Not all the little fishes are the same.

Max Bonem
June 06, 2017

Whether it's due to their small size, the fact that they are both oily salt water fish sold primarily in tins or that they are positioned next to each other on the same shelf of every grocery store in America, sardines and anchovies are regularly confused for one another. When you look at the specifics of both types of fish, though, they are actually less similar than you might think. Here are the differences between anchovies and sardines.

Sardines and anchovies are two completely different fish. 

Sardines, also referred to as pilchards, are a group of small, oily fish that were once found in great abundance around the island of Sardinia in the Mediterranean. The sardine is a member of the Clupeidae family, which also includes herring, and there are at least 18 different species classified as sardines or pilchards.

Anchovies are also small, oily fish commonly found in the Mediterranean, as well as further north near Scandinavia. However, there are more than 140 species of anchovies, all of which are members of the Engraulidae family.

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The two look different.

Sardines are the larger of the two and can be up to 20 cm in length (7.9 in). Sardines have white flesh and are often identified by their slightly protruding lower jaw. Anchovies, on the other hand, are sold with darker, reddish-grey flesh as a result of the curing they undergo (more on that below) and are usually less than 15 cm (6 in) in length.

They taste different.

Along with being larger, sardines also have a lighter, less intense flavor than anchovies, which are known for their distinct and aggressive, umami-rich flavor. This distinct flavor comes from the curing process that anchovies undergo, in which the small fish are often dried in salt and then packaged in tins with olive oil.

They don't both belong on pizza.

While both types of fish can be served every which way from grilled to filleted and marinated to fried, there is one delivery system that is reserved exclusively for anchovies: pizza. Sure, most kids have incorrectly maligned this specific topping for years, but anchovies were key to one of the original pizzas, the pizza marinara, which included just tomatoes and anchovies as toppings, and they should be respected as such. If you're an adult and the idea of anchovies on pizza grosses you out, do yourself a favor and try not to knock it until you try it. 

Try out these anchovy and sardine recipes at home and taste the difference for yourself.