What do sardines taste like (& how to make them taste great)

Published Categorized as Fish Or Seafood, Guide Tagged

Hey! This site is reader-supported and we earn commissions if you purchase products from retailers after clicking on a link from our site.

Sardines have a strong taste, that is noticeably improved when they are kept canned in olive oil instead of water, they have the potential of tasting delicious when prepared correctly. Sardines typically have a fishy taste which can make you feel a bit sickly because of their greasy texture, but we can fix this don’t worry! Sardines from different oceans have unique traits and subtle flavour differences, though once they are prepped and preserved in oil, those flavours naturally disappear.

Sardines are smoked or cooked by frying or boiling allowing you to eat them straight from the can. Fresh sardines have a salty taste, and a firm texture with a meaty backbone, they taste like the ocean followed by whatever sauce is poured over them.

Table of Contents

What Are Sardines?

Sardines are small schooling fish that roam the open oceans from Japan to California to Chile, eating plankton and small crustaceans. Sardines are moderately appreciated worldwide, in the UK there is stargazy pie, which is made up of sardines, potatoes and eggs baked under a crust.

Sardines from different oceans have unique traits and subtle flavor differences, although once they are cooked or canned, these natural flavors are lost. Sardines are cooked before packaged so that they can be opened and eaten straight away.

Are Sardines Tasty?

When you think sardines, you would automatically think greasy, smelly, and fishy. With canned sardines, some people seemingly find it hard to comprehend a whole fish in a can, but once we cross that bridge we can explore the tastiness of sardines. Unmistakably sardines are in face fishy, but that’s to be expected from any species of fish from the ocean.

They are meaty, dense, and greasy in texture. Canned sardines are also a little salty, but much less salty than anchovies. The taste of sardines is predominantly reliant on the way they have been prepared or what they’re packed in. Good olive oil water or tomato sauce can be nice, some vegetable oils are known to disguise the taste of sardines unpleasantly. Freshly grilled sardines, seasoned with sea salt, parsley, lemon juice, and a touch of chili are deliciously tasty. They are less fishy than the canned sardines, so if you want to test the waters, I suggest you try the tastiest and go fresh. 

How To Cook Sardines

The best way to cook sardines is by grilling them, this can be done by wrapping these tiny little fish into grape or fig leaves and grilling them over charcoal with olive oil and lemon. Baked sardines also taste great and can be paired with full-flavored sauces, a common favorite being tomato sauce and spicy citrus salsas. Before you begin to prepare either of these dishes, it’s important to get rid of most of the bones in the sardines.

Start by removing the head by bending it back it should easily pull off, or if you’d prefer to use a knife to cut it off, that works as well. Now for the messy part – once the head is removed its time to remove the innards, holding the headless sardine in one hand belly side up – preferably on a hard surface like a chopping board – with a small sharp knife, cut the sardine by slicing the entire length of its underside, hold the cavity open so that you can remove the innards and discard them.

Use your fingers to gently spread the sardine’s cavity open to fan or butterfly the fish until the bones are completely exposed. Using your fingers, or a knife start to separate the bones from the meat, starting from the head and working your way towards the tail. Dip the raw pink fillet in water rubbing the skin to remove the scales, and once you’re satisfied with its overall appearance, it is ready to cook!

What Do Canned Sardines Taste Like?

The canned sardines have a heavier tender taste and are much different from fresh sardines. They have an oily texture and taste quite salty, this is because both oil and salt are used as preservatives. Despite being much oilier than fresh sardines, canned sardines are still healthy. Simply drain the oily liquid they come in, then you can grill or fry the sardines, add a splash of lemon juice, and enjoy the simple but tasty meal. 

What Do Fresh Sardines Taste Like?

Fresh sardines have a very firm texture and thick meaty backbone that can be quite unexpected based on their size, they are less oilier than canned sardines and taste much like fish and the ocean, followed by whatever sauce poured on top.

What Do Anchovies Taste Like?

Anchovies are much smaller in length compared to sardines. Their flavors can differ depending on how anchovies are processed. When dried in salt it can give them an intense, umami flavor. Anchovies are canned in olive oil which adds to their unique flavor. Their salty and savory flavors blend well with salads, salsas, sauces and pasta dishes.

