sardines
One of the tricky things about sardines, however, is how do you eat/serve them. It seems people are challenged by this and don’t know how to cook with them. The most common method is sardines on toast or crackers.
You can, in fact, easily substitute canned tuna in recipes for sardines – so that’s a great place to start. Think about adding them to salad, topping a sandwich, or mashing them with lemon juice and avocado.
On Friday I’ll share a recipe with you – like a fish cake – but without the potato. So it’s more a fish patty. It’s easy to make and may encourage you to eat more sardines in the future.