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Got sardines and don’t know what to do? There’s more to these fish than “sardines on toast”, whether you use canned or fresh. Here are 21 awesome ways to eat sardines!
Oh dear, you didn’t think sardines were boring, did you? With a little touch of creativity, they’re honestly as versatile as tuna!
Why am I telling you this? Sardines are one of my favourite foods – and they’re overlooked. Maybe not number one, but I can’t say that for any food!
Today, we’ll cover:
- Why to Eat Sardines (Protecting the Planet, Health Benefits)
- How to Select the Best Sardines (Checklists for Canned or Fresh)
- How to Eat Sardines (21 Awesome Ways)
- Delicious and Easy Recipes (To Get You Started)
Also known as pilchards or herrings (when large), sardines deserve more attention!
In a typical week, I’ll proudly admit to eating at least a few tins of the stuff! Before you question my sanity, hear me out…
I want to convince you to eat more sardines. The biggest problem people have with these little guys is that they see them as a bit… gross?
Maybe that’s not the right word, but some are put off by either the look, the smell, or the taste (which I’m going to change)!
I mean just look at the cute little guys… You can’t say anything against that!
Why Should You Eat More Sardines?
There are many reasons you can benefit from eating more sardines. For anyone looking to eat healthier, cheaper, or more sustainably, these fatty fish are a no-brainer.
Sardines Are Sustainable
First of all, they’re sustainable.
With the oceans becoming increasingly depleted of natural species due to fishing, it’s important to make responsible seafood choices. In fact, I’d say it’s all part of a natural diet!
Because taking responsibility is important, it should always be done with pride. Therefore, don’t shy away!
Sardines are brave little saviors of the ocean. So, let’s opt to protect the precious atlantic salmon and bluefin tuna and allow their species to recover.
Additionally, sardines are low in the food chain, so contain low mercury levels. Some seafoods (especially predator fish) accumulate toxic mercury, which may pose health risks in large amounts.
What Are the Health Benefits of Sardines?
When it comes to eating a balanced diet, these fish are true nutrient treasures.
They’re an excellent source of dietary protein, omega-3 fatty acids, selenium, calcium, zinc, vitamin D, B-Vitamins, and other minerals. They’re also a source of vitamin E, which many Americans don’t get enough of.
A one-tin serving of sardines in spring water or brine (typically around 90g) will typically provide about 180-190 calories, 20g protein, and 10g fat.
What does this mean? Well, here are a few benefits that sardines can provide:
- Reduced inflammation – As an animal source of omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids (EPA and DHA) and antioxidants, sardines are a potent anti-inflammatory (^). This has been shown to benefit Arthritis and IBS (^)(^).
- Nervous system and brain health – Omega-3 has been shown in many studies to reduce the risk of neurodegenerate diseases like Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s (^)(^). Additionally, it is well-known to benefit developing brains (^)! Not to mention, selenium is another often-overlooked mineral which is very important for brain function (^)(^). Sardines containing offal (organ meats) – especially with the head – will provide a hefty dose of brain-building nutrients.
- Improved Metabolism – Sardines are abundant in B12 especially. This is important for overall cell metabolism. Healthy fats and protein will also help to maintain balance.
- Boosted immune-system – Antioxidants in sardines, especially selenium, play essential roles in immune function. Once again, omega-3 is beneficial here, and may help to prevent autoimmunity according to a meta-analysis of the Israel Medical Association Journal (^)(^).
- Heart health – Both omega-3 and the abundance of minerals in sardines may benefit heart health. Increased omega-3 intake (especially EPA and DHA) can help prevent heart disease, as can selenium (^)(^).
- Bone health – Sardines are an excellent way to get more calcium, vitamin D, protein, and B-vitamins. These are all required for healthy and strong bone development, and may help to prevent osteoporosis, particularly in deficient populations.
- Protein – Adequate protein intake is vital! We often hear about this nowadays, from clinicians, nutritionists, and in the weight-loss and fitness niche. As the building block of our very DNA, and with many biological roles, protein is important for just about every system in the body.
