In the mid-19th century significant progress in food technologies made it possible to prolong the shelf life of fish by the method of canning. Worldwide popularity was soon gained by rather small one-bite fishes canned in olive or sunflower oil, tomato sauce or simply water. Among them the sardine and the anchovy are the most widely known and favored. But these two species are often mistakenly considered as one and the same fish. Another gastronomic myth claims that anchovies may be cooked sardines.
So we are going to make clear what fish should be called an anchovy, and what the difference between sardines and anchovies actually is.
Although known as a sea water fish, sometimes the schools of anchovies migrate to rivers and stay in freshwater for some time. Generally, they prefer the temperate waters of the Black and Azov Seas, the Mediterranean basin and the Bay of Biscay, or even the cool of the North Atlantic.
The average size of an adult anchovy is about 5 to 6 inches (12 to 15 cm). The fish has a slim silvery body with a slight hint of green to its back. Its snout is rather bulgy and blunt, and its eyes are big. Some species also have sharp teeth that can be seen with the naked eye.
Ichthyology (or Fish Science) defines six species of anchovies. All of them are edible. The so called European anchovy is the main species fished for large scale commercial production. An interesting fact is that in ancient times cooked anchovies were one of the Romans’ favorite staples.
As any other types of fish anchovies are a perishable product. That is why they are sold fresh mostly in those places where they are fished for further canning. For true aficionados it may be a good reason to travel to the coastal towns of Italy, Spain or Morocco.
However, marinated and canned anchovies also take their remarkable place in different cuisines all around Southern Europe. Possessing a pleasantly pungent flavor, they can successfully heat up the eaters’ appetites when served as a piquant starter on their own or with the cook’s favorite bread. At the same time, they play a role of an interchangeable flavorful ingredient for pizzas, pastas, sauces, salads dressings and many more other dishes.
The anchovy can be characterized as a meaty fish. This is because its flesh naturally contains two particular molecules, glutamates and inosinates, which give anchovies that fine savor.
Besides, they are believed to be a potent source of proteins and omega-3 fatty acids. Anchovies are also valued for being high in calcium, iron and other minerals, as well as for being low in mercury. The content of essential vitamins is really amazing: K, A, E and C, B-6 and B-12.
Considering the range of their beneficial nutrients, it is not difficult to see how consuming anchovies can contribute to human health. It helps reduce the risk of osteoporosis (bone weakness), heart diseases and even skin cancer; benefits to eye health; takes part in preventing premature aging.
The very first thing to remember is that these are completely different fishes. Sardines are larger (8-12 inches), their bodies are thicker, and their snouts look more protruding. Their common name comes from the Sardinia Island, Italy, and they can also be called pilchards. Different species inhabit the Mediterranean and the waters of the Atlantic and Pacific.
Sardine flesh is not as dark as that of an anchovy, and the flavor is much milder. Cooked sardines are usually served on their own as a separate dish, and are not included in other recipes.