Anchovies vs Sardines: What’s The Difference? Let’s Compare

Anchovies and sardines are both popular canned fish with many similarities. For this reason many people wonder about their differences. Let’s answer the question, are sardines and anchovies different?

Sardines are longer, weigh more and live longer than anchovies. Anchovies tastes stronger and more meaty than fishier sardines. Anchovies provide a higher percentage of fatty acids, B vitamins and minerals than sardines.

This article will compare their tastes, textures, cooking methods, costs, mercury levels and whether one can substitute for the other in recipes. In addition, I’ll do a side-by-side comparison of their nutrients, habitats, size, weight and more.

For the comparison below I’ll be comparing the European Anchovy (mostly canned for consumption) and the Atlantic sardine otherwise noon as the European pilchard.

Sardines on the left and anchovies on the right.
Sardines on the left and anchovies on the right

Canned Anchovies and Canned Sardines: Tastes and Textures

One of the most important things people takes into consideration when choosing a fish is its taste. When comparing the two fish, anchovies vs sardines, let’s find out which one tastes better.

Anchovies have a stronger, more intense flavor than sardines. Sardines have a fishier flavor. Anchovies are oilier and saltier. If a strong taste is desired anchovies is better than the milder sardines. Sardines have a meatier texture compared to grainy anchovies.  

Anchovies have a stronger, meaty flavor. It has an intense and also salty flavor. They have an umami taste, meaning savory which is found in foods high in glutamate.

When sardines are simply canned whole in olive oil they are especially oily. They do not flake as much and are meaty and dense when biting into them.

I conducted original research by polling my readers, clients and people in food groups. I asked which one they preferred the taste of?

  • 62% said they preferred sardines.
  • 38% said they preferred anchovies.

I did more research about taste by setting up a blind taste test and meal in my home. 75% of the people picked the same results as the poll.

If you’re wondering how they and salmon differ, check out my article, Salmon: A Complete Comparison.


When preparing dinner recipes it’s not always possible to locate the type of fish called for. If you have only one, you may wonder if you can substitute one for the other.

Sardines are not a good substitute for anchovies due to their different tastes, flavor and saltiness. Anchovies have a grainier texture which falls apart easier than sardines meatier flesh. For this reason, similar cooking methods will affect both fish differently.

The best sardine substitutes include the following:

  • Herring
  • Anchovies (although saltier and stronger)
  • Mackerel
  • Smelts

No other fish is like anchovies. Therefore, using another fish like them is difficult. Sardines can be used by adding to the sodium content. If anchovy flavoring is desired, the best flavor substitutes are:

  • Capers
  • Fish sauce
  • Shrimp paste
  • Worcestershire sauce
  • Kalamata olives
  • Soy sauce
  • Miso
  • Umeboshi paste
  • Seaweed

When substituting for fresh fish try to stick to the following:

  • Same size and weight.
  • Stick with similar fillets, whole fillet or cross section.
  • Stick with skinless or skin when the recipe calls for one.
  • Texture is more important for certain cooking methods. Like using a firmer texture when grilling1.
How to cook spaghetti with anchovies.

How to Cook for Recipes

Frying anchovies is very popular. People add lemon, olive oil, flour garlic and dried chili. For an easy dinner, another option is serving them raw and marinated with white wine vinegar, olive oil, red pepper flakes, oregano, garlic and parsley.

Most people associate sardines coming from a can, but they are good fresh if you can find them. Either way, scale and gut the fish, coat them with oil and add them to recipes grilled. The best way to grill them is over wood or charcoal.

Another option is splitting them and pan frying or stuffed and baked. Avoid using them in stews or soups due to their bones and oily content.

Flavor pairings:

  • Oil
  • Herbs
  • Beer batter
  • Wasabi mayonnaise

If you have to follow recipes low in sodium, then these two fish are not for you.

How To Remove Sodium From Anchovies or Sardines

Although canned fish contain more sodium than fresh, the fish can be soaked to remove some of the sodium. 

How to remove excess sodium from anchovies or other canned fish:

  • Remove from the can and rinse under cool running water.
  • Place the fish into a shallow bowl.
  • Pour milk or water over the fish until completely covered.
  • Wait twenty minutes and then remove the liquid.
  • Carefully pat the fish with a paper towel.
  • Cover the fish again with liquid.
  • Wait twenty minutes and remove the fish from the liquid.
  • Rinse each fillet under cool running water.
  • Allow the fillets to dry on a paper towel.

Both fish contain a high percentage of omega-3 fatty acids but anchovies contain more. To find out why they are important, keep reading the next section below about health benefits.

All about sardines, how they’re processed and canned.

Mercury Levels

The EPA and The Food and Drug Administration have issued warnings and suggestions regarding mercury levels in fish and how often they should be consumed2. This is especially important for pregnant women, young infants and developing children.

They established a list of best fish, good choices and ones to avoid based on their mercury levels. 

