Herring vs Sardines – What’s The Difference? Let’s Compare


Herring and sardines look similar and are from the same family. For this reason many people wonder about their differences. Let’s answer the question, what is the difference between herring and sardines?

Herring provides a higher percentage of B vitamins and omega-3 fatty acids but less minerals than sardines. Sardines tastes fishier, oilier and saltier than herring. Sardines have a meatier texture than herrings texture which is more tender. They are different species of fish although from the same family.

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 Atlantic herring and the Atlantic sardine otherwise noon as the European pilchard.

Herring and Sardines Nutritional Value

For the nutrient comparison, the table below compares 4 ounces of raw herring to 4 ounces of sardines. The sardines are canned, packed in water, boneless and skinless.

Sardines 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 ones first.

Nutrient Sardines, raw

Canned, water

(4 Ounces)

Herring, raw

Fresh, Atlantic

(4 Ounces)

Calories 210 170
Fat 12 g 10 g
Saturated Fat 3.0 g 2.3 g
Cholesterol 69 mg 68 mg
Protein 24 g 20 g
Sodium 469 mg 102 mg
Omega-3 1.65 g 1.84 g
B-6 0.1 mg  0.3 mg
B-12 10.2 mcg 15.5 mcg
Thiamin 0.05 mg 0.10 mg
Riboflavin 0.26 mg 0.28 mg
B5 0.6 mg 0.7 mg
Iron 2.6 mg 1.2 mg
Niacin 4.7 mg 3.6 mg
Folate 27.2 mcg 11.3 mcg
Potassium 386 mg 370 mg
Magnesium 38 mg 36 mg
Phosphorus 415 mg 267 mg
Calcium 272.1 mg 64.6 mg
Zinc 1.5 mg 1.1 mg
Selenium 46.0 mcg 41.3 mcg

Nutrient Sources 1 2

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

Fresh herring is healthier than canned sardines due to its higher percentage of heart healthy omega-3 fatty acids and B vitamins. Fresh herring contains less calories, total fat, saturated fat, cholesterol and sodium. Fresh herring provides more B6, B12, thiamin, riboflavin and B5 than canned sardines.

Sardines offer many benefits and it’s difficult to argue against its healthy nutrients. Sardines provide a higher percentage of niacin, folate, potassium, magnesium, phosphorus, calcium, zinc and selenium.

Both provide a high percentage of omega-3 fatty acids but herring contains a little more. To find out why they are important keep reading the next section below about health benefits.

Calories

  • Sardines contain 23.5% more calories than herring per 4 ounces.

Protein

  • Sardines contain 20% more protein than herring per 4 ounces.

Sodium

  • Sardines contain 360% more sodium than herring per 4 ounces.

sardines and herring nutrient comparison

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 3.

Herring Health Benefits

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Herring provides 1.84 grams of omega-3 and canned sardines 1.63 grams per four ounces raw. Herring contains approximately 13% 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 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 4.

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.

B Vitamins

Of the seven B vitamins listed in the table above, herring provides more than five 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

How does anchovies compare? I compare the two in this article, Anchovies vs Sardines: What”s The Difference? Let’s Compare.

sardines
Cooked sardines.

Sardines Health Benefits

Magnesium

Sardines provide 38 mg and herring 36 mg per four ounces. 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 5.

More so, it 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.

Magnesium in sardines 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.

Phosphorus

Sardines provide 415 mg and herring 267 mg of phosphorus per four ounces. Phosphorus has been shown in studies to may help the following:

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

Potassium

Sardines contain 386 mg per four raw ounces and herring 370 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 7. 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 8.

According to Harvard Health, a number of studies have shown a connection between low potassium levels and increased blood pressure 9.

Selenium

Sardines contain 46.0 mcg of selenium per four ounces and herring 41.3 mcg. Selenium is an underreported nutrient. I’m unsure why many don’t write about it more because studies 10 show selenium may help to protect the following:

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

Calcium

Sardines provide 272.1 mg of calcium per four ounces and herring 64.6 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 11. Calcium also helps the following:

  • Build and maintain strong bones.
  • Muscles need calcium to function properly.
  • Improve nerve function.
herring on a plate.
Herring on a plate.

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 12. 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, which one has more mercury?

Herring 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.

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

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 herring taste better than sardines?

Sardines have a stronger and fishier flavor than herring. Herring is more mild to fishy. Sardines taste salty although herring is also salty but not as much. If a fishy taste is desired sardines is better. If a less fishy flavor is desirable, then herring is better. Sardines are meatier to chew while herring is softer.

