Fresh sardines aren’t always possible. In fact, it’s become even more difficult to get fresh sardines in recent years. Lucky for us that we can get some of the best canned sardines instead! Canned sardines are one of the most sustainable superfoods we’ve got. They’re high in valuable nutrients, harvested in a responsible way, low in mercury, and a great addition to any snack or meal.To explore all of the great things about canned sardines, we’ll take a look at our top 10 brands before diving into some valuable information about sardines, as well as how to eat them.
There’s a reason that King Oscar is one of the most well-known brands for sardines and their Sardines in Extra Virgin Olive Oil are no let down! The extra virgin olive oil provides fresh and succulent flavor and these sardines are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids.
We also like Wild Planet Wild Sardines in Extra Virgin Olive Oil, Lightly Smoked because they’re healthy for people and the planet. They’re sustainably harvested and taste great on a sandwich or in a salad.
Quick Comparison: The 10 Best Types of Canned Sardines
1. King Oscar Sardines in Extra Virgin Olive Oil
King Oscar has been in the canned sardine business for a long time. The Norwegian company has been hand-packing the finest brisling sardines since 1902! The sardines are lightly smoked and packed in olive oil for natural and delicious flavor.
They’re also wild caught, which is much better for the sardines and the environment! If I’m looking for something quick, easy, and nutritious, the canned sardines from King Oscar are always something I like to keep in the pantry. It helps my family get their recommended intake of protein, calcium, and iron. It’s also one of the best sources of omega-3 fatty acids!The nutrition found in these sardines doesn’t stop there. They’re a great source of vitamin D and potassium, too! And they’re not as high in sodium as some other varieties. Whether we’re eating them in pasta, as part of a sandwich, or just atop some buttered crackers, we’re loving these sardines.
2. Wild Planet Wild Sardines in Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Some of us prefer the best canned sardines that come from the North Pacific, and these are one of the few options out there. Not only that, but Wild Planet also only uses sardines that have been 100% sustainably caught using free school purse seine methods (which is the best way to catch without harming other species).
With this method, dolphins aren’t harmed. Additionally, the ecosystems where the sardines are found aren’t damaged by dangerous nets. That’s why Greenpeace has ranked Wild Planet as one of the best seafood companies.These are one of the healthiest things in the house! We love having them on hand for a last minute salad or a quick summer pasta. They’re easy to use in any recipe and taste great. We even like them in tacos!
3. Season Sardines in Pure Olive Oil
The Season brand has been around for a while and consumers have been trusting their superior ingredients for many years. We enjoy them because of how great their products are for the planet.Because Season sardines have been certified sustainable by Friends of the Sea, we can all feel certain that there was no bycatch involved and that endangered species weren’t harmed. It also lets concerned shoppers know that the seabed wasn’t heavily impacted and ecosystems weren’t damaged. Best of all, we know that Season Sardines is working on reducing their carbon footprint!
4. Ocean Prince Sardines in Louisiana Hot Sauce
Ocean Prince makes our list with these sardines packed in Louisiana hot sauce. These are perfect for the spice lovers in your family! They’re also suitable for a kosher diet and are a quick and easy way to add some protein to any snack or meal.
When we tried them, we were surprised by how much heat the hot sauce added. So, if you’re not interested in spicy foods, you might want to try one of the other options from Ocean Prince. If you do like spicy, however, we like to prepare an everything bagel, top with cream cheese, add some of these sardines, and then top with freshly chopped chives! It’s quickly become one of our favorite lunches—and is a great way to boost protein and iron levels.
5. Beach Cliff Sardines in Soybean Oil
Sometimes you’re just looking for something simple, affordable, and easy to eat. And on a night like that, I’ll sometimes turn to Beach Cliff Sardines in Soybean Oil. They’re a tasty treat to add to any pasta or salad, and if you’re short on time, they’re perfect on some buttered saltines.Another thing about these sardines is that you get a product from one of the world's most trusted seafood companies. Founded in 1899, The Bumble Bee Seafood Company was started by dedicated fishermen. Today, they have the same passion and knowledge to source and produce some of the world’s best seafood.
6. Matiz Sardines in Olive Oil
Where these sardines are caught is one of the first reasons we love them. The sardines are sustainably harvested just off the coast of Spain, which is one of the best areas in the world for sardines. Even better, they’re packed in olive oil that was produced in Spain as well—and if you know anything about olive oil, you’ll know that Spain is one of the best areas in the world for it.
Because of all of their authentically delicious flavor, these sardines are great on their own or just atop a cracker. We also love them in tapas dishes, or tossed with veggies, pasta, and a touch of fresh lemon juice. Packed with protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and many essential vitamins and minerals, these are a great product to always have stocked in your kitchen pantry.
