Sardines: Fish In A Tin

During a time when many of us are enjoy pantry foods, I wanted to update and refresh my sardines post and give it another round on the internet! Many of you know I am an unofficial spokesperson for sardines : ) This post will tell you all about sardines, including what nutrients they contain, sardine brands I like, and how to prepare them!

Why are sardines so good for you?

I truly believe sardines are one of the world’s healthiest foods because they contain three of the nutrients Americans are often deficient in: omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, and vitamin D.

Sardines are great staple food because they are:

  • Inexpensive ($1 a tin for sardines packed in water, $4 or so for fancier kinds)
  • Shelf stable (keep them in your pantry at all times for a quick meal)
  • Already cooked – no dishes to wash
  • Full of high quality protein and good fats
  • A sustainable fish low in mercury (USA sardines are a best choice for Seafood Watch)
  • Versatile (mash them on crackers, make a salad, turn them into a sandwich spread, cook into sauces)

open tin of sardines

How did I learn to eat sardines?

I was on a tuna/salmon salad kick, so learning to like sardines was an easy crossover. I actually first tried sardines when I was in high school from a tin my dad had in our pantry. At the time I thought they were OK, but not knowing they were so healthy or creative ways to make a sardine salad, I didn’t really make them a regular staple in my diet. I believe this was my first time trying them on KERF! I first started eating sardines years ago when I kept reading about them in health magazines as an under appreciated superfood. “If they are that nutritious I should be eating them!” I thought.

smoked sardines tin

How to eat sardines:

I tell people: if you like tuna salad and you like fish, you’ll like sardines. If you aren’t so hot on fish, however, you probably won’t like them. I prefer mine smoked (extra flavor) and I don’t eat them from the tin directly (although you certainly could). I tend to mash them up into salads, spreads and things.

Sardines are a member of the herring family so I often use sardines and herring interchangeably. Herring are a little bigger, but I can’t really tell much of a difference between them in taste. Perhaps I need to do a side-by-side taste test…

Here are what they look like when you open the tin and drain them:

open tin of sardines

You can easily flake the fish to look like chunk light tuna. I think what scares people so much about “fish in a tin” is the thought of bones. But the bones are so soft and mashable – they are not line the fish bones you fear. People think of bones as pointy, stiff and dangerous to eat. Sardine bones are soft and you mash them with the filets. They are where all the nutrients are! You can’t even really see them:

sardines flaked with a fork

How to eat sardines video!

Don’t be scared – just watch this video for a live demo of how to make a sardine salad:

My favorite sardine brands

As I mentioned before, sardines range in price from $1 (or less!) a tin up to $4-5 for fancier brands. The brand I’ve gotten most in the past is Trader Joe’s because I love the smoky flavor. But sardines are actually at risk for overfishing. The fish themselves are safe to eat (aka low in mercury), but the concern is the way they are caught, which leads to overfishing and putting the population at risk, so you have an environmental decision to make. In fact, according to Seafood Watch, the U.S. Pacific sardine fishery is closed because the population numbers are too low. Look for brands that are endorsed by the Marine Stewardship Council, Seafood Watch, or sustainably caught.

Wild Planet is always an easy choice for seafood, as all of their products are sustainably caught.

wild planet sardines

The brand Bar Harbor from Maine is also great! I love the sweet – savory combo of smoked + maple syrup. The maple flavor is subtle (think slightly sweet & smoky bbq sauce) and the fish is flakier and less fishy than other brands I’ve tried.

bar harbor foods sardines

Sardine Recipes

I like to chop in all kinds of veggies – carrots, celery, peppers – plus add some binders in the form of mustard, mayo, Greek yogurt and then spice things up with salt, pepper, curry powder, smoked paprika, dill, lemon juice, capers and more.

sardine salad with greens and pita chips

How to make sardine salad:

  1. Drain your sardines and mash them with a fork until you reach a uniform consistency.
  2. Add a quarter cup to half cup of chopped veggies
  3. Mix in 1-2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  4. Add 1 tablespoon mayo or Greek yogurt
  5. Sprinkle 1-2 teaspoons of seasonings to taste
  6. Serve over greens, with chips, on a sandwich, with crackers, or simply eat with a fork.

Check these two posts for step-by-step how-tos!

Here is a massive list of just some of the ways I’ve enjoyed sardines and herring over the years:

sardine meal collage

Sardine Meals

Don’t forget there’s always sardine oatmeal if you’re in the mood Winking smile