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What Do Sardines Taste Like? Guide (Plus Recipe Ideas)

It’s a pretty standard and affordable fish that’s a favorite of people all over the world. Still, not everyone is a fan of its fishy sardine taste

Its strong fishy taste can quickly put off anyone who’s never tried sardines before. But before you judge sardines’ taste, let’s get to know more about them.

We will share information about their nutritional profile and the best ways to prepare them for the most delicious flavors.

Open can of sardines, above image.

What are Sardines?

Before we dive in and talk about the unique sardine taste, let’s first talk briefly about what sardines are. 

Sardines are small, silver, and elongated fishes of the herring family (Clupeidae) that survive on small crustaceans and plankton.

Sardines comes from the word Sardinia, one of the largest islands in the Mediterranean Sea located west of the Italian peninsula where fishermen once caught them abundantly. 

They are not only found in this part of the world.

Since sardines roam the open oceans, they’re usually a staple in people’s diets. Most countries also have a special sardine recipe.

Moreover, sardines also have subtle differences in flavor and traits because you can catch them in different oceans.

However, they tend to lose these natural flavors once cooked and canned.  

But even if they’re widely available, some people don’t like sardines because of their skin, bones, and intense fishy taste and aroma. Still, they are one of the healthiest seafood you can enjoy today. 

They’re available all year round, with spring to fall as their peak seasons. Aside from fresh and canned, you can also buy smoked and dried sardines. 

Close up image of the package of sardines.

Types of Sardines 

We can’t blame you if you automatically think “fishy and smelly” when you hear the word sardines. It’s good that we have fresh and canned options that will suit your taste and preference. 

Fresh Sardines

You can usually buy fresh sardines at open-air seafood markets. Although they can be hard to find sometimes, you’ll always get them at the bigger fish markets. 

Fresh sardines taste fishy, the aroma sharp. But its fresh fish flavor is also what makes it so delicious. They’re also highly nutritious! 

Fresh sardines at the food market stand

Canned Sardines

You can try canned sardines if you don’t want the solid fishy flavor and aroma. They’re available in supermarkets everywhere in different brands. 

Before the sardines are canned, they are cooked and mixed with oil, water, mustard sauce, and tomato sauce to enhance their flavors and preserve their freshness. As a result, they are oilier and heavier.

But because they’re already in tin form, they’re less fishy in taste and smell. Depending on the ingredients, you’ll also taste salty, sweet, or savory flavors. 

Compared with fresh sardines, the canned variety loses some of its nutrients in the cooking process. 

What do Sardines Taste Like?

Sardines have a dense, meaty, and greasy texture, which makes them chewy but without the flakiness. Also, their smelly odor is not as strong as its taste.

They taste fishy, but it will be less with the freshly caught sardines. You’ll also taste a bit of saltiness. 

Moreover, its mercury flavor is less than that of larger fishes like mackerel, tuna, or swordfish. 

The taste of sardines largely depends on their preparation and the ingredients used to prepare or pack them. 

Canned sardines are typically saltier, although not as salty as anchovies. And when you cook canned sardines correctly, they can lose a lot of their fishy smell and taste. 

For example, using tomato sauce or good-quality olive oil also complements and makes sardines taste better. 

Meanwhile, using vegetable oils can mellow the fishiness and remove natural tastes. 

Sardines Nutrition Profile

Depending on the preparation, one serving of sardines contains around 100 to 200 calories.

A piece of sardine has approximately 25 to 30 calories. 

Make sure to include sardines in your diet because they’re rich in protein and EPA and DHA fatty acids. 

They’re also an excellent vitamin D, vitamin B12, selenium, and calcium source. 

Sardines are also known for their high omega-3 fatty acids for balancing cholesterol levels and maintaining good heart and brain health. 

Regular consumption of sardines can also give your skin a good and healthy glow as they benefit the skin cells. 

Slice of bread topped with spread and sardines

How to Eat Sardines

Fresh sardines are so easy to prepare and enjoy. But first, you need to clean and rinse them in cold water. 

