Sardines vs Anchovies: What’s the Difference?

Written by August Buck
Published: February 9, 2022
Image Credit evantravels/Shutterstock.com
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When it comes to sardines vs anchovies, how can you tell the difference between these two fish? They look strikingly similar, but there are many things that you can do in order to tell them apart. For example, sardines are members of the Clupeidae family and anchovies are members of the Engraulidae family. But this is only where their differences begin.

In this article, we will address the key differences between sardines and anchovies, including ways that you can tell them apart. We will also address how they differ in their culinary uses and tastes, as both of these fish are commonly used in the kitchen. Let’s get started! 

Comparing Sardines vs Anchovies

Sardines and anchovies are two of the most populous fish in the seas, but they have specific differences.

A-Z-Animals.com

SardinesAnchovies
HabitatCoasts of North and South America, as well as Japan and AustraliaPacific, Mediterranean, and Indian oceans; some freshwater species
AppearanceSilver in coloring, with wide mouth and pointed snoutGreen-blue in coloring, with sleek appearance and peaked snout
Length12-30 centimeters long12-15 centimeters long
ClassificationClupeidaeEngraulidae 
Taste/CulinaryDelicate and meatySalty and melts away when eaten

The Main Differences Between Sardines vs Anchovies

sardines vs anchovies
Sardines are well known for living in oceans and seas around the world, while anchovies have some freshwater species in the same genus.

There are many key differences between sardines and anchovies. Sardines are well known for living in oceans and seas around the world, while anchovies have some freshwater species in the same genus. In terms of their overall appearance, sardines are usually longer and more silver when compared to the greenish-blue coloring of an anchovy. Finally, their scientific classifications, as well as their culinary uses, are very different.

Now that you know some of the basic differences between sardines vs anchovies, let’s take a look at how these two fish differ in more detail. 

Sardines vs Anchovies: Habitats and Group Behavior

sardines vs anchovies

Even though both sardines and anchovies travel in large schools, sardines are often observed darting around and exhibiting more erratic behavior than anchovies do.

One of the main differences between sardines and anchovies lies in their natural habitats and their group behavior with other fish of their same species. While both of these fish are commonly found in saltwater, anchovies have some freshwater counterparts, and sardines prefer to stick to North American coastlines as well as Asian coastlines.

Both of these fish enjoy living in the epipelagic zone, which means that light reaches this area and makes for a great breeding ground for phytoplankton. This is the primary food source for both sardines and anchovies. However, the way in which these two fish travel differs, and can be seen in their group behavior.

Even though both sardines and anchovies travel in large schools, sardines are often observed darting around and exhibiting more erratic behavior than anchovies do. Anchovies swim in a swirl-like pattern, and seeing these two schools of fish side-by-side really illustrates the differences between them. 

Sardines vs Anchovies: Appearance

sardines vs anchovies
Sardines are silvery in appearance, with a pointed snout and wide mouth, while anchovies are usually more of a bluish-green color and have an overall sleeker appearance than sardines.

flyingv3/Shutterstock.com

Another key difference between sardines and anchovies lies in their appearance. Sardines are silvery in appearance, with a pointed snout and wide mouth. Anchovies are usually more of a bluish-green color and have an overall sleeker appearance than sardines.

Another factor is that sardines can get much larger than anchovies, which tends to make them look larger and clunkier than anchovies. You may not notice a difference unless you have these two fish side-by-side. And the size of both of these fish depends on their age as well. 

Sardines vs Anchovies: Overall Length

When it comes to size, the difference between sardines vs anchovies can be subtle. Overall, sardines tend to grow much larger than anchovies do. Sardines sometimes reach as much as a foot in length, while most anchovies never reach that size. However, it depends on the age of both of these fish. But sardines are usually always the bigger of the two. 

sardines vs anchovies
Also known as pilchards, sardines are members of the Clupeidae family, while anchovies are members of the Engraulidae family, a classification for many other foraging fish.

evantravels/Shutterstock.com

Sardines vs Anchovies: Species Classification

Another difference between sardines and anchovies lies in their species classifications. Also known as pilchards, sardines are members of the Clupeidae family. Anchovies are members of the Engraulidae family, a classification for many other foraging fish.

While this distinction is obviously something that you won’t notice looking at the two fish, it is important to mention. They are members of completely different families. This makes them not related in any way, despite how similarly they may look. 

Sardines vs Anchovies: Taste and Culinary Applications

sardines vs anchovies
 In terms of their overall appearance, sardines are usually longer and more silver when compared to the greenish blue coloring of an anchovy.

Dennis Forster/Shutterstock.com

A final difference between sardines vs anchovies can be found in their overall taste and their culinary applications in the kitchen. For example, sardines have a light and buttery flavor when compared to the powerfully salty flavor of anchovies. This makes their culinary applications very different from one another. 

You can also tell the difference between sardines and anchovies in their tins. This happens after they have been cured and processed for culinary uses. Given that sardines usually don’t go through any sort of curing process, their flesh remains white. Anchovy meat gains a reddish or pink tinge once it gets packaged into its can. 

This is a subtle difference, but it is important to note given that most of our interactions with sardines and anchovies are found in a grocery store aisle. They have very different uses and flavor profiles, despite them being such similar-looking fish.

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