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?

Anchovies and sardines are different species and families of fish. 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.

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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.

Anchovies and Sardines Nutritional Value

For the nutrient comparison, the table below compares 4 ounces of raw anchovies to 4 ounces of sardines. The anchovies and sardines are canned and packed in oil.

Sardines and anchovies 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 Sources 1 2 3

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

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 than anchovies. 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. Sardines contain a higher percentage of B12, thiamin, phosphorus and calcium. Canned sardines contain less sodium than anchovies.

How To Remove Sodium From Anchovies or Sardines

Although canned anchovies contain more sodium than sardines, the fish can be soaked to remove some of the sodium. The same thing can be done for sardines which also contain a good amount of sodium.

How to remove excess sodium from anchovies and sardines:

  • Remove from the can and rinse under cool running water.
  • Place the fish into a shallow bowl.
  • Pour milk or water over the anchovies or sardines 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.

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 4.

Anchovy Health Benefits

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Anchovy provides 2.38 grams of omega-3 and canned sardines 1.65 grams per four ounces raw. Anchovies contain approximately 45% more which leads to the question, 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 5.

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.

Magnesium

Anchovies provide 78 mg and sardines 44 mg per four ounces. Magnesium helps keep blood pressure levels balanced and stable. A recent study researched 22 studies and concluded magnesium supplementation decreased diastolic and systolic blood pressure 6.

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 7.

Magnesium in anchovies 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

Potassium

Anchovies contain 616 mg per four raw ounces and sardines 450 mg. 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 8. 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 water 9.

According to Harvard Health, a number of studies have shown a connection between low potassium levels and increased blood pressure 10.

Selenium

Anchovies contain 77.2 mcg of selenium per four ounces and sardines 59.7 mcg. Selenium is an underreported nutrient. I’m unsure why many don’t write about it more because studies 11 show selenium may help to protect the following:

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

Sardine Health Benefits

Phosphorus

Sardines provide 555 mg and anchovies 285 mg of phosphorus per four ounces. 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

Sardines provide 433.1 mg of calcium per four ounces and anchovies 263.0 mg. 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 vessels 12. Calcium also helps the following:

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

Anchovies, sardines and other seafood are renowned for being a part of many diets like keto or heart healthy.

If you’re eating low-carb or want to give keto a try, many of my clients have followed this 28-Day Keto Challenge with great success. Visit their website and check it out.

Anchovies and 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, does sardines taste like anchovies?

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

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

What does sardines taste like? Sardines have a fishy and salty taste. They are oily especially if they are packed in oil. Sardines do not flake as much and are meaty and dense when biting into them.

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

Anchovy and Sardine Substitutions

When preparing recipes for dinner it’s not always possible to locate the type of fish called for. If you have some sardines, you may ask, can I substitute sardines for anchovies?

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 anchovies is difficult. Sardines can be used by adding to the sodium content. If anchovy flavoring is desired, the best anchovy paste flavor substitutes are:

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

When substituting for sardines 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 grilling 13.

How to Cook Anchovies

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

How To Cook Sardines

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 grill them. 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 sardines in stews or soups due to their bones and oily content.

Flavor pairings:

  • Oil
  • Herbs
  • Beer batter
  • Wasabi mayonnaise

Anchovies vs Sardines 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 consumed 14. 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. Therefore, does anchovies or sardines have more mercury?

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. The recommendation is consuming two to three 4 ounce servings a week from the best choices.

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

Anchovy and Sardines Costs

When purchasing anchovies or sardines, be sure to check the label to see if it is wild-caught, farm raised, smoked or marinated. Therefore, which is more expensive, sardines or anchovies?

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. Fresh anchovy and sardines are a similar price.

I checked my local Shoprite supermarket and found the following prices for canned anchovies and canned sardines:

  • 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 fresh anchovy and sardine prices:

  • Fresh anchovies
    • $15.99 per pound
  • Fresh sardines
    • $16.99 per pound

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 sardines and herring in my article Herring vs Sardines – 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

Habitats

  • 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.

Colors

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

Appearance

  • 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.

Age

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

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

Species Resources 15 16 17 18 19 20

FAQs

Which is saltier, anchovies or sardines?

Anchovies are saltier than sardines. Four ounces of canned anchovies contain 4,160 milligrams of sodium while canned sardines contain 348 milligrams.

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

 

Article Resources: Foods For Anti-Aging follows strict guidelines to ensure our content is the highest journalistic standard. It's our mission to provide the reader with accurate, honest and unbiased guidance. Our content relies on medical associations, research institutions, government agencies and study resources. Learn more by reading our editorial policy.
  1. Nutrition Value: Anchovy, canned[]
  2. NutritionData: Fish, anchovy, European, canned in oil, drained solids[]
  3. Nutrition Value: Sardines, canned in oil[]
  4. FDA: Seafood Nutrition Facts[]
  5. National Center for Biotechnology: Marine Omega-3 Supplementation and Cardiovascular Disease[]
  6. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Effect of magnesium supplementation on blood pressure: a meta-analysis[]
  7. National Institutes of Health: Magnesium[]
  8. American Heart Association: How Potassium Can Help Control High Blood Pressure[]
  9. National Center for Biotechnology Information: The Effect of the Sodium to Potassium Ratio on Hypertension Prevalence: A Propensity Score Matching Approach[]
  10. Harvard Health: Potassium lowers blood pressure[]
  11. National Institutes of Health: Selenium[]
  12. Harvard Health: Key minerals to help control blood pressure[]
  13. Sea Grant North Carolina: Fish Flavors and Substitutions[]
  14. FDA: Advice about Eating Fish[]
  15. Wikipedia: Sardine[]
  16. NOAA Fisheries: Pacific Sardine[]
  17. Wikipedia: European Pilchard[]
  18. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations: Sardina pilchardus[]
  19. Wikipedia: European Anchovy[]
  20. EDF Seafood Selector: Anchovy[]

Kevin Garce

Kevin Garce is a Certified Health Coach who encourages people by informing them on nutrition and food topics important to them. His years of research and knowledge inspire people to achieve their goals. Read more here About Me

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