Did you just make a gagging noise when you saw that word? Oh, stop it... they're not that bad! However, much like broccoli last month, our country has been slow in receiving this whole tinned fish. Nevertheless, the month of May is dedicated to these many fish of one name, which I'll explain later, so let's crack open a tin and see what we can find out about this month's superfood!
Sardines: A History
Hopefully, you stuck with me through the opening to learn more about our polarizing friend, the sardine. While not a highly sought-after grocery item in the US, sardines are a working-class staple in places like the Mediterranean. None of the Mediterranean countries was more influential in spreading sardines than the Portuguese. The first sardine canning factory was built in Setubal, Portugal, in 1880. As with most things culinary, France was the top producer and consumer of sardines until 1930. This is when the Portuguese overtook them as the largest producer of sardines globally and still produce up to 1/3 of the global supply today.
So, what did I mean about different fish packaged with the same name? Well, the main type of sardine packaged up all those years ago is a fish known as a pilchard. If a different kind of fish other than a pilchard is canned as a sardine, the packaging must call out what type of fish is used. For us on the East coast of the US, sardines are usually North Atlantic Herring, and the West coast are in the herring family as well (Sardinops Sagax). Both of these types are much meatier and quite a bit less flavorful than their European pilchard cousins.
If the Cold War was useful for anything, which I'm pretty sure it wasn't, it was responsible for launching sardines into the realm of ramen when it came to cheap and easily accessible food. For every year the war dragged on, sardine sales only increased. College dorms were packed with tins of sardines, and the kids usually mixed the sardines packed in tomato sauce with onions and rice for a quick and nutritious meal that barely made a dent in the piggy bank. When the 60s and 70s rolled around, sardine sales in the states began to decline.
Today the sardine industry is a $642M (including import & export) business that reaches across the globe. Oddly enough, today, you'll find that Spain is both the largest exporter and importer of sardines in the world. Weird flex, but ok.
But isn't canned food bad for you?
Potted meat? Yes. All canned foods? No.
For just four little fish, you're looking at 100kcals, 12g protein, 5g fat, 0g carbs, and a whole lot of flavor. The main thing is to watch what your little oceanic friends are canned in. There is an entire list of tasty sauces that are used in today's market. But, of course, the higher calorie ones are packed in fats like olive and soybean oils.
Sardines are certainly not lacking in vitamins, minerals, and other great stuff.
Niacin (B3): The key role of niacin in your body is to synthesize the coenzymes nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (NAD) and nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide phosphate (NADP), which are involved in over 400 biochemical reactions in your body. It is predominantly related to obtaining energy from the food you eat.
Magnesium: Vital for energy creation, protein formation, gene maintenance, muscle movement, and nervous system regulation.
Iron: The most abundant trace mineral in the body responsible for producing hemoglobin, a red blood cell protein that carries oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. Not to mention the production of myoglobin and a few hormones.
Zinc: The second most abundant trace mineral in the body. Zinc is responsible for numerous enzymatic processes.
Potassium: Aids in blood pressure control and preventing heart disease.
Phosphorus: Aids in the formation of bones and teeth and plays an essential role in how the body uses carbohydrates and fats.
Iodine: Aids in regulating hormones, fetal development, regulating the thyroid gland, fighting off that pesky goiter, and helps with cognitive function.
Omega 3 Fatty Acids
If there is one term that anyone who has shopped for food has heard, it's Omega 3 Fatty Acids. This stuff has been proven to lower blood pressure (with diet changes), reduce triglycerides, slow the development of arterial plaque, regulate heart rhythm, reduce the likelihood of heart attack and stroke, and lessen the chance of sudden cardiac death in those that have heart disease. Sardines are one of the best options on the market for upping your Omega 3 intake while also reducing the amount of mercury you take in per pound since these little guys are lower on the food chain.
So, how do I like them? Well, you're probably not going to like this, but I just eat them right out of the can. My favorites are packed in olive oil since they support my calorie goal (which clocks in at around 3200kcal). However, one of my favorite recipes is to up my avocado toast game by laying a few sardines across some freshly smashed avocado atop some toasted Dave's Killer Power Seed bread.
These are the little guys I have hanging around in my pantry. However, if you're not up to stomaching them straight up or unadorned, then I would suggest the internet for recipe ideas. Also, please remember that sardines come fresh as well. They usually need to be gutted and cleaned, but they really do grill up nicely with some fresh squeezed lemon and garlic.