What Are Sprats?

Canned fish are having a moment. Sardines and anchovies used to be a punchline. But now the hippest bars and small plate restaurants are stocking high-end seafood tins served alongside classy crackers and crusty bread. If you are cool and buy canned fish from the grocery store, you might notice there’s more than just your basic canned tuna, salmon, or sardines. For example, you might see sprats. What is a sprat? Are sprats sardines? How do you define sprats? How do sprats compare vs sardines? Let’s get you closer to being a canned fish expert and learn the answer to, what is a sprat? 

What are sprats?

The short answer is that a sprat is a little fish that’s like a sardine and usually sold preserved and canned. Sprats are also called brislings or brisling sardines. But to get a little more involved, let’s actually define sprats. To define sprats, first I looked in the Urban Dictionary, but their definition sounded very wrong and NSFW. So next I went to Merriam-Webster and theirs sounded way better. A sprat is defined as “a small European marine fish (Sprattus sprattus) of the herring family.” A sprat is also called a brisling. The confusing part is that some seafood, especially canned seafood, can be labeled different things in different countries so definitions aren’t always consistent.

Are sprats sardines?

To really dig into this sprat vs sardine debate, let’s first define what a sardine is. Again, the Urban Dictionary wasn’t much help. So back to Merriam-Webster. They say a sardine is “any of several small or immature fishes of the herring family, especially the European pilchard (Sardina pilchardus).” So there you have it. Sardines and sprats are both little fishies that belong to the herring family, but they are different species. That said, sprats are sometimes labeled as sardines—even if it’s not strictly true. 

There are a lot of sprats in the Baltic Sea in Northern Europe, and around New Zealand and Australia. Sardines have traditionally been caught around Portugal, Spain, France, and now the Pacific Ocean off the coasts of Japan and California. Around Europe, sprats are usually labeled and sold as sprats or brisling. They are sold that way in the U.S. sometimes, but often they will be sold as sardines. 

Sprats vs sardines

Both sprats and sardines make a nice healthy meal or snack. Both are very oily fish, containing high levels of polyunsaturated fats, which are good fats. Sardines have a little more protein and fatty acid that sprats, so if you’re making a decision purely on healthiness, you get more bang for your buck with true sardines. But for me, sprats are just more fun to say. I also like sprats more than sardines because both little fishies usually still have their bones and gut intact when you eat them and sprats are smaller, so they have less innards and more delicate bones. Also, the smaller fish, the more I can pretend to be a giant as I eat them.

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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  • Excellent article…I too luv the sprats. Was curious to the background
    Smoked and or in tomato sauce
    recently found them hidden in an obscure cookie isle at the grocery ! Took a stab – now were hooked
    dynamite taste and flavor. Odd how a just few of them – can satisfy