Why Eat It
Nutrition Chart

Why Eat It

This slender fish is packed full of important nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, protein, and calcium. Cold-water fish, such as sardines, contain the highest amounts of heart-healthy omega-3 fatty acids. One of the world's first canned foods, the sardine is rich in phosphorus, iron, potassium, vitamin B6, and niacin.

The sardine was first canned at the beginning of the 19th century when Napoleon recognized that there was a need to preserve food, and the sardine was the first fish to be preserved in oil or tomato sauce. Sardines used to be abundant just off the coast of Sardinia, an island in the Mediterranean, hence the name "sardine."

Sardines are so popular that their population has been depleted considerably by commercial fishing. In the U.S., crude brushwood traps called "weirs" were used by native Americans to capture schools of sardines that swam in shallow coastal waters along the Eastern coast. This versatile little fish is also known as the Atlantic or sea herring, or "pilchards."


There are a number of different kinds of small saltwater fish that are referred to as "sardines." In fact, there are more than 20 varied species sold as sardines worldwide. Sardines as we know them in the U.S. are actually herring.


Imported sardines, generally form Portugal are available seasonally.


Purchase fresh sardines at a fish market. As with other fish, look for clear bright eyes and firm flesh.

Purchase canned sardines at your local supermarket. They are available in whole in oil, fried or smoked, packed in mustard sauce, or skinned and boned and sold as fillets.


Rinse fresh fish when you get them home and store in a dish in a single layer. Cover with dampened paper towels and store in the coldest part of the refrigerator.

Canned sardines will keep indefinitely on your grocery shelf, but look for a sell by date and use within that time.


Fresh sardines can be purchased in season at many seafood markets. If you are planning on sauteing or using fish in sauces, ask the fishmonger to scale, gut and bone the fish for you. For Grilling, have the fish scaled and gutted, but leave the bones in. For Broiling, either leave the bone in or have it removed.

Canned sardines come packed in a variety of sauces and oil. Find a brand that you like and if packed in oil, drain before suing. Canned sardines are good in sauces and salads.

Baking: Place scaled and gutted fish in a baking dish either drizzle with a little olive oil, a sprinkling of salt and lemon juice or top with the sauce of your choice and bake at 425°F. for 10 minutes or until cooked thorough.

Sauteing: Rinse scaled, gutted, and boned fish and blot dry. Lightly coat with seasoned cornstarch or flour. Heat a small amount of oil in a large nonstick skillet. or spray skillet with nonstick cooking spray. Saute 2 to 3 minutes per side until golden brown and cooked through. Use a flexible spatula to turn the fish and turn them gently as they are somewhat fragile. Serve with a lemon wedge.

Grilling or Broiling: Rich and fatty, sardines are wonderful on the grill. Toss the sardines in a dry rub of herbs and a little salt and either place them on a lightly oiled grill topper or in a special basket designed for grilling small fish. Grill 4 to 5 minutes over medium heat, turning the fish once until done. Serve with lemon, a fresh tomato salsa or an herbed green sauce.

Pasta Sauce: Fresh or canned sardines and fennel are used for a special pasta sauce that celebrates the feast of Saint Joseph. If using fresh sardines, have the fishmonger scale, gut and debone the fish. In a large nonstick skillet, heat a small amount of olive oil over medium heat. Add chopped onion and garlic and saute until soft. Add chopped fresh fennel and saute until golden. Add sardines, tomatoes, golden raisins, pine nuts, and salt and cook until the sauce is lightly thickened and the sardines are cooked through and somewhat broken up. Serve with perciatelli or spaghetti.

Nutrition Chart

Sardines/3 oz canned, oil drained

Total fat (g)
Saturated fat (g)
Monounsaturated fat (g)
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
Dietary fiber (g)
Carbohydrate (g)
Cholesterol (mg)
Sodium (mg)
Beta-carotene (mg)
Thiamin (mg)
Riboflavin (mg)
Niacin (mg)
Vitamin B12 (mcg)
Calcium (mg)
Potassium (mg)
Selenium (mcg)

Date Published: 04/21/2005
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