Anchovies vs Sardines: What’s the Difference?

When it comes to anchovies, my opinions align directly with Michelangelo in the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie: “You put anchovies on this thing and you’re in big trouble, okay?” And I’d say the same thing about sardines too. These tinned fish are two sides of the same coin. But are they really? When it comes to sardines vs anchovies, is one better than the other? Or are sardines and anchovies the same? Let’s break down the difference between anchovies and sardines. 

Anchovies vs sardines: Let’s talk anchovies

Anchovies are small, silver, green, and blue fish that max out at 5.5 inches. There are over 140 varieties and they can be found primarily in saltwater. They are classified as forage fish, meaning they are prey for a lot of predators, including humans. For that reason, they gather in massive schools to increase their survival chances.

Because they are so small, it doesn’t make much sense to serve them as a filet similar to larger fish like trout, salmon, or tilapia. So, since the times of ancient Rome, people have been more inclined to filet them, salt-cure those filets, and store them in olive oil to be used in recipes or as a topping for salads, pizzas, or simply on some bread with butter. The curing process turns the anchovy filets brown as long as their scales have been removed.

Anchovies vs sardines: Let’s talk sardines

Sardines are also small, silver forage fish that travel in massive schools, but they are from a totally different taxonomic family than anchovies. There are about 21 species of sardines and they max out at around 6 inches. 

Canned sardines are a relatively new invention, starting in the 19th century with the rise of commercial canning processes. Canned sardines are cooked instead of salt-cured, like anchovies. The sardines are processed and then either boiled or grilled. After that, they are left to dry before being packed into a tin can with either water, oil, tomato sauce, chili sauce, or mustard.

Anchovies vs sardines: What is the difference between anchovies and sardines?

If you cooked a fresh anchovy and fresh sardine and slapped them onto a plate, you might be hard-pressed to tell the difference. Sardines are slightly larger, meatier fish, but otherwise the two fish taste very similar. The real flavor difference comes from how they are packaged.

Because anchovies are salt-cured, they are much, much saltier than sardines. Also, since they aren’t cooked, their fishy flavor is quite pungent. As a thinner filet, they are more likely to dissolve or disappear in a recipe, which makes them traditional additions to sauces and salad dressings (like caesar dressing), imparting just their flavor to a dish and not the texture.

Sardines have a far milder flavor. And there is a wider variety of flavors based on what liquid is used when they are packed in cans. A heartier fish, sardines are eaten on their own or on little toasts, or they are tossed in pasta dishes or salads. Unlike anchovies, sardines don’t really dissolve into a dish, so they aren’t really interchangeable in recipes. 

Anchovies vs sardines: Verdict!

Is one better than the other? Though there are similarities when it comes to sardines vs anchovies, comparing the two fish in their canned form is like comparing apples to oranges. But if you ask me, I’m sticking with Mikey on this one; both these fish better stay far away from my pie.

About the Author

Luke Field

Luke Field is a writer and actor originally from Philadelphia. He was the former Head Writer of branded content at CollegeHumor and was also a contributing writer and actor to the CollegeHumor Originals cast. He has extensive improv and sketch stage experience, performing both at The Upright Citizens Brigade Theater and with their Touring Company. In addition to writing, he also works as a Story Producer, most recently on season 4 of Accident, Suicide, or Murder on Oxygen. Keep your eyes peeled for his brief but impactful appearance as Kevin, the screaming security guard, in the upcoming feature The Disruptors, directed by Adam Frucci.

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