Generally, anchovies are disliked, but many chefs used anchovies as a secret ingredient to enrich their flavours. This little fish can be sweet, sour, bitter, and salty, and can be eaten in various forms, each with a unique taste. Briny anchovy fillets are more common than salted anchovies which are much firmer and meatier. 

How To Choose Good Canned Sardines?

Sardines can be found at your local supermarket, usually beside the canned tuna fish. Sardines are healthy fish in a can, the best-canned sardines are the ones preserved without oil unless it’s their oil.

If you’re new to the sardine world, and harbour that new fear then try sardines that are canned in oil, as this will improve the taste considerably. Canned Sardines without additives to mask the natural flavours, are of good quality, you can check whether they are packed in water or oil on the packaging.

How To Make Sardines Taste Great

Naturally, you’re wondering how to make your sardines taste great, try grilling them. First, remove the bones, then wrap the sardines in grape or fig leaves, splash them with olive oil and grill with lemon, the results will bedazzle you. Another way to make sardines taste great is by eating them with saltine crackers, or if you dislike excessive salt you can eat them with healthier crackers and a slice of cheese, the cheese will add more flavour to the combination.

You can eat sardines directly out of the can, a perfect way to avoid cooking, just add a splash of lemon juice. You can replace tuna with sardines in a tuna salad, combine your sardine with mayonnaise, pickles and mustard for a newly improved tuna salad.

Ways To Eat Sardines

If you’re having a hard time eating sardines without gagging, then let me help you. The best way to look at it is, if you can eat canned tuna, then you can most certainly eat canned sardines.

  • Try sardines straight out of the can, squeezing some fresh lemon juice over the top of them.
  • On healthier crackers such as almond flour cookies, with a little bit of cheese.
  • On a Caesar salad with avocado oil Caesar dressing
  • Mashed into half an avocado with a squeeze of fresh lemon juice.
  • Replace the tuna in “tuna salad” with sardines! You can make this with homemade mayonnaise, mustard, and pickles.
  • While we’re replacing tuna with sardines, why not make a sardine sandwich? Make a mixture in a bowl with chopped pieces of boneless sardines, add a dollop of mayonnaise some pickles for added flavour and smear on some bread.
  • Try sardines with cottage cheese and hot sauce, really get the flavours going!
  • Scrambled into eggs and topped with hollandaise sauce
  • Mix canned sardines with some chopped red onions and olives

Sardines come packed in water, oil, tomato juice and other liquids in a can. You can add onions and peppers, or mustard and mayo to make them taste great and enjoy them right out of the can! Some people prefer to eat sardines skin, bones and all! Although quite honestly I’d find myself doing the same, the health benefits that come from sardines are just too amazing to pass by.

Don’t panic though, usually canned sardines come with their heads removed, so you’ll have the option to either tuck in straight away, or remove the bones from the fish before adding your desired toppings.

Sardine Benefits

Sardines are rich in protein, and an excellent source of EPA and DHA which are two fatty acids that have been proven to reduce inflammation within the body. They are an amazing source of vitamin B 12, vitamin D, calcium and selenium. Additionally, sardines contain high content of omega-3 fatty acids, which play the part in balancing your cholesterol levels, keeping your heart healthy, supporting the brain and for optimal fertility followed by hormonal balance. Saving the best for last, sardines play a big role in skin cells, decreasing skin inflammation and giving you a healthy glow. 

Do Fresh Sardines Smell Bad?

Sardines have a strong smell, and a stronger taste. When buying fresh sardines try looking for ones that have a clean aroma without any bits of them missing. Sardines usually start to smell when there is something wrong with the body, i.e. “belly burn” which is a condition where the belly is broken and the guts are starting to fall out. This is not a fresh fish and is only suitable for salting down.

Do Canned Sardines Smell Bad?

When you pop open a can of sardine, you may notice that it has a very strong, unpleasant fishy smell – this is normal and can be eliminated in different methods of cooking.

Sardines? Yes please!

We know the benefits, the taste, the different methods of preparation, and how to make them taste delicious in more ways than some. Sardines can be eaten in many many ways, aren’t you a lucky bunch!


Can You Eat Sardines Out of the Can?

Yes sardines are precooked before put in a can of oil or water, they can be eaten straight out of the can; squeeze some lemon juice on top for extra taste.

Can You Eat Sardines Raw?

Sardines cannot be eaten raw, fresh sardines must be prepared before eating.