Sardines, especially wild-caught Pacific sardines, are an incredibly healthy food source. Full of omega-3 fats and vitamin D, the fish packs a strong nutritional punch, including omega -3 fatty acids, which reduce inflammation and improve bone health.
A staple in the Mediterranean diet, sardines come either fresh or canned. Fresh sardines are a popular meal in Mediterranean countries such as Spain and Portugal. Fresh sardines are usually cleaned, deboned, and grilled until the skin is crispy.
While not as common, fresh sardines can also be eaten raw as part of a sardine tartar. Unless you live near the Mediterranean where fresh sardines are in abundance, you may be more familiar with canned sardines. Canned sardines go through a cooking process at the cannery, so are no longer raw.
In short, while sardines can be eaten raw in dishes such as sardine tartar, the most common way to eat sardines is smoked or cooked.
Can I Eat Canned Sardines Without Cooking?
Yes. When sardines reach the cannery, they are washed, their heads are removed, and then they are smoked or cooked. They are usually deep-fried or steam cooked. Finally, the sardines are dried before they are canned in olive oil, sunflower oil, water, or in a sauce such as tomato and chili. This means that when you pick up a can of sardines at your local green grocer’s, the sardines are already cooked and ready to be eaten.
Despite already being cooked, grilling your canned sardines can add a kick of flavor and give them a delicious charred edge. Simply put the fish on the grill until they look seared on the outside.
What is the Best Way to Eat Sardines?
There are lots of delicious ways to eat sardines. No other nation has embraced the humble sardine as much as Portugal. In Portugal, sardines (sardinhas) are enjoyed by the locals on a regular basis. Fresh sardines are cooked on the grill and served with boiled potatoes and vegetables. Under the crispy skin is scrumptious white, flaky fish. The skin is perfectly edible, although some people choose to peel it and only eat the flesh, leaving the spine and innards.
Portugal also boasts an impressive assortment of canned sardines served in a variety of sauces. Canned sardines are enjoyed on toast or in a salad with a splash of lemon juice, a dash of sea salt, and some olive oil to taste. Canned sardines are a versatile kitchen essential that can be made into fish cakes or a yummy dip.
To sum up, the most popular ways to eat fresh sardines is to grill or deep fry them. Having said that, smoking or pickling sardines are both popular cooking methods. Canned sardines are already cooked and can be served straight from the can or grilled until charred for a delicious smoky taste.
Is it Safe to Eat Whole Sardines?
Generally speaking, yes. Sardine bones are usually small enough to eat safely and aren’t considered a choking hazard. As canned sardines are subjected to high levels of heat from a pressure canner, this softens the bones, making them very easy to eat. The bones in fresh sardines are larger and harder, so you should avoid eating these.
Sardine bones might not be to everyone’s taste, but they are commonly eaten in eastern Asian regions, such as Japan. The tender sardine bones are said to contain high levels of calcium and other vital minerals. As calcium cannot be absorbed without vitamin D, eating the sardines with their bones gives you a healthy dose of both.
What is the Healthiest Way to Eat Sardines?
Both fresh and canned sardines are very similar in terms of nutritional benefits. However, there are a few factors to remember when selecting sardines. Opt for varieties packed in olive oil or water as opposed to refined oils such as soybean. Sardines packed in tomato or mustard sauces are still a healthy option in moderation, but may contain higher levels of sodium. Check the nutritional information on the can to make sure the sardines don’t have too much added salt.
Fresh sardines are healthier, provided they are well-cleaned before cooking. The main reason behind this is that canned versions have been exposed to a toxic chemical called BPA. BPA can be found in the linings of cans and plastics. This can then be transferred to the food inside. BPA has been linked to a number of health issues such as cancer, heart disease, and diabetes.
So, when possible, opt for fresh sardines, but canned sardines are still a healthy option provided they aren’t preserved in unhealthy refined oils or sodium-rich sauces.