- Vitamin D – Yep, the very same vitamin we get from the sun! (Well, sort of)… Particularly in the winter, up to 50% of the world’s population does not get enough. Because of this, supplements are popular, but we can also get vitamin D from food. Sardines are one of the richest sources available and are especially affordable. There are too many benefits and biological roles of the vitamin to cover here, but it’s very important to try and get enough (^).
It’s important to note that these awesome fish deliver many more beneficial nutrients than those mentioned specifically.
Another reason to eat sardines it’s because of how versatile they really are. As this list will reveal, there are many creative and tasty ways to use sardines – there’s sure to be something you’ll like!
Unless you suffer from gout or are susceptible to kidney problems that require you to consume less uric acid, sardines are an excellent food to get eating!
How to Choose Healthy Sardines (Canned or Fresh)
By now I reckon you’ll be more determined. But before you go buying any old sardines, make sure you choose the right ones. Believe it or not, some canned sardines are unhealthy, and there’s a proper way to choose a fresh fish.
I always recommend opting for fresh fish when you can. Fresh sardines are more nutritious and you can consume the whole fish easier and cook them in a healthier way.
Unfortunately, canned sardines may sometimes be cooked at high temperatures before canning. This can create harmful compounds as they are high in polyunsaturated fatty acids. Because of this, do try to use fresh fish if you are cooking it.
Canned Sardine Checklist
- Avoid sunflower, soy, canola, and other refined (vegetable) oils*.
- Opt for cans in water, brine, or olive oil. Water and brine are better, as draining will reduce omega-3 less.
- Check if sardines in sauce contain any harmful oils* or added sugar.
- Don’t get deep-fried sardines. Try to read and see how they were cooked (preferably lightly steamed).
*Here’s a list of healthy vs unhealthy fats and oils (especially for cooking).
Fresh Sardine Checklist
- Bright, clear eyes.
- Shiny skin (definitely not dull).
- Red gills as opposed to brown or dull.
- Fresh smell, perhaps salty. Fresh fish shouldn’t smell overly pungent or “fishy”.
- Firm and moist skin (it should spring back and not be sticky)
- For fillets, follow the same general rules, and inspect for damaged flesh or
1. Straight out of the Can!
Jumping straight into the list, if you have some cans laying around, they make an excellent snack. Especially for those who are active or trying to gain muscle, this high protein and fairly calorie-dense fish is a great go-to.
Don’t think you have you have to eat them plain! Some simple lemon juice, herbs, and garlic, with an optional dash of olive oil and pepper is a classic.
This is the most simple of ways to eat sardines, but makes for an interesting side dish to salads or pick n’ mix style meals.
2. In a Salad
Yes, they’re an excellent side dish to vibrant salads – especially those of Mediterranean influence. However, that doesn’t mean they’re not great mixed in as well.
There are hundreds of sardine salad recipes online. This one is one of my favorites, using simple ingredients and new potatoes (there’s nothing quite like potatoes with fish).
As a side note: chickpeas are wonderful for sardine salads, especially to make a meal.
The beautiful thing about salads is you always have room to experiment, too.
3. Serve with Fried Eggs
Gently frying a couple of eggs to go alongside your sardines creates a simple breakfast that’s second-to-none.
However you have it, sardines with eggs guarantee’s a meal that’s:
The best way to enjoy this is with some wholegrain rice, boiled potatoes, or sprouted or sourdough bread. Oh, and some fresh diced vegetables!
I also like to have these two in a nice, baked (or microwaved) sweet potato sometimes!
Remember to choose quality eggs like pastured and organic. These provide more nutrients, especially vitamin D, anti-inflammatory omega-3, and less omega-6.
4. Grill them Whole
Traditional, easy, nutritious.
Grilling whole sardines is one of the most popular ways to enjoy them, and is a well-known portuguese dish.
To preserve the beneficial fats and delicate flavour, brush with olive oil first, and grill them for no longer than 2 – 3 minutes on each side. This way they’ll still come out with a nice grilled texture, just be careful not to burn them!
The typical way to serve this is alongside roasted potatoes, on top of a light salad, or once again as a side for people to enjoy. (Or you can do them all)!
In Portugal you’ll find them just like this, perhaps with some extra grilled veggies.
