HOME > Chowhound > General Topics >
Jan 15, 2006 02:30 AM

The Great Sardine Taste-off – wild, organic, Kosher, Polish, etc

  • r

The short story: Angelo Parodi sardines are the only truly exceptional sardines sampled so far.

In the interest of eating healthy occasionally, for a few months I’ve been having sardines for lunch every now and then.

The standard supermarket brands were sampled: King Oscar, Bumble Bee, Brunswick and Beach Cliff.

There were a few lesser known supermarket brands: Yankee Clipper, Gourmet Award.

Then there were some types that are found usually in ethnic and/or gourmet stores: Albo, Madrigal, Palacio Real, Mega and Angelo Pardoni

I’ll probably branch out in the next few months with more imported brands from ethnic stores. Any recommendations would be appreciated.


(Best canned sardines to “wouldn’t buy again:” The “won’t buy” list starts at Mega sardines … not a bad sardine, but not fond of sardines in tomato sauce)

Angelo Parodi Sardine Portoghesi all’olio di olivo – Portugal/Italy - $1.99
Albo Sardines in Olive oil – Spain - $4.99
King Oscar Sardines Mediterranean style – Norway, packed in Poland - $2.99
Yankee Clipper lightly smoked sardines in soybean oil – Morocco - $2.49
King Oscar Extra Small Sardines in fish oil 2 layers – Norway - $2.99
Beach Cliff Sardines in soybean oil – USA / Canada - $.69
Brunswick Sardines in Spring Water No Salt Added – Canada - $1.19
Madrigal spiced sardines in vegetable oil – Morocco - $1.59
Brunswick Sardines in Olive Oil – Canada - $1.19
King Oscar Extra Small Brisling Sardines in purest virgin olive oil – Norway - $2.99
King Oscar tiny tots Sardines in olive oil two layers – Norway - $2.99
Palacio Real Small Sardines in Olive oil (slightly smoked) – Spain - $2.99
King Oscar Sardines in pure spring water – Norway - $2.99
Mega Sardines in tomato sauce with chili – The Philippines - $.79
Brunswick Sardines in Mustard Sauce – Canada - $1.19
Bumble Bee Sardines in Mustard – Poland - $.89
Yankee Clipper lightly smoked sardines in tomato sauce – Morocco - $2.49
Yankee Clipper lightly smoked sardines in mustard sauce – Morocco - $2.49
King Oscar Sardines in tomato – Norway - $2.99
Brunswick Sardines in Mustard and Dill Sauce – Canada - $1.19
King Oscar Skinless & boneless Sardines in olive oil – Morocco - $2.99
Gourmet Award lightly smoked sardines in tomato sauce – Morocco - $1.89
Brunswick Sardines in tomato & basil Sauce – Canada - $1.19

At the start, I didn’t know what to look for besides taste. Toward the end it was this:

- SHAPE- Sardines should keep their shape – some fall apart or are mushy in texture

- INGREDIANTS - Whatever they are packed in (oil, water, tomato paste, mustard, hot sauce, salsa, pesto, etc.) should balance and enhance rather than compete with or overpower the fish.

Avoid sardines with stuff like Maltodextrin, Acetic Acid, Modified Cornstarch, Xanthan Gum, Polysorbate 80, Artificial Color, and Artificial Flavor. These are usually in sardines in mustard, tomato or other sauces. READ THAT INGREDIANT LIST !!!

Even worse, they should not taste artificial. The King Oscar sardines in pesto sauce were so memorably bad, that I couldn’t bring myself to buy them again to include in this recent tasting.

Prices ranged from 69 cents to $4.99 per can.

Bottom line, in terms of taste, with one exception, price doesn’t reeeally matter.

The one major exception to this - Angelo Parodi was so entirely heads above every other brand in terms of taste.

Ironically I couldn’t find canned sardines from the country that gave these small fish the name. Some of the first fish packed in oil rather than preserved in salt, were caught off the coast of Sardinia. However, all of the Italian markets near me only sold Portuguese sardines imported by the Italian company Angelo Parodi.

These are as good as it gets sardine-wise. They had almost a tuna taste and texture and were packed in a rich, golden olive oil.