Pat your sardines dry. Remove the head and gut the fish with a kitchen knife (no need to remove the scales). 

Then, marinate them with fresh lemon juice or vinegar and sprinkle salt and pepper. 

You can also marinate them with ginger, wine, soy sauce, sugar, and salt to remove the fishiness and brine the fish. 

Canned ones, meanwhile, are ready to eat. So you can eat the sardines straight from the can or prepare them as you like.  

Pro tips: 

Only buy fresh sardines that don’t have a strong, unpleasant, fishy smell. The skin should also not be grayish or discolored. 

Other common ways to prepare sardines are grilling, frying, baking, or broiling. 

They may also not be suitable for vegan or vegetarian diets. But they can be a great addition to any paleo or keto diet. 

You can serve sardines in formal and informal meals or brunch. Sardines also make great snacks, side dishes, appetizers, and main courses. 

Sardines should be on a plate or platter at room temperature if served at a party. Garnish them with fresh herbs, olives, or lemon wedges. You can also add vegetables, crackers, or bread. 

How to Make Sardines Taste Good

Whether you eat sardines fresh or right out of the can, there are many ways you can reduce the fishy taste and enhance their natural flavors and meaty texture. 

Squeeze Some Lemon Juice 

Eat them directly out of the can. Just add a squeeze of lemon, and you’re good to go. It’s perfect for a quick and tasty meal during busy days when you’re craving something good but don’t want to cook. 

Plate with fried sardines with wedge of lemon next to it.

Fry or Grill 

Sardines taste delicious when fried or grilled. Wrap your fried sardines in grape or fig leaves and put some olive oil before you grill them on charcoal. 

Try this for a quick, simple, but tasty meal. Don’t forget to squeeze some lemon juice. 

Pair Them with Avocadoes

Although they have completely different flavors, sardines and avocadoes actually go perfectly together. Add sardines to your avocado toast, or use an avocado half and stuff it with sardines for a  quick and yummy sardine salad. 

Eat Them with Crackers

The easiest way to eat canned sardines is with crackers or biscuits. To level up this snack, add a slice of cheese. 

Enjoy Them with Your Favorite Bread 

Canned sardines usually have special herbs, spices, and sauces, making them a great dipping sauce or spread for bread. Make a spread using sardines, butter, or cream cheese, and eat it with fresh, warm bread. 

Alternatively, try cooking sardines in olive oil, black pepper, and lemon juice. Then eat it on toast with some slices of tomatoes as toppings. 

Grill Them

Put your fresh sardines on the grill for that added smoky flavor. Season your freshly grilled sardines with lemon juice, parsley, sea salt, and chili. 

Boil Them 

If you want your sardines soft and tender, try boiling them first. Use your favorite herbs and spices and sprinkle them with ground pepper, or squeeze some fresh lemon juice for a more flavorful dish. 

Use Sardines on Your Pizza

Like anchovies, sardines can also be a delicious pizza topping. Add them straight from the can or grill them first to have the smoked sardines taste.

Make a Sardine Salad 

Replace tuna with sardines and add mayonnaise, mustard, and pickles. This twist to your regular tuna salad will still taste delicious and provide many health benefits. 

Scramble Eggs with Sardines 

Make your scrambled eggs tastier and with many healthy nutrients. Add sardines, and enjoy your scrambled eggs with some hollandaise sauce. 

Make Fisherman’s Eggs

Bake your sardines with onions, your favorite spices, and eggs. They’re not only delicious―they also have lots of nutrients. 

Cook Sardines for Your Rice Bowl 

Sauté some sardines in oil, garlic, tomatoes, and onions. Add a bit of lemon juice to get rid of the fishy taste. Eat it with steaming rice. 

Make Sardines Spread 

Instead of using canned tuna fish, why not use canned sardines? Mix chopped boneless sardines with mayonnaise and pickles, then spread it on bread or crackers. 

Use Sardines for Your Tacos 

For a healthier and unique twist, use sardines for your tacos. Sardines will complement the taste of cilantro, avocado, sriracha mayo, radishes, and chopped purple cabbage. 