And eat the whole thing – that’s how it has always been done. The bones are pleasantly soft, and all the organs are extremely nutritious.
P.S. You can also broil the sardines. In the summer, a barbeque works well, but please be careful (sardines are high in delicate PUFA’s, remember)!
5. Wrap ’em up!
This is perfect for the Summer, too! When we all like to sit round the table or have a picnic, wraps are an easy way to enjoy a meal.
For some fun ways to eat sardines, wrapping them up with diced tomato, olives, or sliced boiled eggs creates a snack even kids will tuck into! For condiments, I recommend a mild dijon or wholegrain mustard.
Of course, you’ll want to choose healthy wraps (no refined carbs here)! Great choices to make (or buy) include:
- Wholegrain sprouted or sourdough wraps (Ezekiel is best)
- Cauliflower tortillas (Recipe by Paleo Leap)
- Coconut flour tortillas (Recipe by Wholesome Yum)
- Lettuce leaves
- Cabbage leaves
You’ll likely find an array of good options at whole food or health food stores and some supermarkets.
As always, be careful with this, as high heat rapidly turns PUFA’s into harmful compounds (including TRANS fats).
Just like grilling, 2-3 minutes on each side should be plenty enough cooking time.
To maximise the benefits, choose a stable cooking oil (low in polyunsaturated fats) high in antioxidants or saturated fats. This make good old olive oil or grass-fed butter perfect. Both pair well with sardines.
Now onto the delicious part – serving! If you go for butter or olive oil, pan-fried sardines are easy to enjoy as part of a whole fry-up.
I highly recommend topping large white or portobello mushrooms with your sardines and finishing it off with some homemade tomato sauce and steamed vegetables.
7. Make a Fish Sauce
There are two ways you can go about this. If you’re only making a small amount and want to use it immediately, the first method is a quick way to do so.
Method 1: Quick Fish Sauce
Quite simply, you’ll blend or mash cooked or canned sardines into tomato sauce (homemade) and some vinegar and use in cooking or as a condiment! This won’t store for long, so use it as soon as possible. This also won’t have that classic flavour you’ll know of fish sauce.
Method 2: Traditional Fish Sauce
You can expect a much richer flavour from the traditional method, like a fish sauce you would typically find an Asian cuisine. If you like to make Chinese or Thai dishes, for example, then this is a perfect way to use some sardines!
You’ll definitely want fresh (or frozen fresh) fish for this.
The fermentation method naturally preserves the sauce (and therefore your fish). You’ll be able to store it for many months at a time, so go ahead and make large batches!
Here’s are Two Ways:
P.S. If you’ve never fermented before, definitely start with some vegetables like my probiotic pickles. This will get you used to the safety process (don’t worry, it’s easy but 100% necessary – especially for fish or meat).
I’ll try to write a recipe just for this sauce in the future, so look out for that!
For now, I can recommend either:
- The Ancient Roman-inspired “Garum” Sauce (which sounds amazing – note that you can use another suitable fermentation container)! OR:
- Nourish Joy’s Vietnam-inspired Fish Sauce recipe.
Whichever method you try, making a sauce is one of the most interesting ways to eat sardines.
8. Fisherman’s Eggs
Yes, sardines are cheap, healthy, convenient, and delicious. And you know what else are? Eggs!
Not only that, but they’re both full of quality proteins and fats!
Fisherman’s Eggs is a simple dish of oven-baked sardines, seasoned with onions, garlic, herbs, and topped with eggs.
The best way to make it is to use fresh sardines, filleted or whole. Here’s a quick step-by-step guide for making your own:
- Season: Chop your seasonings and coat the sardines with them, using a little olive oil.
- Bake the sardines: Next, bake sardines in an oven-safe dish until almost cooked. At this point, you can mash them up with a fork if you like.
- Add the eggs: Then crack 2-3 eggs per person over the sardines and return to the oven.
- Enjoy: Another 3-5 minutes and you can remove the dish, let sit for about 3 minutes to finish cooking, and serve!
Alternatively, you can lightly bake the fish and top with fried eggs – whichever way you like.
