Difference between: anchovies and sardines

Both are small, surprisingly healthy little fish. Let us check out the difference between anchovies and sardines.



  • Anchovies: any small, marine, herringlike fish of the family Engraulidae, especially Engraulis enrasicholus, found in the Medeiterranean Sea, often preserved in oil and used in salads, spreads, etc., or packed in paste form
  • Sardines: the pilchard, Sardina pilchardus, often preserved in oil and used for food; any of various, similar, closely related fishes of the herring way

As the definitions indicate, there is no one-size-fits all approach to either fish – there are several different varieties of anchovies, while sardines include herring, sprat, and pilchard.

However, true connoisseurs consider the pilchard to be the “true” sardine. In fact, it has been said that sardines are named for small pilchards caught off the cost of Sardinia, an island in the Mediterranean Sea.

Anchovies have a silvery, almost translucent color to them, with most types being less than six inches long. They have large, gaping mouths.

Sardines can be 5 to 8 inches long, with more of a protruding snout than anchovies.

Both anchovies and sardines:

  • Have Mediterranean origins.
  • Travel in schools.
  • Are food for larger fish.
  • In the US, are often sold in oil-packed tins.
  • Are consumed fresh more often in Europe.
  • Are great additions to pizza or salads.

When I consulted my For Cod and Country cookbook, I found that author Barton Seaver is a huge advocate of anchovies. The first thing I thought when looking them up was, wow, he has more recipes for this fish than I would have imagined.

According to Seaver, anchovies are often used as feed for aquaculture and agriculture and aren’t utilized as human food nearly enough. “I include recipes for them – actually, a lot of recipes – because we should eat more of them to create a sustainable market.”

When it comes to sardines, Seaver believes they should be eaten fresh right off the grill.

Let us examine the nutritional differences between anchovies and sardines.

Both are high in omega-3 fatty acids and protein. And, they’re both great sources of calcium, which is advantageous for those allergic to dairy or soy.


  • Contain 11% daily value for saturated fat.
  • Contain 25% daily value for iron.
  • Contain 15% daily value for vitamin B-12.
  • Have 2 grams of omega-3 fatty acids when canned in oil.
  • Have 29 grams of protein when canned in oil.
  • Are often preserved in salt, so they have a high sodium content.


  • Contain 8% daily value for saturated fat.
  • Contain 16% daily value for iron.
  • Contain 150% daily value for vitamin B-12.
  • Have 1.6 grams of omega-3 fatty acids when canned in oil.
  • Have 25 grams of protein when canned in oil.

Of course, I also checked out anchovies and sardines in my Substitutions Bible. Indeed, they can typically be switched out for one another.

Two anchovy fillets can be substituted with:

  • 1 tsp anchovy paste
  • 1/2 oz smelt
  • 1/2 oz sardines

One tsp anchovy paste (“a savory condiment of mashed anchovies, vinegar, spices, and water available in tubes near the canned fish in most supermarkets”) can be substituted with:

  • Mashed anchovy fillet (stronger anchovy flavor)
  • 1 tsp shrimp paste (different flavor; more pungent)

One pound of sardines can be substituted with any of these:

  • 1 pound anchovies
  • 1 pound small herring
  • 1 pound small pilchards
  • 1 pound sprats
  • 1 pound shad
  • 1 pound smelts
  • 1 pound small mackerels
  • 1 pound smoked sardines (different, smokey flavor)

Confession: I have never tried anchovies or sardines. I’ll have to add those to my growing bucket list of foods to try, including fruitcake, Beef Wellington, and quinoa

5 thoughts on “Difference between: anchovies and sardines

  1. Another thing difficult to find in the grocery store. Anchovy paste. If you make your own Caesar’s salad dressing one of the ingredients is anchovies. Anchovy paste would be much better to use because you wouldn’t have to worry about the little teeny phones. I personally love anchovies on pizza and I’m Caesar salad. My mother used to give us sardine sandwiches when we were growing up. That was in the olden days.

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