Add Sardines to Your Dip

Do you love spinach and artichoke? Add some sardines to the mix for more flavors. Make sure to blend well with some cream cheese. 

Or combine your sardines with mayonnaise, lemon zest, lemon juice, capers, and parsley. Enjoy with some chips or crackers. 

Make Pesto Sardines 

Add sardines when you make your pesto. Mix your fresh basil, sardines, extra virgin olive oil, parmesan cheese, toasted pine nuts, and pepper, and taste the difference. 

Cook Sardine Pasta 

Instead of beef or pork, toss some sardines into your pasta for a more satisfying protein-filled meal. Add lemon zest and capers for that salty and savory taste. You can make this meal in just under 10 minutes. 

Pro tips: 

Add sardines to your egg salad sandwich, or make a sardine sushi roll. 

Dip sardines into some hummus or stuff them in peppers for a delicious hors d’oeuvre.

For a delicious breakfast idea, mash your sardines with some salmon. Spread them with cream cheese on a toasted bagel. 

You can also mash two hard-boiled eggs with mayo and spread them on top of a bagel with sardines and tomatoes. 

Food and Wine to Pairing for Sardines 

Now that you know how simple yet versatile sardines are, you can better understand which foods and drinks they’ll go best with. 

Sardines go best with garlic, lemon, and olive oil flavors. They also pair perfectly with vegetables like peppers, tomatoes, arugula and fruits like grapes and oranges. 

But try not to pair your sardines with any fruit or vegetable that’s overly acidic or sweet. 

Moreover, sardines taste excellent with cheeses like goat and feta because they balance the rich flavors of the sardines. But skip the pungent cheeses like aged cheddar or blue cheese because the flavors will clash and overpower the sardine taste. 

Sardines also pair well with other seafood like anchovies and shrimp. You can even pair them with light meats like turkey or chicken. Avoid red meats as they have intense flavors that will overpower the sardines. 

As for wines, sardines are perfect with dry white wines like Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc, and Albariño. They also work well with red wines like Pinot Noir and Beaujolais. 

Sardines are delicious with sparkling and rosé wines. You can also enjoy them with beer or spirits.

Round can with sardines and brown slice of bread next to it.

How to Choose Canned Sardines

You won’t always have the time to buy fresh sardines, so the best option is to buy the canned variety, which is as delicious and healthy as the fresh ones.

The canned ones also have a substantially improved taste, not to mention not as smelly. 

Good quality canned sardines also don’t have additives that mask their natural flavors. 

You can buy canned sardines at any supermarket. But picking which one to get can be confusing, especially if several options are on the shelves. 

Here are some tips on how to choose canned sardines: 

Check whether the sardines are in water or oil. The best ones are usually preserved without oil.

If you should choose sardines in water, go for one with spring water as one of its ingredients because it has a limited oil content in the fish. 

Choose canned sardines with no added salt. Canned sardines already contain salt, so you don’t need this added saltiness. 

But if you already bought canned sardines with salt, just clean them before cooking to reduce the saltiness. 

How to Choose Fresh Sardines

Fresh sardines are small but flavorful. They’re also easy and fast to cook. 

But when buying fresh sardines, check for the following: 

Eye color: If red or cloudy, the sardines have been frozen for a long time and most likely lost all their freshness or tastiness. 

Skin texture: The skin of fresh sardines is firm and will bounce back when you poke it instead of tearing it away. 

Red gills: They’re no longer fresh if they are brown or blackish. 

How to Store Fresh Sardines 

You can store fresh sardines in the refrigerator or freezer and canned sardines in the pantry.  

The ideal temperature for storing fresh sardines is between 32° and 39°F. 

Canned or packed sardines in oil can last up to a year in storage. Fresh sardines can last up to four days inside the fridge, while cooked sardines can last up to a week. 

In the freezer, fresh sardines frozen in water or packed in oil can last up to three months. 

