What's the Difference Between Anchovies and Sardines?

These two little fish are often confused, but they're not the same. Learn how they measure up in terms of nutrition—and how to use them in your cooking.

anchovies sardines
Photo: NatashaBreen / Getty Images, ALEAIMAGE / Getty Images

Anchovies and sardines are both small fish that swim in the same oceans, and are most often found next to each other in the canned fish section of the grocery store. When we start to compare the two, the takeaway is that both of these oily fish are delicious, healthy, and convenient.

"Fresh anchovies and sardines look and taste rather similar," says Joshua Scherz, the founder of BELA Sustainable Seafood. "The big difference is in the processing." While both fish can be grilled or fried when fresh, sardines are typically canned, whereas anchovies are salted and cured before they are canned or jarred—or, in Asian countries, dried.

According to nutrition expert Toby Amidor, MS, RD, CDN, FAND, the author of Create Your Plate Diabetes Meal Prep Cookbook ($23.20, bookshop.org), both "sardines and anchovies are under-appreciated fish that are brimming with nutrients, including omega-3 fats." Though generally not interchangeable in recipes, they can be served in similar fashion: "Canned or jarred sardines and anchovies taste great over a salad or in a warm bowl with whole grains and greens, like sautéed kale or spinach," says Amidor.


Shannon Daily, the marketing director of sustainable canned seafood purveyor Wild Planet Foods, explains that sardines are larger than anchovies, with slightly thicker bones and a flaky texture; they are rich in flavor with a salty taste that resembles tuna.

Canned Sardines

When canned, sardines' texture and flavor are preserved, says Scherz. What's inside the can matters, though: His company, BELA, was the first to pack sardines in extra virgin olive oil, and now you can find many high-quality brands packed that way (including sardines from Wild Planet Foods). Both brands offer sardines packed in water, as well, but Scherz notes that the oil is a better preservative; water-packed products are much less popular and break down faster.

Pay attention to where your sardines are packed, too. BELA offers regular canned sardines and in sauces from Portugal, a country with a long seafaring and canning history. Not only is the fishery sustainable, but Scherz says that Portugal has an upper hand on human rights issues regarding fishing and production. Wild Planet Foods sardines are harvested from the North Pacific Ocean and from well-managed fisheries in Japan that are also sustainable.

Sardine Nutrition

Amidor says that when canned in water, the average 3.75-ounce can of sardines has 120 calories, 7 grams of fat, and 2 grams of saturated fat. The oil-packed variety has 130 calories, 9 grams of fat, and 2 grams of saturated fat; both have 340 milligrams of sodium.

Sardines are high in vitamin B12 and selenium and provide close to 350% of your daily recommended dose of vitamin D. They also provide omega-3 fats. Echoing Scherz, Amidor also prefers oil-packed sardines—the additional fat in the oil-packed varieties isn't a reason to avoid them. In fact, that oil can come in handy if you have a salad in the works: "In order to minimize food waste, don't drain the oil—use it along with lemon juice to make a tasty dressing," Amidor says. "Just pour the oil over the salad and squeeze a lemon half."

How to Serve Sardines

Canned sardines have increased in popularity in recent years, something Scherz attributes in part to the pandemic. And while they typically haven't been a mainstay on restaurant menus, they are now—especially on trendy "sea-curterie" boards. Scherz's favorite way to enjoy sardines, however, is in sandwiches.

As for other ways to serve them at home? "Sardines are terrific with pasta, especially with fresh fennel, pine nuts, bread crumbs, and white wine," says acclaimed chef and author Mark Bittman, editor-in-chief of The Bittman Project and the host of Food with Mark Bittman.


According to Scherz, processing anchovies—which are smaller than sardines, says Amidor—generally takes a long time. They are cured in a barrel for nine months, then pressed with bricks to make the bones soft enough to eat. Daily explains that typically, the anchovies you find in the grocery store are brown fillets in olive oil. The brown color comes from months of curing in brine, so they are incredibly salty, tougher in texture, and have lost their original white color. These are the anchovies that are served on Caesar salads and pizzas, but can also be cooked in oil until they melt to develop a toasty umami flavor in sauces.

But not all anchovies are dark in color: Wild Planet Foods offers wild white anchovies, which are silver with creamy-white flesh. Known as "boquerones" in Spain, these marinated fillets, sustainably harvested from the Atlantic Ocean, are packed fresh to retain their natural white color, and are delicately textured as a result. They have a clean, mild flavor and are only lightly salted.

Canned Anchovies

"If anchovies are in oil, [it] really must be olive oil; it's an integral part of the flavor," Bittman says of canning this fish type. "Generally, slightly larger anchovies are preferable, and the best can be quite large and beautiful. Small pieces, or thin, meager fillets are signs of inferior quality."

Anchovy Nutrition

According to Amidor, 3 ounces of fresh anchovies has 111 calories, 4 grams of total fat, 17 grams of protein, and 0 carbs. When jarred in oil, a 3.18-ounce jar with anchovy fillets of the dark brown variety offers 175 calories, 7.5 grams of total fat, 25 grams of protein, and no saturated fat or carbs. "Anchovies are rich in selenium and also provide small amounts of calcium, iron, and potassium," says Amidor. "They're also known for their omega-3 fats."

Wild Planet Foods Wild White Anchovies, on the other hand, have 160 calories and 2 grams of fat in a 3 ounce serving; they offer 19 grams of protein and provide 20 percent of our daily recommended dose of calcium. They also provide trace amounts of Vitamin D, potassium, and iron; they have 0 carbs.

How to Serve Anchovies

Bittman, who is a fan of Wild Planet Foods anchovies, says to serve these oily fish simply. "Good anchovies can be served plain, on a plate, with just a drizzle of olive oil or even a little butter, and bread or toast. That's classic and it doesn't get any better," he says. "Then, of course, they're used in all kinds of cooking, from French to Indonesian."

They're also the secret to "a perfect vinaigrette," Bittman notes; he suggests making a tangy dressing with olive oil, lemon juice or vinegar, garlic, and a couple of anchovies.

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