Sardines vs Anchovies – Taste, Salt, Looks – The Differences Explained!

Published Categorized as Fish Or Seafood, Ingredients Tagged

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Canned fish in general has something of a contentious reputation since similarly to marmite people either love them or hate them. Whilst most people tend to like or be ambivalent to tuna and salmon, oily fish like canned sardines or canned anchovies really do tend to divide people. Both of these small fish pack an intense taste that is both oily and salty but what is actually the difference between sardines vs anchovies.

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Anchovies vs. Sardines: What’s the Difference?

Whilst the two fish are occasionally conflated with one another and regularly found near each other in the grocery store, anchovies and sardines are actually very distinct from one another. 

As such, whilst you may like a sardine sandwich, one filled with anchovy fillets would likely give you a shock. Equally, though you may be considered to be a heretic if you were to put sardines on pizza instead of anchovies. 


Whilst both sardines and anchovies are little fish, aside from that they are quite different in terms of appearance.

Sardines for example have a slightly protruding lower jaw and have white flesh. By comparison, they are also larger than anchovies as they can grow up to around twenty centimetres whilst anchovies will only grow to fifteen centimetres.

Anchovies tend to be both smaller and much thinner than sardines. Additionally, their flesh tends to be dark red or grey in colour. To some, anchovies may even look hairy, however, these “hairs” are actually bones.

Sardines vs Anchovies - Taste, Salt, Looks - The Differences Explained!

Taste Difference Between Sardines And Anchovies

Despite both sardines and anchovies having a reputation for their intense flavours, there is a distinct difference between the taste each has and therefore how they should be used.

Sardines are generally much lighter in taste than anchovies. In fact, many fish lovers may be happy to eat sardines straight from the can or on a sandwich. Texture-wise, sardines are somewhat flakier and less oily by comparison to the often oil-packed anchovies.

Typically in cooking sardines will be kept intact and will be used either as part of a starter or main meal, such as on crackers or with rice.

Anchovies on the other hand often come in jars or tin of olive oil, along with being salt-cured. Additionally, the intensity of the anchovy taste can vary greatly depending on the level of oxidation it has experienced. As such fresh anchovies that have been well refrigerated are slightly milder, more structurally intact and generally considered more palatable. 

Due to the more intense fishy and umami flavour of anchovies, they are rarely eaten on their own and are instead used as an ingredient. Most notably, they are often eaten on pizza or in a caesar salad.  

Nutritional Value

The difference between these two types of fish can also be seen in their nutritional values. Below is a breakdown of the nutritional differences between them per one hundred grams.

Calories, Saturated Fat and Cholesterol

Anchovies contain slightly more calories with two hundred and ten vs the two hundred and eight calories in sardines. However, whilst this difference is somewhat negligible, the saturated fat and cholesterol contents show a much larger gap. 

Sardines contain nearly twice as much cholesterol with approximately one hundred and forty milligrams versus the eighty-five milligrams found in anchovies. In terms of saturated fat, however, anchovies show higher levels with two point two grams of saturated fat vs the one point five grams found in sardines.


The disparity in sodium content in these two types of canned fish is also quite significant. Sardines contain roughly five hundred milligrams of sodium. 

Anchovies on the other hand contain over seven times as much sodium with roughly three thousand six hundred and seventy milligrams.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Both sardines and anchovies are incredibly rich in omega-3 fatty acids. One hundred grams of sardines contains roughly one and a half grams of omega-3 fatty acids. Meanwhile, the same amount of anchovies will contain roughly two grams of omega-3 fatty acids.

Sardines vs Anchovies - Taste, Salt, Looks - The Differences Explained!


Whilst the difference isn’t massive, anchovies provide a slightly richer source of protein than sardines do. This is because anchovies contain roughly thirty grams of protein by comparison to the twenty-five grams found in sardines.


Like with omega-3 fatty acids, both sardines and anchovies are excellent sources of calcium. One hundred grams of sardines will contain roughly three hundred and eight grams of calcium. 

Meanwhile, an equal amount of sardines will contain roughly two hundred and thirty-five. Whilst this isn’t a massive amount by comparison to sardines, anchovies in their own right are still a decent source of calcium.

Iron and B-12

Whilst both are considered good sources of iron, anchovies have sardines beat in this regard. Sardines contain roughly three milligrams of Iron per hundred grams. The same amount of anchovies on the other hand contains roughly four and a half grams of iron.