Beach Cliff – the cheapest… about 69 cents … often on sale at Walgreen’s three cans for a buck … were impressive. They are a mild, meaty, non-fishy sardine.

They are certified Kosher. They are “made in the USA’ with processing plants in Maine using Atlantic sardines that cruise the coast of Maine. They are gluten-free to those that that matters.

Actually most sardines are gluten-free, except for some brands packed in tomato and mustard sauce which use thickeners. My theory is that the quality of the sauce-packed sardines isn’t as good as the ones that are water or oil packed. The quality is obvious the less ‘dressed’ the fish so they are better tasting.

A lot of brands have Bumble Bee as the parent company. They include Beach Cliff, King Oscar, and Brunswick. For some reason sardines with the actual Bumble Bee brand name on the can are processed in Poland. When I think Poland, I know I think sardines. Then again, I’m of Polish ancestry. I eat sardines. It makes sense … kind of.

King Oscar: Although they claim they are oak-smoked, that flavor never comes across even in the plain water version. BTW, that’s a picture on the can of the real King Oscar II who ruled Sweden and Norway from 1872 to 1905. Above his picture you will see the words, “By Special Royal Permission.”, the only Norwegian product granted that by the Royal Norwegian Court

While usually healthy, sardines are a food you should not eat if you have gout. At the bottom is a link to the Beach Cliff page that has an excellent write-up on the health benefits of sardines.

Sardines are one of the fish that is lowest in mercury. These small fish feed on plankton rather than other fish that have mercury in them. However, depending on where they are caught some sardines are high in pcbs.

Ever wonder about how they get the guts out of sardines” Bumble be on their site says the vacuum them out. Nobody says how they skin and de-bone sardines. If that is done by hand, has that got to be one of the all-time awful jobs.

King Oscar sardines kept in the nets long enough to empty their intestinal tracts, so they have been naturally cleaned of all ‘sediments’ before processing.

The FDA says that fish must be adequately processed so that they are not "feedy fish" … “their stomachs are filled with feed at the time the fish are taken from the water. Such fish deteriorate rapidly until the viscera and thin belly wall disintegrate producing a characteristic ragged appearance called "belly-blown." … Yuck.

Some brands say they are ‘wild’. However, all sardines are wild. There are no sardine farms at this time. As far as organic sardines, that just means the olive oil or tomato sauce is organic. Only one company makes that claim – Vital Choice. Haven’t tried them yet because they are only sold in packs of six cans. Too much commitment for me.

Sardines from the Philippines and Thailand are, for the most part, packed in small cans similar to tomato paste cans. They usually are packed in tomato sauces or hot tomato sauce. I tried one brand which actually was the best of the tomato sauce based sardines sampled. For some reason, it was an obstacle to overcome. The different packaging just seemed weird.

It made me wonder about that oblong shaped can. Sardines were the first canned fish. Joseph Colin of Nantes, France was the first to successfully can them. In 1866, the oblong sardine can was
invented by J. Osterhoudt, which had the special key to open it that was used until the pull top can came along recently

There is some tin can / canning history in this link.


Canning food started when Napoleon offered a prize to anyone who could preserve food for the army to carry with them. The first metal can was invented around 1810. The first can opener was invented in 1858. Think about that. Hammers and chisels were used to get at the canned food until then.

By the Way, there is no such fish as a sardine. Sardines can any one of about 20 types of small soft-boned saltwater fish. They are usually herring (Americas), pilcards (Medditerean), brisling (Norway), and sprat.


Size – my casual grading:
Large = length of can
Small = ½ length of can or smaller
Medium = anything in between

Brand: Albo Sardines in Olive oil
Calories per can: 240
Ingredients: sardines, olive oil, salt
Taste: While I’m not sure if the can is worth five bucks, this was one of the best can of sardines, mainly for the balance. These medium sized sardines were not too fishy or boney. They held their shape and didn’t fall apart. The olive oil was excellent without calling attention to itself. The sardines weren’t anything too much … except perhaps expensive. The only nit was they were noticeably, but not objectionably salty.