I wanted to get the opinion of real people like you by conducting some original research. Therefore, I reached out to some clients, members of food groups and readers. I asked, what tastes better, herring or sardines?

  • 51% said they preferred the taste of herring.
  • 38% said they preferred the taste of sardines.
  • 11% said they had no preference.

In the taste poll, herring was found to taste better and was the winner.

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

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 herring?

Sardines can substitute for herring due to their similar oily, salty and fishy tastes. Herring can substitute for sardines also although their textures are different. They can be cooked using the same cooking methods like grilling, frying or baking. 

The best sardine substitutes include the following:

  • Herring
  • Anchovies
  • Mackerel
  • Smelts

The best herring substitutes are:

  • Sardines
  • Anchovies
  • Smelts
  • Mackerel

When substituting 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.

Costs

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

Canned wild herring is more expensive than canned wild sardines. The average cost for wild canned sardines is 0.52¢ per ounce while the average cost for wild canned herring is 0.64¢ per ounce. Fresh herring fillets and sardines are a similar price.

To conduct some original research, I checked my local Shoprite supermarket and found the following prices:

  • Canned sardines in olive oil (skinless and boneless)
    • 0.38¢ per ounce
  • Wild canned sardines in olive oil (skinless and boneless)
    • 0.66¢ per ounce
  • Wild canned smoked herring fillets (ready to eat)
    • 0.46¢ per ounce
  • Wild canned smoked herring fillets (ready to eat)
    • 0.83 per ounce

I checked online at Freshdirect and found the following prices:

  • Fresh marinated herring fillets
    • $12.99 per pound
  • Fresh sardines
    • $11.99 per pound
sardines
Sardines on a plate.

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

Are herring and sardines the same?

Herring and sardines are not the same, they are two different species of fish. The average herring is longer and weighs more than a sardine. Herring have a blueish green back while sardines have an olive to greenish color back. Herring lives 12-16 years and sardines 10-12 years.

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

Scientific Classifications, Families, Species

Herring is the species C. harangus and sardines are S. pilchardus although they are from the same family.

Herring are from:

  • Family: Clupeidae
  • Genus: Clupea
  • Species: C. harengus

Sardines are from:

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

Habitats

  • Herring are found on both sides of the North Atlantic. Near the United States they are found from Labrador to Cape Hatteras, North Carolina.
  • Sardines are found in the northeastern Atlantic Ocean, Mediterranean Sea and the Black Sea.

Colors

  • Herring are silvery in color with a bluish or greenish-blue back.
  • Sardines are silvery in color with a greenish to olive colored back.

Appearance

  • Herring are small schooling fish. Their bodies are long and narrow with one dorsal fin.
  • Sardines are an elongated, small fish like the herring. They have one dorsal fin.

Size and Weight

  • Herring can grow up to 14″ long and weigh up to 2 pounds.
  • Sardines grow up to 8-10″ long and weight from 0.33 to half a pound.

Age

  • Herring lives up to 12-16 years.
  • Sardines live up to 10-12 years.

Diets

Herring consumes the following diet:

  • Zooplankton
  • Copepods
  • Arrow worms
  • Krill
  • Fish larvae

Sardines consume the following diet:

  • Zooplankton
  • Phytoplankton
  • Fish larvae
  • Copepods
  • Baby barnacles

Species Resources 14 15 16 17

Read Next – More Fish vs Fish Articles!

Brook Trout vs Brown Trout – Let’s Compare The Differences

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: Sardines, packed in water, boneless, skinless[]
  2. Nutrition Value: Fish, raw, Atlantic, herring[]
  3. FDA: Seafood Nutrition Facts[]
  4. National Center for Biotechnology: Marine Omega-3 Supplementation and Cardiovascular Disease[]
  5. National Institutes of Health: Magnesium[]
  6. National Center for Biotechnology Information: Effect of magnesium supplementation on blood pressure: a meta-analysis[]
  7. American Heart Association: How Potassium Can Help Control High Blood Pressure[]
  8. National Center for Biotechnology Information: The Effect of the Sodium to Potassium Ratio on Hypertension Prevalence: A Propensity Score Matching Approach[]
  9. Harvard Health: Potassium lowers blood pressure[]
  10. National Institutes of Health: Selenium[]
  11. Harvard Health: Key minerals to help control blood pressure[]
  12. FDA: Advice about Eating Fish[]
  13. Sea Grant North Carolina: Fish Flavors and Substitutions[]
  14. Wikipedia: Sardine[]
  15. NOAA Fisheries: Atlantic Herring[]
  16. Wikipedia: European Pilchard[]
  17. Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations: Sardina pilchardus[]

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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