Sardines ("pilchards") are a nutrient-rich, small, oily fish widely consumed by humans and as forage fish by larger fish species, seabirds and marine mammals. Sardines are a source of omega-3 fatty acids. Sardines are often served in cans, but can also be eaten grilled, pickled, or smoked when fresh.
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.
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. One criterion suggests fish shorter in length than 6 inches (15 cm) are sardines, and larger ones pilchards. The FAO/WHO Codex standard for canned sardines cites 12 species in the Order of Clupeiformes that may be classed as sardines, including Atlantic herring (Clupea harengus), and brisling sardine (Sprattus sprattus); FishBase, a comprehensive database of information about fish, calls at least six species just 'pilchard', over a dozen just 'sardine', and many more with both those two basic names qualified by various adjectives.
Sardines are commercially fished for a variety of uses: bait, immediate consumption, canning, drying, salting, smoking, and reduction into fish meal or fish oil. The chief use of sardines is for human consumption, fish meal is used as animal feed, while sardine oil has many uses, including the manufacture of paint, varnish, and linoleum.
|Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)|
|Energy||185 kcal (770 kJ)|
|Dietary fiber||0.1 g|
|Vitamin A equiv.|
|Pantothenic acid (B5)|
|†Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults. |
Source: USDA FoodData Central
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. All B vitamins help to support proper nervous system function and are used for energy metabolism, or converting food into energy. 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. 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. These fatty acids may also help lower blood sugar levels a small amount. They are also a good source of vitamin D, 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.
See also: Canned fish
Sardines are canned in many different ways. At the cannery, the fish are washed, their heads are removed, and then smoked or 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. 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.
Sardines are typically tightly packed in a small can which is scored for easy opening, either with a pull tab like that on a beverage can or with a key attached to the bottom or 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 in the term "packed like sardines" to describe any situation where people or objects are crowded tightly together such as 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.
Main article: Sardinops § South Australian sardine fishery
There is a sardine fishery in Australia harvesting the species Sardinops sagax. The species occurs—in temperate waters, from inshore waters to the edge of the continental shelf, down to depths of about 200 metres—south from Hervey Bay, in Queensland to Shark Bay in Western Australia. Although there is a market for fresh fish for human consumption and fish processed as canned pet food, increasingly, it is mainly used to feed Southern bluefin tuna held in sea cages.
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. Brunswick claims to be the largest sardine producer in the world.
Pilchard (Sardina pilchardus) fishing and processing was a thriving industry in Cornwall from around 1750 to around 1880, after which it went into an almost terminal decline. However, as of 2007, stocks are improving. Since 1997, sardines from Cornwall have been sold as "Cornish sardines", and since March 2010, under EU law, Cornish sardines have Protected Geographical Status. 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.
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.[clarification needed] 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.
Small oily fish like sardines have been a staple of the Greek diet since antiquity. Popular especially during the summer months of July and August, and praised as a high-quality healthy food source of protein and Omega-3 fatty acids, sardines are mostly consumed grilled with lemon and garlic, or cured in salt and olive oil (παστές, pastés). Both dishes are standard items in Greek-style seaside "taverna" restaurants, or in smaller establishments served as a treat (μεζές, meze) usually accompanied by ouzo. This does not leave out other ways of cooking sardines with local recipes and varieties.
The place most associated with sardines and their consumption as ouzomeze (ουζομεζές i.e. meze treat with ouzo) is the island of Lesvos. A fine kind of the fish called papalina thrives in the island's wide bay of Kalloni, and ouzo production has been a long tradition in the area of Plomari. A handful of manufacturers of Lesvos produce and export canned sardines, considered a local delicacy.
"Sardine festivals" are celebrated during summertime in Lesvos, as well as in many fishing communities elsewhere in Greece, which emphasize folklore aspects of traditional life and music, and allow for various amounts of fish consumption.
The sardine is a favorite food of the people of Karnataka, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu and Goa. The fish is typically eaten fresh, and canned sardines are not popular. Fried sardines are a much sought-after delicacy. They are called mathi (Malayalam: മത്തി)(Tamil: மத்தி) or chāla (Malayalam: ചാള) (Tamil: சாளை) in Kerala and Tamil Nadu . In Andhra Pradesh, they are called kavallu amongst the fishing community. In West Bengal, they are called khoira (Bengali: খয়রা). People from coastal Karnataka and goa call them tarle (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 regional 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.
Dried niboshi (sardines) in and out of the package, used in Japanese cooking
Young sardines on rice
Sardines with lemon
A Japanese dish with garlic, wakame, soy sauce, and "oil saldina"
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. 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. www.anchoveta.info, and private-sector offers from local supermarkets.
Known mainly as "sardinas" regardless of the actual species, sardines are a staple especially of lower-class families in the Philippines due to their relatively cheap prices. They are also commonly used as relief goods in times of disaster. Sardines are among those fished by coastal communities, such as those who live in Manila Bay.
Sardine fish being dried under the Sun in Cavite, Philippines
Sardines play an important role in Portuguese cuisine and 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).
Portuguese grilled sardines on lettuce, with potato
Grilled sardines with tomato and potato, Portugal
Grilled sardines with potato and salad, Portugal
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 with lemon, Spain
Pickled sardines at a market on the Spanish island of Majorca
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 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.
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. During the COVID-19 pandemic, sardines and other tinned fish enjoyed a resurgence, including the establishment of boutique manufacturers.
Sardines in olive oil and tomato sauce
Cornish pilchards salted and packed in crates for shipping to Italy
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.