7. Crown Prince Two Layer Brisling Sardines in Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Simple ingredients tend to be better, and that’s what you’ll find in these canned sardines. They only contain the essentials: brisling sardines, extra virgin olive oil, and salt. Our family loves that they’ve been sustainably caught in Scottish waters, which happens to be one of the best locations for good quality brisling sardines.
As a great source of protein, these are always something good to have on hand. Just one can meets one-third of our protein needs! You never know when you might need lunch or dinner in a pinch and these are great to add to pasta, salads, or sandwiches. Even if you don’t have a lot of other ingredients, we find that they’re delicious on their own or simply added to buttered French bread.
8. BRUNSWICK Wild Caught Sardine Fillets in Olive Oil
If you’re on a keto or paleo diet, these canned sardines are perfect for you. They’re a great source of protein and 100% gluten-free. When you have a few of these cans in your pantry, you can feel confident that they’re coming from one of the best seafood companies. Brunswick started out in a small Canadian fishing village more than 125 years ago. Ever since then, they’ve been supplying the rest of the world with some of the most nutritious and best-quality sardines, salmon, and tuna.
Their Canadian sardines are sustainably harvested and hand packed for the freshest flavor. They only use juvenile North Atlantic herring, which are about five to seven inches long. Plus, they don’t contain any artificial flavors or colors!
There are a few ways we like to eat these: either in a cold parmesan pasta salad, sauteed and served with rice, or simply mixed into ramen noodles for an easy and filling lunch.
9. Safe Catch Skinless and Boneless Wild Sardines
Safe Catch has been recognized by a range of magazines and other organizations for their efforts in producing the best and most sustainable seafood. They were initially popular for their tuna, because they tested every batch to ensure low mercury levels, but have since then applied the same practices to their sardines.
When you buy a can of Safe Catch sardines, you can be sure that it has been sustainably caught and doesn’t contain any nasty additives or fillers. The sardines are high in omega-3 fatty acids, and are skinless and boneless, which is great for people who don’t want to spend the time to remove them themselves.
10. Season Skinless and Boneless Sardines in Pure Olive Oil
The Season brand has been around for more than 90 years. It was started by a Polish food merchant who sold specialty food products. Since then, it has continued as one of the best gourmet food companies in the world.
These sardines are harvested in the cold waters of the Atlantic Ocean and then packed fresh in tasty olive oil. They’re a great source of protein and omega-3s, and without skin and bones are perfect to eat on the go!
Things to Consider When Looking for Canned Sardines
Over the past year especially (given pandemic lockdowns and more difficulty sourcing fresh fish), canned sardines have gotten more popular.
Yes, most of us know that canned sardines are a shelf-stable source of protein, but what else do we know about them? Even more important, how do we choose the right brand?
Now, we’ll answer those questions and provide some more valuable information about canned sardines.
Are Canned Sardines Really Sardines?
This is a tricky question because at first glance it would appear that the sardines in the can are the same sardines (pilchards) you see sold fresh or in the ocean.
But in fact, the canned sardines we typically find in the United States are made from up to 21 different small marine fish species from the same family! In recent years, the sardine populations in the Pacific ocean have dropped drastically (upwards of 95% since 2006).
This makes real sardines very difficult (and very expensive!) to get. Now, the canned sardines we find on supermarket shelves come from foreign fisheries.
Canned sardines, like canned tuna, tend to come packed with either oil or spring water. Sometimes the oil is flavored with things like lemon or chilies.
Sometimes, you’ll find that the heads are still intact, but this is unlikely. In most cases, you’ll see that the spines and tails are still intact. These can be removed, but we tend to keep them as they’re very delicate, easy to chew, and high in calcium.
Health Benefits of Canned Sardines
One of the first reasons canned sardines stand apart from other types of seafood is mercury. Because they only consume plankton, they tend to have much lower levels of mercury than some other types of fish—making them a healthier option for this reason alone.
Mercury, in case you’re not aware can cause severe damage to various areas of the body. It’s been associated with depression, anxiety, autism, and Parkinson’s disease. Mercury has also been tied to high blood pressure and an increase in heart attacks.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Most Americans are deficient in omega-3 fatty acids, making canned sardines an extremely healthy option! They’re considered to be an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids and can help to lower blood pressure and improve overall cardiovascular health.
Canned sardines are a great source of vitamin B-12 (which many Americans also struggle to get adequate amounts of. Vitamin B-12 is important for cardiovascular health and it also gives us energy.
Along with vitamin B-12, canned sardines are also a good source of vitamin D. Vitamin D is essential for good bone health and helps support our immune systems.
Canned sardines, especially when the bones are eaten, is a great source of calcium—and an even better calcium source for those who can’t consume dairy products or are lactose intolerant.
