Anchovies and sardines are loaded with omega-3s and light on contaminants.
They are some of the most concentrated sources of docosahexaenoic and eicosapentaenoic acids around, and rank near the bottom when it comes to mercury contamination, but to most Americans, the thought of anchovies and sardines is more gag-inducing than mouthwatering.
“Tinned fish like anchovies and sardines are much more popular in Europe than in the U.S.,” says Jennifer McGuire, a registered dietitian with the National Fisheries Institute.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, just 3 ounces of canned sardines provides 402 mg of EPA and 433 mg of DHA—substantially more than the recommended daily amount of 180 mg of EPA and 120 mg of DHA. The same amount of canned anchovies provides 649 mg of EPA (nearly as much as a 3 ounce slab of farmed, fresh salmon) and 1,099 mg of DHA (more than salmon).
But these heaping helpings of omega-3s have been overshadowed by the tiny fish’s appearance (envision those scary, slimy slivers packed tight into hard-to-open tin cans). And many consumers make the mistake of trying to treat anchovies and sardines like other fish, serving them in too big a portion or too plain, McGuire says.
“You have to think of them less like a filet of fish to put in the center of your plate and more like a punch to add to another dish,” she says.
With a dry, crumbly texture and sesame nuttiness, sardines are ideal flavor spikers for tired beef or chicken meatball recipes. And aside from infusing pizzas and salads with a lingering, savory saltiness, anchovies can be added to red sauces to spice up a pasta dinner.
McGuire says retailers wanting to turn customers onto these forgotten little fish would do best to start shoppers off subtly, offering sardine-spiked meatball samples on toothpicks, a traditional ceasar salad or whipping up an anchovy puttanesca sauce served with good bread for dipping.