This is as easy as it gets for a baked breakfast, and will only take you 15-20 minutes.
9. Indian Sardine Curry
If you’re like me, you’ll stop at nothing for good Indian food! I mean real, authentic food, bursting with colour and flavour and lively aromas.
Making curries at home is always fun and there’s always something new to try. If you haven’t tried sardine curry yet, but enjoy other seafood and fish curries, then what are you waiting for?
The quickest way is to use canned sardines, especially those in a tomato sauce (without added sugar or unhealthy oil):
Lightly sautee your favourite indian spices, garlic, onion and some diced tomatoes. When they’re nice and fragrant, turn down the heat to low, add in your sardines, and optionally add in extra chopped tomatoes or water. Let this get warm and infuse, and enjoy!
But we all know fresh is best!
I happened to come across this video if you’re interested in making something authentic. It starts off with an easy instruction on how to make a Mangalore-style curry paste, but doesn’t show the whole process.
Still it will help if you want to use your own curry sauce!
10. Jacket Potato (Baked Potato)
Once again, there’s nothing quite like potatoes with fish. Ever wondered why fish and chips became so popular (and I mean the dish, not the fast food)?
The age-old pairing of fish and potato is always a fail-safe option. Lean fish like cod and haddock are best with roast potatoes or oven-baked chips.
Fatty fish like sardines, salmon, and mackerel are even better with a potato that is fluffy when served. This lets the healthy fats soak in just like butter, and works excellently with the texture.
Next time you want a filling, hearty, and simple dinner, bake up a potato and load with your favourite healthy ingredients. Top with grilled or canned sardines, and you’re good to go.
Plus, you can do this in less than 10 minutes if you decide to microwave the potato!
Which Potatoes Should I Use?
Any potato variety will create a good jacket potato.
If you want something truly special, go for starchy types. These are softer inside so can be fluffed up nicely, and include:
- King Edward
- Maris Piper
- Bonus: Sweet potatoes (actually unrelated to potatoes) are just as good.
11. In Savoury Oatmeal!
Yes, really! I know you think I’m crazy, but trust me here… I consider myself somewhat of an expert when it comes to oats (I experiment a lot)!
Just having fun, but for real, oats are the perfect nutritious way to replace many refined carbs. In savoury dishes, they’re honestly just as versatile as pasta can be.
I’ll be sharing some favourite recipes soon, but for a basic way to make your own savoury oats, follow these steps:
- Sautee some of your favourite vegetables, finely diced. Add herbs and spices as you like. Go for any theme or cuisine (sardines work well with Indian masala- or even Italian-style oats).
- Crack in a couple of eggs. Stir frequently to mix in and create a creamy mix.
- Add in your oats and water in an equal ratio. I do this by keeping the oats in some of their soaking water (from fermenting or soaking – the traditional way we should all be eating oats).
- Stir well to incorporate into a creamy porridge. Add more water as you like.
- Take off of the heat and let sit for 1 minute. This lets the ingredients bind better and creates a thicker, creamy texture.
- Add in your cooked fresh or canned sardines.
- Season with salt and pepper.
Please give it a try – oats are an amazing substitute for savoury pasta and bread (and other refined carbs), and sardines are wonderful for breakfast, lunch, or dinner!
You could even cook oats with chopped or tinned tomatoes, and the sardines will work well with most classic (especially Mediterranean) flavours.
So, of all the ways to eat sardines, this creative method is well worth a try!
12. Pair with Spinach and Goat’s Cheese
There are many ways to eat sardines that make them perfect for quick meals for any time of day. This is one example and will be gone just as soon as it’s made (trust me)!
And it’s not just a personal recommendation; we’re using a time-tested flavours here. With the savoury spinach, tangy goat’s cheese, and umami-rich fish, you can’t really go wrong.
Try these ingredients alongside quinoa for a Mediterranean-inspired snack (or meal)! Crumble cheese on top of steamed or sauteed spinach, cooked sardines, and add a squeeze of lemon juice.
… I think I’m starting to build an appetite!
13. Make a Soup
Sardine soup!? Believe it or not, South East Asian countries like Thailand and The Philippines love the stuff!
