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Sardines or pilchards are oily saltwater fish in the family of Clupeidae. They are closely related to herrings. Sardines have an elongated body that is oval when cut across. Back and sides are green or bluish, the belly is silvery. There is no visible lateral line. The gill covers of sardines are rust coloured to brown-red. Along the flanks sardines have their characteristic large, silvery scales. Sardines have protruding lower jaws and relatively small fins.

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Nomenclature of sardines


The name sardines is derived from the island of Sardinia, where the fish was once abundant. The young form of the fish is sold as sardines, when it is between 13 and 16 cm long. Pilchards on the other hand are adult fish of up to 30 cm. Sardines are sexually mature after 3 years, when they are between 19 and 20 cm long. They are found in all oceans, most commonly in the North Eastern Atlantic and the Northern Mediterranean. In late spring and summer they come close to Northern coasts in large schools. In autumn they migrate south to overwinter in deeper waters. Sardines feed mainly on small crustaceans, fish roe and larvae.

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Nutritional properties of sardines

Sardines contain 4.5 % fat in their edible meat and 19.4 % protein. They are furthermore a good source for valuable omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D, niacin and biotin. They contain considerable amounts of minerals, calcium, and iodine.

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Use of sardines

Sardines have been one of the most popular food fish in the Mediterranean for hundreds of years. They are sold fresh, smoked or canned as sardines in oil. Fresh sardines have a strong taste well suited for deep-frying but even better for pan-frying and grilling.

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Other sardines

Apart from the true sardine, also called European pilchard (lat: Sardina pilchardus walbaum) several other related fish species are also called sardine or pilchard. They belong to the genera Dussumeria (Rainbow sardine), Sardinella (Round sardinella or Spanish sardine), Sardinops (Pacific sardine) and Escualosa (White sardine).

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