Anchovies and sardines have similar levels of mercury. They are both listed on the FDA’s best choices of fish to consume regarding their mercury levels. 

Always check with a physician prior to eating new foods or changing your dietary habits.


When purchasing most seafood, be sure to check the label to see if it is wild-caught, farm raised, smoked or marinated. Let’s take a close look at which of the two fish costs more.

Canned wild anchovies is more expensive than canned wild sardines. The average cost for wild canned sardines is 0.66¢ per ounce while the average cost for wild canned anchovies is 0.97¢ per ounce. The  fresh types of each one are a similar price.

I conducted original research about the costs by visiting various different stores and checking their prices.

First, I checked my local Shoprite supermarket and found the following prices:

  • Wild canned sardines in olive oil (skinless and boneless)
    • 0.66¢ per ounce
  • Wild canned anchovies in olive oil
    • 1.10¢ per ounce
  • Cento wild canned anchovies in olive oil
    • 0.85 per ounce

I checked online at Citarella and found the following prices:

  • Fresh anchovies
    • $15.99 per pound
  • Fresh sardines
    • $16.99 per pound
Kevin Garce checking prices of catfish and seafood in his local supermarket.
Checking prices of catfish bass and seafood in my local market

Anchovies vs Sardines: Habitats, Size, Weight, Appearance?

Are anchovies and sardines the same?

Anchovies and sardines are not the same, they are two different species of fish. The average sardine is longer and weighs more than an anchovy. Anchovies have a gray back with green sides while sardines have an olive to greenish color back and more silver sides. Anchovies live 3 years and sardines 10-12 years.

For the comparison below I’ll be comparing European anchovy and the Atlantic sardine otherwise known as the European pilchard.

Check out the differences between them and herring in my article Herring – What’s The Difference? Let’s Compare.

Scientific Classifications, Families, Species

Anchovies are from:

  • Family: Engraulidae
  • Genus: Engraulis
  • Species: E. encrasicolus

Sardines are from:

  • Family: Clupeidae
  • Genus: Sardina
  • Species: S. pilchardus


  • Anchovies are found in temperate waters and very rare in cold or very warm seas. The European anchovy is found along the coasts of Europe and Africa, Mediterranean Sea, Black Sea and the Sea of Azove.
  • Sardines are found in the northeastern Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea.


  • Anchovies have a gray back, green upper side and silver belly.
  • Sardines are silvery in color with a greenish to olive colored back.


  • Anchovy’s body is long and slender having a forked tail and one dorsal fin.
  • Sardines are an elongated, small fish like the herring. They have one dorsal fin.

Size and Weight

  • Anchovies can grow up to 8″ long but average 5-6″ and weigh 1.5-1.7 ounces.
  • Sardines grow up to 8-10″ long and weight from 0.33 to half a pound.


  • Anchovies lives up to 3 years.
  • Sardines live up to 10-12 years.

Anchovies and Sardines Nutrition Value

For the nutrient comparison, the table below compares 4 ounces of canned and packed in oil.

Both fish are extremely perishable, which is why it’s difficult to find them fresh. Almost everywhere, you’ll find them canned which is why I compare the canned varieties.

Nutrient Anchovies, raw


Canned, oil

(4 Ounces)

Sardines, raw


Canned, oil

(4 Ounces)

Calories 238 236
Fat 11 g 13 g
Saturated Fat 2.5 g 1.7 g
Cholesterol 96 mg 161 mg
Protein 33 g 28 g
Sodium 4,160 mg 348 mg
Omega-3 2.38 g 1.65 g
B-6 0.2 mg  0.1 mg
B-12 1.0 mcg 10.1 mcg
Thiamin 0.08 mg 0.09 mg
Riboflavin 0.41 mg 0.25 mg
B5 0.9 mg 0.7 mg
Iron 5.2 mg 3.3 mg
Niacin 22.5 mg 5.9 mg
Folate 14.7 mcg 11.3 mcg
Potassium 616 mg 450 mg
Magnesium 78 mg 44 mg
Phosphorus 285 mg 555 mg
Calcium 263.0 mg 433.1 mg
Zinc 2.7 mg 1.4 mg
Selenium 77.2 mcg 59.7 mcg

Nutrient Sources345

Both fish contain a good number of minerals and vitamins. At first glance it’s difficult to determine which one provides more. Therefore, let’s examine which one is healthier.

Anchovies are healthier than sardines due to their higher percentage of heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids, protein, B vitamins and minerals. Sardines contain more fat and cholesterol. Anchovies provide more B6, riboflavin, B5, niacin, folate, iron, potassium, magnesium, zinc and selenium.

Sardines are also healthy and provide the same minerals and vitamins, just a little less. They contain a higher percentage of B12, thiamin, phosphorus and calcium. Also, they contain less sodium.

Anchovies and Sardines Health Benefits

Both fish provide the same nutrients and therefore the same benefits. Although I broke down the benefits by which fish offers the higher percentage of each nutrient ((FDA: Seafood Nutrition Facts)).