Store sliced or cooked sardines in the fridge in an airtight container, and they can last up to a week. 

How to Store Canned Sardines 

Canned sardines have an impressive shelf life and can last up to five years if you store them properly. That’s because of their secure packaging in airtight cans that protect the sardines from oxygen and bacteria. 

But it’s important to note that the sardine quality may decline over time, affecting its taste, smell, and texture. 

Unopened canned sardines should stay in a cool, dry place away from sunlight, like the pantry or cupboard. Also, try not to put them beside foods with strong smells to avoid flavor transfer.

Once you open your canned sardines, transfer any leftovers to an airtight glass container or plastic bag and put them inside the fridge. 

Storing them in the tin cans they came in is not advisable, as the moisture in the refrigerator may corrode or rust the metal. 

Your sardines should be good if your fridge has the right cold temperature. But try to consume the sardines within two to three days to enjoy their good taste and quality. 

Some Things to Check in Your Canned Sardines 

Check for signs of spoiled canned sardines so you can throw them away ASAP. 

Foul Odor 

Your canned sardines should have a pleasant, salty aroma. Throw them in the bin if they smell like soiled socks, rotten eggs, or decaying fish. 

Dented or Bulging Tin Cans 

When there are bulges or dents on the cans, these are indications of bacterial growth, which means the potentially spoiled sardines. 


Sardines should not be any shade of grey or brown. If the sardines turn into any unappetizing color, they are not fit for consumption anymore.

Not Normal Texture

Canned sardines should not be slimy, mushy, or dry. So if you open your canned sardines and see them in the fish’s texture, don’t eat them; chuck them. 

What do sardines taste similar to?

Sardines taste a lot like herring but with a stronger and richer flavor. The canned variety has a meatier texture and saltier, sweeter taste. 

What do grilled sardines taste like?

You can definitely still taste the strong taste of sardines. But if adequately grilled, the flesh will be tender enough to only start to flake, and there will be less fishiness.

Grill them to get that good char and enjoy a smoky taste in your sardines. 

What do smoked sardines taste like?

Smoked sardines have a smoky taste to them. Enjoy them while they get smoked for their juicy textures and smoky flavors. 

Make sure to pair smoked sardines with ingredients with subtle flavors so they don’t overpower your sardines and to enjoy the full taste. 

Do sardines taste like anchovies?

No. Sardines usually have a milder and rounded flavor because they’re preserved in olive oil. They taste brinier and have a more refined but complex flavor. 

On the other hand, anchovies often have a fishier and more intense flavor because they are cured in salt. 

Can you eat sardines raw?

No, you can’t eat raw sardines, especially fresh ones. Clean and scale your sardines first, then season them with olive oil, salt, pepper, and lemon. 

As for canned sardines, you can eat them straight from the can as they are pre-cooked.  

Are sardines a fishy fish?

Yes, sardines are known for having a strong fishy flavor. However, once you cook the sardines, the fishy smell and taste settle down, making the fishiness more bearable and delicious. 

So, if you like the taste of fish, try fresh or canned sardines. 

Which tastes better, sardines or tuna?

Sardines and tuna are popular with people who love eating canned fish. Many prefer tuna because it doesn’t have a powerful fishy taste and smell. But others prefer sardines because of their low mercury. 

So it depends on your preference and what you want from your fish. 


Sardines are rich in nutrients, inexpensive, and available everywhere. But not many people are big fans because of their fishy odor and fishy taste. 

Still, they are fish that you must include in your diet because of their versatility, rich flavors, and health benefits. Stock up your pantry with these delicious canned sardines as an excellent replacement for tuna or other little fish in your recipe. 

Don’t let the taste of sardines put you off. Try it with the suggested ways to eat it to make it taste or smell less fishy. Who knows, sardines might be your new favorite fish.

Natalia | Flavorful home
Natalia is a recipe developer, food photographer, and home cook. She started Flavorful Home to document her recipes and share home cooking tips. She loves creating flavorful and nutritious meals while keeping the cooking process simple and joyful!
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