When one hears the word Sardine, they’re likely to think of the phrase “packed in like a Sardine” and conjure up mental images of horribly cramped and crowded conditions. At Atlantic Seafood Market, we like to say “packed UP like a Sardine”. This is because Sardines are jam-packed with some of the most vital nutrients to the human body and are one of the healthiest foods you could ever want to eat. Before we get into the details of what Sardines can do for you, let’s talk a little bit of history and geography.
While debates commonly arise as to the exact origin of the word Sardine, it appears to have first been used in the English language some time in the 1400s. It is believed by some that these fish got their name from the Italian island of Sardinia, along whose coasts they were once found in abundance. Sardines are actually a small and oily fish belonging to the Clupeidae family of Herring3. There are different standards in different lands for what officially makes a sardine, but some nations consider anything longer than 6 inches to be a “Pilchard” and not a Sardine.
In the United States, sardines began to be produced in cans in the late 19th century and were at their peak of consumption and sales in the mid 1950s and unfortunately for the health of America, their popularity has since waned. Sardines are undeniably as popular as ever in Portugal though, where they are held in such a high regard that they are the official food of St Anthony’s Day, a national Portuguese holiday.
In the United Kingdom, you’ll be more likely to encounter Pilchards. This especially true in the English city of Cornwall. Sardines from this area are often referred to as Cornish Sardines and have become a big enough part of popular culture over the years to inspire the following not-so-politcally correct poem:
“Here’s health to the Pope, may he live to repent
And add just 6 months to the term of his Lent.
And tell all his vassals from Rome to the Poles,
There’s nothing like Pilchards for saving their souls!”2
When found in cans, sardines may be packed in with a wide variety of different liquids. Water, olive oil, mustard sauce, spicy tomato sauce, cream sauces, and many others. When canned, their heads and gills are usually removed. Some will be de-boned and some will not; this is not a problem as humans are able to eat and digest the soft bones of the Sardine. It’s mainly a matter of personal taste whether or not the bones are best consumed or discarded.
Whether they are canned or delivered fresh, as are the Portuguese Sardines you’ll find at Atlantic Seafood (you’ll have to call ahead to reserve them) they can be prepared in a multitude of ways. Frying, grilling, smoking, baking, and broiling are all popular methods of Sardine preparation. They can also be eaten as a tasty snack all on their own or chopped up and integrated into sauces, salads, and soups by some of the more culinary skilled people among us.
One thing that remains consistent among all Sardines, no matter how they are prepared or whether they come canned or fresh is their nutritional value. Sardines are packed to the brim with vital nutrients such as Vitamin D, Vitamins B 3 & 12, calcium, protein, and Omega-3 fatty acids1
Vitamin B3, also known as Niacin, promotes cardiovascular health and lowers bad (LDL) cholesterol. It aids in reducing the hardening of arteries and have been proven to help prevent supplementary heart attacks in patients who have already suffered one. In addition to this, Vitamin B3 also has the potential to reduce the risk of Type 1 Diabetes, cataracts, and osteoarthritis2As if this were not enough, Vitamin B3 also promotes the health of your skin, eyes, and hair. Without a sufficient amount of Vitamin B3, people can experience canker sores, fatigue, depression, and indigestion.
Vitamin B12 is also abundant in Sardines. In fact, pound for pound, Sardines contain more Vitamin B12 than any food other than calve’s liver1 Also known as Cobalamin, Vitamin B12 helps to keep blood cells healthy and provides the human body with energy and aides in fighting against anemia.
Vitamin D is also provided in big doses in a Sardine feast. For those who cannot consume dairy products, which is one of the main sources of Vitamin D in the human diet, Sardines can be quite helpful. Vitamin D helps to regulate calcium and promotes bone strength. It also helps the brain to communicate more efficiently with muscles and boosts the immune system. Vitamin D will help keep your bones healthy and strong and will make one less susceptible to osteoarthritis later in life.
When you add all the protein, Omega 3 fatty acids, and calcium in Sardines to the nutrients listed above, you have yourself a delicious treat that is beneficial to both the body and mind. If you want to do nearly every part of your body a favor, you should make Sardines a part of your diet.
As stated before, Sardines can be served in many different ways. Just one method of Sardine preparation that we’ll share with you today comes from Alton Brown of Food Network fame. Fresh from FoodNetwork.com, here’s the recipe for Alton Brown’s Sherried Sardine Toast.
Sherried Sardine Toast
Ingredients: 7.5 ounces of sardines, fresh or canned, coarse sea salt, 1 ripe avocado, 2 tbsp of sherry vinegar, 4 half-inch thick slices of any variety of crusty bread, 1/4 tsp of lemon zest, freshly ground black pepper, 2 tbsp of finely chopped and separated parsley leaves, and 1 lemon cut into 4 wedges.4.
Directions: 1. If the sardines are canned, drain the oil into a mixing bowl. If they’re fresh, olive oil can be used instead.
2. Mix in the parsley, vinegar, lemon zest, and pepper. Whisk these ingredients together and then add the sardines to the mix. Let the mixture sit for one hour.
3. Brush each slice of the bread with the liquid mixture.
4. Place the bread on a cooling rack on top of a baking sheet and place in a broiler for 2-3 minutes.
5. Remove the toast from the broiler. Cut the avocado in half and then proceed to mash the flesh with a fork.
6. Spread the avocado on to the toast and top it with the sardines.
7. Add lemon juice from the wedges and sea salt to taste4.
This recipe will serve four people.
1. Author Unavailable
The World’s Healthiest Foods
2. Author Unavailable
Vitamin B3 (Niacin)
University of Maryland Medical Center
3. Author Unavailable
4. Brown, Alton
Sherried Sardine Toast