Anchovy Health Benefits

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Anchovy provides 2.38 grams of omega-3, approximately 45% more. Why does omega-3 fatty acids matter so much?

Omega-3 fatty acids are important because they are heart healthy and help keep arteries healthy. The omega-3s in anchovies and sardines may help with the following:

  • Keeping bad cholesterol low.
  • Keeping good cholesterol high.
  • Reducing inflammation.
  • Reducing plaque build-up.
  • Lowering triglycerides
  • Help keep the heart rhythms more normal.

DHA and EPA, two of the fatty acids, are associated with lowering blood pressure and improving the health of blood vessels ((National Center for Biotechnology: Marine Omega-3 Supplementation and Cardiovascular Disease)).

Studies suggest omega-3s can help reduce joint pain and stiffness in people with rheumatoid arthritis. They may also boost the effectiveness of anti-inflammatory drugs.

omega-3 in salmon and fish oil
Sources of Omega 3


Magnesium helps keep blood pressure levels balanced and stable. A recent study researched 22 studies and concluded magnesium supplementation decreased diastolic and systolic blood pressure6.

Adding magnesium to your diet could be instrumental in improving sleep related issues like insomnia. Magnesium relaxes and calms the whole body including the blood vessels ((National Institutes of Health: Magnesium)).

Magnesium helps control muscle and nerve function, blood sugar and blood pressure. In the muscles and heart, magnesium competes with calcium to help the muscles relax after contracting.

When the body is low in magnesium, calcium can over stimulate the heart muscle’s cells causing a rapid or irregular heartbeat.

B Vitamins

Of the seven B vitamins listed in the table above, anchovies provides more than four of them. The B vitamins in the table include B6, B12, B5, B1 (thiamin), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin) and B9 (folate). B vitamins help support the following:

  • Cardiovascular disease
  • Red blood cells
  • Digestion
  • Energy levels
  • Brain function
  • Nerve function
Salad with anchovies.
Salad with anchovies


Since the recommended daily amount is 4,700 mg, they both provide an excellent number.

Potassium is beneficial for reducing sodium intake. It helps the body reduce fluids and rids excess sodium ((American Heart Association: How Potassium Can Help Control High Blood Pressure)). This process helps to reduce blood pressure.

The more potassium you consume, the more sodium your body will lose. Consuming too much sodium or not enough potassium throws off the delicate balance the kidneys need to remove the excess water7.

According to Harvard Health, a number of studies have shown a connection between low potassium levels and increased blood pressure8.


Selenium is an underreported nutrient. I’m unsure why many don’t write about it more because studies9 show selenium may help to protect the following:

  • Heart disease
  • Thyroid
  • The immune system
  • Cognitive issues

Sardine Health Benefits

Dr. Weil talks about the health benefits of sardines.


Phosphorus has been shown in studies to may help the following:

  • Muscle recovery.
  • Muscle contraction during exercise.
  • Promoting healthy nerve conduction.
  • Promote bone and teeth strength.
  • Aids the kidneys in waste removal.
  • Help the body manage and store energy.


Calcium is important for blood pressure and the heart.

Harvard Health reports calcium helps maintain blood pressure because it helps to control the relaxing and tightening of blood vessels10. Calcium also helps the following:

  • Build and maintain strong bones.
  • Muscles need calcium to function properly.
  • Improve nerve function.

Find out how they compared to sprats in my article, Sprats – Are They Different? Let’s Compare.

As a Certified Health Coach, many of my clients inquire about seafood. In addition to coaching clients about sardines and anchovies, I’ve purchased, researched and consumed both fish for over 20 years.

If you have any questions about this article or other featured content, don’t hesitate to email and notify us. You can find an email on our contact page. We’ll do our best to reply as soon as possible.

Anchovy dish.
Anchovy dish

Read Next – More Fish vs Fish Articles!

Tuna vs Mahi Mahi – What’s The Difference? Let’s Compare

Rainbow Trout vs Cod: Which Is Better? Let’s Compare

Cod vs Salmon: Is One Better?

Alaska Pollock vs Atlantic Pollock: Which Is Better?

White Bass vs Striped Bass: The Key Differences

  1. Sea Grant North Carolina: Fish Flavors and Substitutions []
  2. FDA: Advice about Eating Fish []
  3. Nutrition Value: Anchovy, canned []
  4. NutritionData: Fish, anchovy, European, canned in oil, drained solids []
  5. Nutrition Value: Sardines, canned in oil []
  6. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Effect of magnesium supplementation on blood pressure: a meta-analysis []
  7. National Center for Biotechnology Information: The Effect of the Sodium to Potassium Ratio on Hypertension Prevalence: A Propensity Score Matching Approach []
  8. Harvard Health: Potassium lowers blood pressure []
  9. National Institutes of Health: Selenium []
  10. Harvard Health: Key minerals to help control blood pressure []

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