A few weeks ago we reported on Chef Ned Bell and his plans to cycle across Canada to raise awareness about the state of our oceans, rivers and lakes, and specifically, to turn the conversation towards making informed and educated choices when it comes to choosing sustainable seafood.
One of the more often overlooked choices that regularly appears on lists of sustainable seafood picks is the humble sardine. Many of us have been snacking on tinned sardines for years, lured by the convenience, devoted the taste, unaware that when it comes to seafood, sardines are one of the more environmentally responsible -and healthy-choices we can make in our diets.
Sardines, sometimes called pilchards, refers to the juveniles of a number of members of the herring family Clupeidae, with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) allowing 21 species to be called sardines.
Typically, herring longer than 6 inches are called herring, and would be named and sold as such and used in tinned herring, pickled herring, rollmops and so forth. The name Sardine comes from the Italian Island, Sardinia, once famous for the massive pilchard populations in the surrounding waters.
As in sustainable tuna fishing, a purse seine net is typically used to fish sardines. This method reduces bycatch, and is regarded by the International Seafood Sustainability Foundation as one of the best and most ocean friendly methods. Here is a short video of sardine catch on the west coast.
Sardines, or herrings are also amazing fresh, but because they are so perishable it is rare for us to access them, but if you see them fresh you should definitely give them a try.
Tinned sardines remain the most common way to eat them, and they are incredibly healthy. Packed with protein, vitamin D, and calcium (bones and all!) a small tin (3 1/4 ounces) of sardines contains over 60 % of your DRI of omega-3 fats, and are high in B vitamins, supplying you with up to 300% of your DRI of vitamin B-12! Furthermore, because sardines are so low on the food chain, (basically all they eat are plankton) they are very low in mercury and other poisons that are, sadly, more prevalent in larger ocean fish. Check here for a more detailed nutritional profile.
Now all of this wouldn’t be any interest to us, not really, if sardines weren’t so delicious. There are innumerable ways to enjoy sardines; since they are usually packed in oil, there is no need to add any extra oil when serving, maybe just a little lemon juice and a little sea salt and fresh ground pepper.
My husband’s favourite way is to smash them on toast with mustard. For more exciting and innovative ways to enjoy sardines, including recipes for Greek Salad with Sardines, Lemon Garlic Fettuccine with Sardines and Tomato toast with Sardines and Mint, check out these delicious recipes.