Brand: Angelo Parodi Sardine Portoghesi all’olio di olivo
Calories per can: 120
Ingredients: sardines, olive oil, salt
Taste: These Portuguese sardines imported and sold by an Italian company established in the 1800’s. These large sardines (three to a can) almost had the taste of Italian tuna and were complemented by a very nice olive oil. If I were going to spend more than $1 a can, these would be it. Here is more about the company in English

Brand: Beach Cliff Sardines in soybean oil
Calories per can: 200
Ingredients: sardines, soybean oil, salt
Taste: These were the biggest sardines with only three snuggled in the can. They didn’t look pretty either with some of the skin scraped off. Yet the flavor was good. The soybean oil was nicely neutral giving a nice mouth feel. They held their shape well also. They lose a few points in prettiness which is made up for in taste.

Brand: Brunswick Sardines in Mustard Sauce
Calories per can: 150
Ingredients: Sardines, Water, Mustard, Acetic Acid, Modified Corn Starch, Salt, Turmeric, Spices, Xanthan Gum, Natural Flavor and Color
Taste: These were large size sardines in a mild mustard sauce. They held their shape. The mustard complemented the sardines the best of any I’ve tried.

Brand: Brunswick Sardines in Mustard and Dill Sauce
Calories per can: 150
Ingredients: sardines, water, mustard, soybean oil, acedic acid, modified cornstarch, salt, sugar, tumeric, dill, xanthan, gum, spices, annato
Taste: These were not great. Large sardines that fell apart, the contents were almost mushy. If there was dill, I imagined it. Unpleasant and didn’t want to keep in my mouth to try to taste the dill.

Brand: Brunswick Sardines in Olive Oil
Calories per can: 190
Ingredients: sardines, olive oil, salt
Taste: Large sardines in a mild oil. Good value for the price.

Brand: Brunswick Sardines in Spring Water No Salt Added
Calories per can: 140
Ingredients: sardines, spring water
Taste: Large sardines and mild sardines. Very good

Brand: Brunswick Sardines in tomato & basil Sauce (Safeway
)Calories per can: 150
Ingredients: sardines, water, tomato paste, modified cornstarch, salt, sugar, basil, soybean oil, citric acid, extract of paprika and other spices, XANTHAN GUM, polysorbate 90
Taste: Ugly. The tomato sauce was like a thin version of the type you get in spaghetti-o’s, but not as tasty. Perhaps the faint metallic taste was the basil. Sardines were very ‘spiney’. I suspect the flavored versions of sardines use an inferior brand.

Brand: Bumble Bee Sardines in Mustard
Calories per can: 140
Taste: Large sardine. Nice neutral mild mustard sauce that complements the sardines. Fine sardines. Fall apart but no excessively so. So far best mustard brand. Polish people know mustard.

Brand: King Oscar Extra Small Sardines in fish oil 2 layers
Calories per can: 150
Ingredients: Norwegian brisling SARDINES, salmon oil, SALT
Taste: The fish oil was salmon oil. Actually these were great taste-wise with very little fishy taste. However, they also fell apart into little pieces. Don’t know if soaking in salmon oil did that. I will (and have) bought these again.

Brand: King Oscar Extra Small Brisling Sardines in purest virgin olive oil
Calories per can: 150
Ingredients: SARDINES, olive oil, SALT
Taste: packed along the small size of the can. Assertive olive oil flavor, not the best, but ok

Brand: King Oscar Skinless & boneless Sardines in olive oil
Calories per can: 230
Ingredients: SARDINES, olive oil, SALT
Taste: Boneless sardines always taste too dry with very little sardine flavor

Brand: King Oscar Sardines in pure spring water
Calories per can: 140
Ingredients: Norwegian brisling SARDINES, water
Taste: Medium sardines. Pronounced sardine taste. Sardines kept their shape. Bones not apparent. Despite fishy sardine taste, there was a clean flavor to these.

Brand: King Oscar Sardines in tomato
Calories per can: 170
Ingredients: Norwegian brisling SARDINES, water, tomato paste, s0ybean oil, onion, sugar, potato paste, salt, spices, garlic powder. Vinegar, paprika
Taste: Probably the best of the tomato sauce versions, but really the sauce did not have that much tomato flavor and the medium sardines were not the best of King Oscar’s.

