Sardines and anchovies are often confused. It’s easy to see why. They’re both paltry sized fish that can be purchased in a tin of oil. To make everything more mixed up, they’re also sold on the supermarket shelf next to each other. However, when comparing sardines vs anchovies there are some big differences. We’ll contrast the two types of fish in this article, leaving no stone unturned.
Note: Our comparison is based on the two types of canned fish, not a comparison of the fresh variety.
Infographic comparing sardines and anchovies
Sardines have white flesh and are a little longer than anchovies, growing up to 7.9” (20cm). In the wild, they can be identified with a bottom jaw that protrudes out more than the top jaw. When you buy sardines in a can they’re usually a lot larger than anchovies (see below pic).
The flesh of anchovies is a reddish grey color and they only grow to 6” (15cm) in length. In their can they can appear hairy, however, this is just their tiny bones.
When eaten from the can, sardines have a flaky, less oily textured flesh with a rich, fishy flavor. Anchovies have a much more intense fishy and salty taste with a powerful umami undertone.
Sardines could be eaten on their own by most who enjoy fish. But anchovies are so powerful that many find them unpleasant to eat without other flavors to balance out the saltiness.
Although usage does come down to personal preference, sardines are commonly used as appetizers or as a part of main meals such as in rice. Anchovies tend to have too much flavor for some. They are often used as toppings, such as on a pizza.
Both fish are versatile and can be cooked in almost any way you prefer including: sous vide, baking, grilling, frying, steaming, pickled or eaten cold.
How cooking affects them
I’d rather eat soft boiled fetal duck than anchovies on pizza. However, I often get told to toss an anchovy into Italian pasta for flavor. Recently, I bit the bullet and gave it a try and was pleasantly surprised. The intense fishiness dissipates during cooking and leaves a pleasantly mild taste of saltiness and umami.
The same can be said for sardines. Cooking this fish so that the flesh is just showing signs of flaking will result in a much less fishy sardine.
If you are the demented type that enjoys salt-ridden fish on their pizza remember the rule: only anchovies belong on pizza, not sardines. The original marinara pizza that originated in Italy included tomatoes and anchovies. That’s it. Adding sardines would be considered blasphemous by pizza aficionados in Italy.
|Anchovies (3.5oz | 100g)||Sardines (3.5oz | 100g)|
It’s worth taking a look at the nutritional breakdown of each fish. Here at Cuisinevault, we don’t profess to be nutritional experts – food is our game. But looking at the sodium in anchovies, it looks very high so this is a fish you wouldn’t want to be consuming in high amounts if you’re watching your sodium.
The sardine is a member of the herring family (aka Clupeidae family) and is also known as a pilchard in some regions. There are currently 21 different species of this fish.
It is believed that the name Sardine could have originated from Sardinia where this fish used to be abundant back in the 1500’s. Although their reserves have reduced, the fish is still a common dish served throughout the Mediterranean and the rest of Europe.
Anchovies are a member of the Engraulidae family and there are 140 species of this fish. They are commonly found in larger numbers in temperate waters and avoid very warm or cold waters.
Summing it up
You could be excused for not knowing the difference between anchovies and sardines. They’re both small fish sold in cans at the supermarket. The similarities don’t end there though. They both taste extremely fishy, salty and oily. If you’re the type of person who doesn’t enjoy “fishy tasting” fish then these fish are not for you.
The key difference is in their taste. Anchovies have a higher level of saltiness and they have a strong, pungent, fishy flavor. For most, an anchovy sandwich would be unbearable but a sardine sandwich would be conceivable. The most popular use for anchovies would have to be as a pizza topping although they’re a useful ingredient for adding a hit of salt and umami to mains such as pasta sauce.