Along with these vitamins and calcium, canned sardines are also a decent source of many beneficial minerals like iron, niacin, phosphorus, zinc, magnesium, and potassium.
It probably doesn’t come as a shock to find that canned sardines are also a good source of protein. A typical can has about 10-20 grams of protein.
If you want the most bang for your buck nutritionally, when shopping for canned sardines, look for those packed in olive oil instead of soybean oil. If you’re trying to cut down on your fat intake, canned sardines packed in water may be the best option.
Are Canned Sardines Bad for You?
Do you have gout or kidney problems?
Sardines naturally contain a substance that can lead to a uric acid buildup in the body. This can intensify or cause a gout or kidney issue for individuals who are already dealing with a kidney problem or who have gout.
Are you trying to reduce your salt intake?
Like other types of canned foods, canned sardines are high in sodium. If you’re trying to limit your salt intake, choose varieties that are lower in salt. Also, you might want to rinse off the sardines before eating them.
Are you on a low-calorie diet?
Sardines are naturally high in calories, regardless of whether they’re canned in oil or water. If you’re watching your calorie intake, double check the labels or eat your sardines with low-calorie foods, like in a salad.
Are Canned Sardines Sustainable?
As sardines are low on the food chain, they’re generally thought of as a more sustainable option. However, the populations of sardines in the US have been dangerously low in recent years. This is the result of both a natural cycle and also climate change.
However, most of the overfishing of sardines has to do with what ends up becoming food for animals. When we eat the sardines directly (instead of feeding them to cows, pigs, and chickens), they’re actually an extremely sustainable source of protein.
So, the answer of whether they’re sustainable or not is still a little murky, just like the oceans they’re found in.
One way to make the most sustainable decision is by looking for brands who use the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) logo. Or look for those with a “green” rating from the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch.
How do You Eat Canned Sardines?
Canned sardines aren’t nearly as popular as some of the other types of canned fish we eat—like canned salmon and tuna. However, they’re definitely a source of protein that shouldn’t be overlooked!
They’re simple to eat, too. Just add them to the tops of buttered crackers and enjoy them alone or with a dollop of pickle relish on top.
If you feel like getting “fancy,” you can sprinkle some white wine or red wine vinegar on top, or fresh lemon if you’ve got one handy (they do well when paired with something with a high acidity).
We also like to go heavy on the olive oil, or combine them with another type of fat like aioli, mayonnaise, eggs. Add some fresh herbs or thinly sliced onions or chives and you’ll have a tasty snack or lunch in no time!
How to Make Canned Sardines Less Fishy
If we could use a few words to describe canned sardines, it would be meaty and fishy. Unlike anchovies, canned sardines have a meaty texture. Unlike tuna, canned sardines have a very strong fishy flavor.
Some people don’t like the fishy flavor, so here’s what can be done about it:
- Season it with freshly ground pepper and sea salt
- Add some acidity (freshly-squeezed lemon or vinegar)
- Soak it in a marinade before eating (we like ginger, soy sauce, and a sprinkle of salt and sugar)
- Cook the sardines briefly by pan-searing for just a few minutes
Canned Sardines Recipes
This recipe, found on Allrecipes, is great if you’re short on time but don’t want to miss out on any flavor. It’s a traditional Italian dish, normally served after the entree. If you want to turn it into a main meal, you can just add a fresh tossed salad on the side!
All you need is: potatoes, olive oil, 4 cans of sardines, cherry tomatoes, garlic, dried basil, and breadcrumbs!
Mini Fish Cakes
All you’ll need is canned sardines, plain yogurt, panko bread crumbs, thime, old bay seasoning, and egg. The cakes are served with a tasty spicy yogurt sauce (see recipe for ingredients list!
This spicy appetizer is perfect for entertaining, or served as a tapas dish. Thanks, Champagne-Tastes for the recipe!
Healthy Lemon Parmesan Sardine Pasta
You just need 20 minutes and this recipe from The Recipe Critic to make a light and healthy dinner. The canned sardines are mixed with olive oil, breadcrumbs, onion, lemon, capers, parsley, and Parmesan cheese, and served over thin spaghetti. Yum!
You’ll be thinking that you’re at a Spanish cafe when you make these fried sardines from Mother Earth News. All you need is a few cans of sardines, an egg, some soy sauce, whole wheat flour, and oil for frying. These are a tasty treat the whole family will love!
If you’ve heard about sardines but have never been brave enough to try them, you should feel pretty convinced to do so after reading this article! Sardines are one of the most nutritious foods we have as they’re a great source of much-needed omega-3 fatty acids.
With the best canned sardines brands like the ones listed here, you can be sure that you’re getting a quality product that’s been sustainably sourced and packed to provide the best flavor out there. We can’t wait for you to try them for yourselves, let us know what you do with them in the comments section!