It may be time to redefine sardine in your vocabulary. Because of its nutritional benefits, "I feel like a sardine" should refer to what you'd like for dinner, not just how you feel on a rush-hour subway ride.


Nutrition Notes

Sardines are a good source of protein and are low in saturated fat. They are also a good source of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. Since sardines are small, young fish, they are also low in contaminants, levels of which are generally highest in older, larger, predatory fish and marine mammals. 3 ounces of herring (a common sardine variety) contains 1.71-1.81 grams of omega-3s with only 0.04 parts per million (ppm) of mercury levels (0.5 ppm is considered high).

An 80-gram can (about 3 ounces) of sardines in olive oil, drained, provides 150 calories, 10 g fat (including 2 g omega-6 and 2.5 g omega-3 fats, and 2.5 g monounsaturated fats), only 110 mg cholesterol and 320 mg sodium, along with 20% of the daily value of calcium.


The term "sardine" actual refers to a variety of small, young or immature saltwater fish that are iridescent and silvery in colour and swim in large, synchronized schools (up to 10 million individuals). Among the fish sold as fresh, frozen or canned sardines are herrings, pilchards, brislings, shads, menhadens and sprats, all belonging to the family Clupeidae. True sardines, of the genus Sardinops, are a subcategory of the Clupidae family.

Pacific Sardines are found in the eastern South Pacific, particularly Peru and Chile, around the Galapagos Islands, and from southeast Alaska to California. They are silvery coastal fish that grow to just over 1 foot (30 cm) in length and may live up to 25 years. Pacific sardines, also known as Pacific or South American pilchards, are used mainly for fishmeal, but may also be marketed fresh or frozen.

Pacific sardines were the most important commercial fish in California from the 1920s to the 1940s, with high demand for canned fish, fish meal and oil. However, the species was fished to the point of commercial extinction. Under strict fisheries management and improved habitat conditions, Pacific sardine populations have recovered off the coast of California and now support modest fishing.

Pacific sardines migrate up and down the Pacific Ocean. In early summer, they can be found off the coast of British Columbia, and in the fall and winter they are in the waters off California. The older the fish, the farther north they migrate, with younger fish traveling only as far as Washington and Oregon.

A small amount of the sardines harvested off the coast of BC are sold domestically. The rest are exported to Japan for human consumption or sold worldwide for bait in tuna fishing.

Atlantic Herring, a close relative of the sardine species under the broader Culpeidae family, is a pelagic (open water) species found off the coasts of the American New England states and the Canadian Maritime provinces. This species has been canned and sold to Canadians as sardines since the late 1800s. True Sardinops sardines are not found in Canada.

The Atlantic herring (_Clupea harengus_) is also referred to as sea herring, labrador herring, sardine, pilchard, brit, or simply herring and is one of nearly 200 herring species in the family Clupeidae. Among Clupeidae on Canada's east coast are the blueback herring, the gaspareau or alweife, the shad and the menhaden.

Atlantic herring is sold whole, fresh or frozen, and exported as frozen fillets, sardines, pickled and cured fillets, and pickled and cured whole-dressed herring. It is also used as lobster bait.


By far the most familiar commercial form of this fish is the canned version. Canned sardines may be packed in olive or soy oil, mustard or tomato sauce, salsa, fried, smoked or pickled. Look for a "sell by" date on the can and use by that date. Avoid dented or bulging cans. As a general rule, the more fish in a can, the smaller the fish and the better quality.

Sardines are also available fresh and frozen, salted and smoked. Fresh or frozen sardines are available as whole, round fish, butterfly fillets (skin-on, bone-in) and boneless fillets. Depending on the species of fish, their peak season may begin in late spring to late summer and end in fall or early winter. Fresh Pacific sardines are available on a limited bases from May through November.

Whole sardines should have clear gills and clear, bright eyes, with a fresh, mild aroma and firm flesh. Avoid sardines with strong fishy odour, red eyes or redness around the gill plate ("gill blush"). Fresh sardines should pass the "clock test" - grasp the sardine by the head, allow it to flop to one side and relate the angle of the fish to a clock. The perfect firm sardine should have a 12 o'clock reading, and an angle between 12 o'clock and 3 o'clock is acceptable.

You can ask the fishmonger at your market to scale, gut and bone the fish for you so that it is ready to sauté, broil or use in sauces. Leave the bone in if you plan to grill.

