What Are Anchovies and Do the Ninja Turtles Love Them or Hate Them?

A lot of people just know anchovies as a pizza topping that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles love in the cartoons but don’t like in the movies. (Seriously, Turtles, how about a little consistency.) While I enjoy an anchovy pizza as much as cartoon Michalangelo, anchovies can be so much more. But was is an anchovy? What do anchovies taste like? Why are they so salty? Are they the same thing as sardines? Take my anchovy-covered digital hand and let me guide you along the path of anchovy enlightenment.

What are anchovies? 

Anchovies are small, silvery, generally saltwater fish, with a few brackish and freshwater varieties, that belong to the family Engraulidae, related to the Herring family. They typically measure between one and four inches and travel in large schools. Anchovies are classified as an oily fish and are found in the Atlantic, Indian, and Pacific Oceans. They are particularly plentiful in the Mediterranean, leading to them being used in that area’s cuisine. They were the main ingredient in the ancient Roman fish sauce, garum, which was essentially their ketchup. 

But when you ask ‘What is an anchovy?’ you’re not really asking about the little fishies swimming in the ocean, right? You want to know about the stinky little fish that come in the tin cans. Those little fellas get plucked from the water, fileted, and packed into jars and cans of oil. Since the fish are so small, they don’t even have to be descaled or deboned in most cases.

What do anchovies taste like? 

Most people will tell you that anchovies taste extremely salty. And that can be true in a lot of cases. Why are anchovies so salty? Anchovies are an oily fish that have a naturally briny flavor. On top of that, they are usually preserved in salt for a long shelf life and sold that way or then packed in oil. If the salt is too much for you, just gently wash the salt or oil off to get more of the natural flavor. You can also get fresh anchovies or marinated anchovies. Both have more subtle flavors and can be eaten tapas style. Or, if you want even more of that salty flavor, anchovy paste is available. It’s exactly what it sounds like. 

So outside of a salt-bomb, what does an anchovy taste like? These things are packed full of umami. They are loaded with glutamates and inosinates, things that we register as deeply savory and meaty. Because of this, anchovies are used in a lot of different dishes to help bring out the flavor. Even if you don’t think you like anchovies, you may have eaten them. Anchovies are used in caesar salad dressing, worcestershire sauce, and fish sauces like Vietnamese phú quốc and Thai nam pla, and someone has probably snuck a fillet or two into a pasta sauce that you loved.

Are anchovies and sardines the same?

Anchovies and sardines are both small fish that you can preserve in cans, but they are completely different species with completely different flavors. On average, sardines are a little larger, live in more temperate water, and are strictly saltwater fish. Canned sardines are a little less salty, flakier, and have a more buttery taste. 

Hopefully you’ve come around on the idea of small fish packed, bones and all, into tiny tin cans of oil that you can eat whole. The next time you order a pizza, get one with anchovies. And have them deliver it to me. Because you don’t deserve those delicious goobers and I will appreciate them more.

best anchovies

Best Anchovies

Now that you know all about anchovies, find out what the anchovy brand is. We ate all the salty little fish to find the best ones, jarred and canned.

About the Author

Will Morgan

Will Morgan, a freelance contributor to Sporked, is an L.A. based writer, actor, and sketch comedy guy. Originally from Houston, TX, he strongly believes in the superiority of breakfast tacos to breakfast burritos. Will traveled the world as one of those people that did yoyo shows at elementary school assemblies, always making a point to find local and regional foods to explore in whatever place he was, even in rinky-dink towns like Tilsonberg, ON. Will spends his birthdays at Benihana’s. Let him know if can make it.

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