In terms of B-12 content, however, sardines have anchovies beaten by a landslide. This is due to sardines containing roughly nine micrograms of vitamin B-12 whilst anchovies only contain zero point nine micrograms.

Additional Nutrients

  • Potassium: Anchovies contain roughly five hundred milligrams of potassium compared to the roughly four hundred milligrams contained in sardines.
  • Total Fat: Whilst anchovies may contain a higher quantity of concentrated fats, sardines contain slightly more fat overall. Sardines contain roughly eleven grams of fat whilst anchovies contain around ten grams.
  • Mercury Content: According to the FDA, both sardines and anchovies contain a very small amount of Mercury. In terms of parts per million (ppm) sardines contain approximately  0.010 ppm whilst anchovies contain 0.011 ppm.
  • Sugar: Both anchovies and sardines contain little to no sugar content.

Which Tastes The Best?

Ultimately this is a question that depends purely on personal preference along with how they’re used. If you’re after the most intense taste of fish and saltiness with a hint of umami, then anchovies are your best bet. However, if the olive oil and curing process creates too sharp a taste for your palate, then sardines are should be your choice. 

Culinary uses

Whilst there is still an aspect of personal preference at play here, how sardines and anchovies are used often differs massively. 

Sardines for instance are likely to be eaten by themselves or in a sandwich due to their less intense flavour. Additionally, they will more commonly be left intact when used as part of a meal such as with sardines on toast, a lightly flavoured pasta in dishes like cotriade

Anchovies, however, will be more commonly used in the creation of sauces such as for pasta, marinara sauce for pizza or in slow-cooked dishes. Doing so practically dissolves the anchovies and gives the sauce a subtle salty and umami flavour.

Sometimes though, there is a crossover between how they can be used. For example whilst anchovies are considered a classic staple on pizza, someone looking for a less intense option may choose a sardine topped pizza instead. Additionally, both fish are popular choices in salads and pasta dishes may implement both whole sardines and a sauce containing anchovies.

Sardines vs Anchovies - Taste, Salt, Looks - The Differences Explained!

How to Cook Anchovies and Sardines

Often when cooked, the flavour of both anchovies and sardines somewhat lose their intensity. As such cooking them is frequently done when planning on using them as a major part of a dish. 

One benefit of these two fish is that they are both incredibly versatile. As such both can be filleted, fried, grilled, slow-cooked in sauce or indeed pretty much any other way you could conceive of.

Fun Facts about Sardines and Anchovies

  • It is believed that the name “sardine” originated from the Mediterranean island of Sardinia located in Northern Italy.
  • In traditional Italian cuisine, both tomatoes and anchovies are considered essential ingredients in making the sauce.
  • The sardine is part of the Clupeidae family of fish, also known as the herring family. Meanwhile, the anchovy is part of the Engraulidae family.


Which Is Better, Sardines Or Anchovies?

Which you prefer will mainly come down to personal preference. However, anchovy is best used in dishes with strong contrasting flavours or in a sauce. Meanwhile, a sardine will likely be better either by itself or with relatively mild ingredients.

Can I Eat Anchovies Every Day?

Anchovies provide a myriad of health benefits, from helping with cholesterol along with being a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids. Additionally, unlike some other fish, they don’t contain a massive amount of mercury. However, they do contain a lot of salt along with selenium which if consumed too frequently can be carcinogenic. As a result, it is not recommended that you eat them every day but two to three times a week would be a healthy amount.

Are Anchovies and Sardines High In Mercury?

Both anchovies and sardines are quite low in mercury, especially when compared to other popular fish like salmon. Out of the two though, the sardine contains slightly less mercury than the anchovy.

Why Are Anchovies So Expensive?

The price of anchovies can fluctuate depending on where you are living. This is because they only tend to live in a few scattered places around the world. The reason for this is because they prefer temperate water temperatures and as such will avoid areas of extreme hot or cold. As such, if you live in a particularly warm or cold region, then the price of anchovies will likely increase due to having to import the fish from abroad.

Final Thoughts

The anchovy and the sardine may seem somewhat similar due to both being small fish sold in cans. However, both of these tiny fish are in fact very different from each other in terms of intensity and taste, along with their appearance and culinary use.

If you like fishy tastes and have never tried either of these, then you are honestly missing out on a couple of particularly tasty ingredients. Even if fish isn’t normally for you, when reduced in a sauce or as part of a particularly tasty meal, you  may just find that the inclusion of these fish elevates your overall enjoyment.