Frozen fish should be rock-hard, with no evidence of previous defrosting. Its appearance should be somewhat shiny, with no freezer-burn spots.


Unopened canned sardines should be stored in a cool, dark place, at about 18ÌŠC or less, where they will keep for about 1 year. Once opened, they will keep for up to two days if you wrap them well and refrigerate them.

Rinse fresh sardines and gut, if necessary. Store them in the coldest part of the refrigerator (between 0.5ÌŠC and 0ÌŠC), in a single layer, in a dish, and covered with dampened paper towels. Ideally, fresh sardines should be cooked the day of purchase, but they will last about 2 days if stored properly. Some recommend storing sardines in the fridge in a mix of ice and salted water.

Frozen sardines should be wrapped air-tight and will keep for 6 months at -26ÌŠC.


  Canned Sardines

First time opening a can of sardines? Or was your first opening experience a messy, fishy disaster?

To open a can of sardines, set the can on a solid flat surface and hold the can with one hand. Using the other hand, lift the pull-ring to a vertical position, making sure that the "nose" of the ring has perforated the lid. If the lid failed to perforate, take a pointed object and push it through the scoreline at the nose of the ring before proceeding. Pull the ring upwards until the can is halfway opened, then pull backwards until the can is fully opened. To remove the lid completely, bend it back and forth several times and pull.

If packed in oil, rinse canned sardines before use.

  Fresh or Frozen Sardines

With their fatty flesh, sardines are delicious baked, grilled, broiled, sautéed or in a sauce.

To prepare a whole sardine for use, place in a bowl of cold water and gently rub off the scales with your fingertips. Slice open the belly, remove the innards with your fingers and thoroughly wash the entire fish.

Baking Preheat oven to 425ÌŠF. Place fresh sardines in a baking dish and drizzle with olive oil, sprinkle with salt and lemon juice, or top with your choice of sauce. Bake for 10 minutes or until cooked through.

Sautéing Rinse sardines and blot dry. Lightly coat with seasoned cornstarch or flour. Heat a small amount of oil of cooking spray in a large nonstick skillet. Sauté each side for 2 to 3 minutes until golden brown and cooked through. Use a flexible spatula to gently turn the fish - they are fragile.

Grilling or Broiling Before grilling or broiling, lightly toss sardines in desired seasonings. Grill over medium heat on a lightly oiled grill or using a small fish grilling basket for 4 to 5 minutes until done, turning once. Serve with lemon or a fresh tomato salsa.

Ceviche This cooking method, also known as serviche or cebiche, involves cooking by contact with the acid of citrus juice instead of heat. Using the freshest fish, cut cleaned fish into bite size pieces, cover in a spiced acidic marinade, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight. The "cooked" flesh will become opaque. Serve in chilled goblets or bowls with lettuce spears or tortillas.


Canned sardines are good in sauces and salads. They can also be mashed and served on crackers or as a sandwich filling.

Sardines have fatty flesh and a strong flavour. They are often salted, smoked or canned, but can also be grilled or fried. They have a natural sweetness that pairs well with sharply flavoured ingredients such as mustard or bitter greens.

Did You Know?

  • Sardines are a healthy choice for the environment, too! Since these fish reach sexual maturity quickly and spawn several times per year, they are very resilient to fishing pressures.
  • Sardines are named after the Mediterranean Island of Sardinia in Italy where almost every restaurant is reputed to serve sardines.
  • Sardine candy - As a spin-off of the Harry Potter franchise, Jelly Belly gourmet jelly beans introduced Bertie Botts Every Flavour Beans, including sardine flavour!

Healthy Ways to Enjoy Sardines:


  • Replace meats high in saturated fats with sardines. Try them on toast, alongside scrambled or fried eggs, or in an egg dish.
  • Serve sardine-based sandwiches or snacks as elegant brunch dishes.
  • Prepare an omelette with onions or leeks and garlic. Before folding the omellete, add your favourite flavour of canned sardines.
  • Try salads or sandwiches made with sardines.
  • Sardine burgers are a unique alternative to meat and other fish patties.
  • Try pasta made with sardines.
  • Pick up a can of flavoured sardines to have alongside rice or potatoes and veggies.
  • Instead of anchovies, try sardines on pizza.
  • Bake, grill or broil sardines.
  • Serve a ceviche as an appetizer - raw sardines marinated in lime or lemon juice with olive oil and spices.

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