This typically includes canned or small, whole sardines lightly cooked in a tomato base, seasoned with vibrant, aromatic herbs and spices – especially chilies!
It’s an interesting and satiating way to use up sardines, for sure. And there are many varieties such as these:
- Filipino ‘Ginisang Sardinas’ (Recipe by Panlasang Pinoy – remember to choose a healthy cooking oil, and opt for pure tomato sauce tins (or simply substitute with sardines and chopped tomatoes))
- Galician ‘Xoubas Guisadas’ (Recipe by Silvia Fooding)
- Japanese ‘Iwashi no Tsumire-Jiru’ (Recipe by Makiko Ito at Just Hungry – for the sardine balls, try to substitute the starch for a non-refined option such as coconut flour or oats)
A dish as famous as it is debated like marmite – rollmops!
These are made by pickling herrings (or large sardines), and are a traditional delicacy you’ll find here in the UK, across Europe, and in the US and Canada.
Fun fact: rollmops originated in Medieval Northern Europe, and the name meaning “rolled pugs” (maybe because of the curled shape? Or they’re just cute!) comes from German. Thanks Wikipedia!
This is easily the best recipe I’ve found for making your own: Traditional German Recipe ‘Rollmopse’ (sugar-free). If you go for other recipes, just omit the sugar you’ll likely find (it’s really not necessary or authentic).
Similarly, look for sugar-free rollmops in the supermarket.
15. Serve on Top of Sauerkraut or Pickles
There are many reasons I love this way to eat sardines:
- Organ Meats – A masterpiece of nutrient-density, organ meats and offal benefit health in many ways.
- Probiotics – Real pickles and sauerkraut are fermented. The gut-boosting enzymes and friendly bacteria not only aid digestion, but also support the immune system, brain and mental health, and help to regulate important bodily functions.
- Delicious savoury flavour – Sardines + fermented foods = umami! Whether it’s acquired taste at first or not, real food like this has a tendency to excite the taste buds – (it’s how we detect good nutrition)!
I must be honest though. The only downside is that – depending on the pickle – the smell might carry a small “kick”! The solution: Use spiced pickles and season. Also don’t eat this before a date!
As recommended by one of my all-time favourite books: Deep Nutrition by Dr. Cate Shanahan, they’re actually alright on top of sauerkraut as well!
P.S. Check out my recipe for your own Homemade Probiotic Pickles. All you need is a few simple ingredients and any vegetable(s) you like.
16. Dipped in Vinegar (Just Like Mussels)
It’s seafood, after all! Many people treat sardines just like any other small seafood, including shellfish.
A traditional British way to serve mussels, squid, or prawns, for example, is in a small pool of balsamic vinegar with a touch of salt.
It tastes great and takes little time or money, and you can do the exact same thing with sardines! In fact, I recommend this if you like shellfish, but are still easing into savouring sardines.
Any other vinegar can be used, too.
How to Prepare Sardines in Vinegar:
Depending on the type of sardines you have, you can enjoy multiple ways to make this dish (or snack):
- For cans, it’s easy to drain (maybe rinse), place in a shallow bowl or dish, pour over your vinegar, and serve.
- For fresh fish, simply cook to your liking beforehand. You can use fillets or whole fish (best if small).
17. Dipped in Hummus (or Houmous)
Now I’m really getting hungry! Chickpeas, tahini, garlic, spices, herbs, and olive oil, all combined into a Middle-Eastern masterpiece.
Believe it or not, these delectable little fish make for a perfect pairing with houmous. It’s one of those surprising ways to eat sardines: You have to try it to believe it, but trust me it’s good.
If you love houmous and aren’t keen on sardines when they’re plain, what better way?
Choose a Healthy Houmous
Rapeseed oil or sunflower oil is commonly used in store-bought houmous instead of olive oil. This takes from the flavour and nutrition, and ruins perfectly healthy whole foods like chickpeas.
The best options for houmous are:
- Those in olive oil
Homemade houmous simply requires a blender* (I use my NutriBullet) and the basic ingredients, along with your own additions. You can skip the tahini for something more budget-friendly.
