Other Common Names:

Herring, Rainbow Sardine, Sprat




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The name Sardine came from the canning of small fish in Sardinia. In the culinary world “Sardine” does not refer to a specific species but rather to a number of species of the Herring family… with over 20 species marketed worldwide.

Identification & Biology: They are a small pelagic schooling fish with a life span of up to 13 years, but the majority of sardines are less than 6 years old. Sardines can grow to about 1.3 feet long, but typical sizes are less than 9 inches. Sardines live in the water column in nearshore and offshore areas along the coast. They grow rapidly and are important food for many fish, seabirds and marine mammals.

In the US there are two primary species: the Atlantic Sardine Sardina pilchardus (European Pilchard) and the Sardinops sagax (Pacific Sardine).

Sardinops sagax (Pacific Sardine)… also known as: Pilchard, California Sardine, California Pilchard, Sardina, South American Sardine, and Chilean Pilchard.

Sardina pilchardus (European Pilchard)… also known as: Atlantic Sardine, Rainbow Sardine, White Sardine, European Pilchard, Sprat or Brisling in Scotland, Sardinella in Spain, and Sild in Norway.

(Anchovies are similar to sardines but are usually smaller and have an upper jaw which protrudes farther than the lower jaw, while on sardines the lower jaw protrudes.)

Range & Habitat: Sardines are found in shallow coastal temperate and subtropical oceans worldwide.

Fishing methods: Sardines are generally caught using purse seines, which cause minimal habitat damage and result in little bycatch. Many modifications of encircling nets are used, including traps or weirs. The latter are stationary enclosures composed of stakes into which schools of sardines are diverted as they swim along the coast. The fish are caught mainly at night, when they approach the surface to feed on plankton. After harvesting, the fish are submerged in brine while they are transported to shore.

Market Description: Larger sardines have a fuller, oilier flavor, similar to anchovies but milder. They are commonly served in cans, but fresh sardines are often grilled, pickled or smoked.

Habitat: Shallow coastal subtropical waters worldwide

Availability: Limited Availability

Flavor Profile: Full oily flavor, distinct delicate flesh

Fishing Technique: Purse setting

Special Note: The name sardines incorporates all small herring

Suitable Sub: Canned or smoked sardine

Buying Tips: If buying fresh, look for sardines with bright eyes, shiny skin, and a mildly fishy aroma. Plan to cook them within a day of purchase. When fresh, small sardines have a delicate flavor.

Note: Sardines are rich in nutrients… They are very high in selenium and vitamin B12 and high in calcium, niacin, and phosphorus, but they are also high in cholesterol. *Sardines are also a natural source of marine omega-3 fatty acids, which reduce the occurrence of cardiovascular disease. Recent studies suggest that regular consumption of omega-3 fatty acids reduces the likelihood of developing Alzheimer’s disease.