*Also, you can substitute a pestle and mortar. Chickpeas are soft and easy to mash up into a paste.
18. Dipped in Homemade Mayo
Much like houmous, mayo is a classic dip / condiment of endless possibilites. Considering the amount of ways to eat sardines where eggs can be used, it only makes sense that mayonnaise can, too!
The reason I emphasise homemade mayo is because the store-bought stuff is one of the worst things you can buy! Loaded with toxic oils (most often rapeseed or soybean), most mayonnaise you’ll find is shockingly bad for your health.
The good news is that it’s easy to make mayonnaise. Real ingredients are all you need, and you have the freedom to choose higher quality eggs (preferably pastured / organic).
(Wellness Mama has a rich, flavourful 5-minute recipe).
For something more familiar, stick to lighter tasting natural oils such as avocado oil or light olive oil. You can also use more eggs.
19. Sardine Sandwich
The only reason this item wasn’t higher on the list is because of the tendency to use refined bread.
However, as I have said before, almost anything can be made in a healthy way. Enter real bread: Sprouted, sourdough, or ezekiel! These are made as bread was traditionally, by preparing the grain and the dough using traditional methods.
There are also many creative and low-carb options. Cloud bread would go well with fish, being made with eggs and cheese, but you can find hundreds of recipes online for coconut flour breads, cauliflower breads, and more.
That means you can still enjoy a sardine sandwich that’s keto, paleo, gluten-free, and dairy-free.
The important thing is to avoid refined flours, added sugar, and vegetable oils.
Try this with sliced boiled eggs, lettuce leaves, onion, and tomato!
20. “Fill Up” on Stuffed Sardines
The awesome thing about these tiny fish is that you can serve them as snacks or as a meal.
Number 20 on our list of ways to use ideas is the simply to stuff sardines and tuck in!
You could try organic cottage cheese with diced chives and dill, or experiment with adding crushed almonds or walnuts (preferably at least soaked) and serve alongside brussels sprouts, broccoli, or spinach.
As always, experiment and have fun. Find what works for you, but definitely give this a go!
21. Bonus Idea: Fermented!
Ah, Sweden! A Nordic nation of suprise. Surströmming is a traditional recipe from the 16th century at least, and has gained wordwide fame.
There are countless videos of people opening up tins and gasping for air, trying to save their noses!
The truth is, these fermented sardines smell… And I’ve heard it’s potent. BUT, many people are surprised to find that behind this scary mask is a genuinely enjoyable and nutritious dish!
This is more of a bucket-list item when it comes to ways to eat sardines, but who knows? You may love it like the Swedish! (I believe it’s kind of like marmite there: hate or love).
I encourage you to make your own, but start with easy ferments! Check out my Lacto-fermented Pickles if you’ve never fermented before. 🙂
If you’ve ever had Surströmming, please share your whacky or wonderful experience in the comments below!
All in all, most people could benefit greatly from including sardines more in their diet. Not only are they a source of nutrients many are deficient in, like vitamin D and anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids, but they’re are cheap and sustainable way to boost your health in the long run.
Despite this, many people overlook sardines… Sometimes it’s the taste or the look, but we tend to opt for fish like tuna more often.
Whilst other fish are healthy, sardines are unique in their nutrition, alongside being an excellent way to get in more nutrient-dense offal and bones.
This list is my way to convince you that sardines are not just versatile; there are many delicious and creative ways to eat sardines on any occasion.
P.S. I definitely intend to start adding some of my top recipes with sardines. After a long time eating them and a lot of fun in the kitchen, I’ve found some great ways to make the above meals (and more)!
Let me know in the comments below how you like to have sardines. Classic on toast? Curried? Share your thoughts!
Also, which idea do you like best on this list? For me it’s number 10 or 11.
Gutting sardines is not necessary! If you enjoy it, I’d always recommend eating the whole thing from “nose to tail”. However, most people do gut the fish for their recipes.
These nutrient-dense fatty fish provide high amounts of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, selenium, calcium, zinc, vitamin D, B-Vitamins, and other minerals. They’re also a source of vitamin E. To recap, they’re basically one of the world’s healthiest foods!