Brand: King Oscar Sardines Mediterranean style
Calories per can: 150
Ingredients: Norwegian brisling SARDINES, olive oil, black olive, sunflower oil, spices, garlic powder, red bell pepper, pepper, salt, artificial smoke flavor
Taste: These were excellent sardines. The fillets were delicate, non fishy and the blend of spices worked well with the sardines. There were nice pieces of olive in there too.

Brand: King Oscar tiny tots Sardines in olive oil two layers
Calories per can: 150
Ingredients: Norwegian brisling SARDINES, olive oil, salt
Taste: Not as tiny as one would be led to believe. Slightly larger than 1/2 can size and packed in a medium quality olive oil. Both the sardine and olive taste were pronounced. Fell apart a bit, but basically good shape. Ok, but for me, other varieties of King Oscar were better.

Brand: Gourmet Award lightly smoked sardines in tomato sauce
Calories per can: 180
Ingredients: sardines, tomato concentrate, water, soybean oil, salt
Taste: These were not tasty. The tomato sauce was bland and the sardines fishy

Brand: Madrigal spiced sardines in vegetable oil
Calories per can: 250
Ingredients: sardines, vegetable oil, spices, salt
Taste: Large size sardines in spicy hot vegetable oil, a piece of bay leaf and three tiny peppers. Best of the hot sardines where the spices worked with the sardines rather than overpowering them.

Brand: Mega Sardines in tomato sauce with chili
Calories per can: 150
Ingredients: Sardines, tomato paste, iodized salt, spices chili
Taste: These were lovely delicate large sardines in a nice tomato sauce that was pleasantly and not too assertively spiced. Talk about packaging influencing a product. These are the sardines in round tomato paste type cans sold in Filipino markets. Didn’t think I’d want to try anything not in a traditional can, especially from an unknown manufacturer and the second lowest price. What a surprise. They actually were the best tasting sardines in tomato sauce without the junk US manufacturers put in. It seems as though most of the Filipino sardines come in tomato sauce. A slight tinny taste like lots of canned tomato sauce.

Brand: Palacio Real Small Sardines in Olive oil (slightly smoked)
Calories per can: 130
Ingredients: sardines, olive oil, salt
Taste: Well, the can says ‘wild caught’ so that might give it the edge if I didn’t think all sardines are wild.Very fishy and the spines were apparent. Olive oil wasn’t so great that it gave it an edge. It will come in below all the other olive oil sardines because the price is double and even triple with no advantage. NO smoke was apparent

Brand: Yankee Clipper lightly smoked sardines in mustard sauce
Calories per can: 180
Ingredients: sardines, water, soybean oil, acedic acid, mustard, vinegar, salt, sugar, modified starch, tumeric, spices, xanthan, gum, natural flavor
Taste” Large sardines in a mild mustard sauce. Usually I like Yankee Clipper, but while holding their shape these sardines were a little too large (4 to the can) and mushy. The mustard sauce overpowered the smoke taste.

Brand: Yankee Clipper lightly smoked sardines in soybean oil
Calories per can: 240
Ingredients: lightly smoked sardines, soybean oil, salt
This is sardine classic. Four or five large sardines in all their fishy sardine glory, they tend to break up easily. The light, but assertive smoke, adds an extra dimension of flavor. One of the few in oil sardines I like on their own. Little sardine spines are more apparent than most brands..

Brand: Yankee Clipper lightly smoked sardines in tomato sauce
Calories per can: 180
Ingredients: lightly smoked sardines, tomato concentrate, water, salt, soya oil
Taste: Like other Yankee Clipper sardines, they had a lovely smoked flavor. Tomato sauce on sardines don’t do it for me. While the sauce was the best, it just doesn’t enhance the taste.


Brand: Albo Sardines
Manufacturer: Albo

Brand: Angelo Parodi
Manufacturer: Icat Food S.p.A

Brand: Beach Cliff
Manufacturer: Bumble Bee Crop

Brand: Brunswick
Manufacturer: Bumble Bee Seafoods

Brand: Bumble Bee
Manufacturer: Bumble Bee Seafoods

Brand: King Oscar
Manufacturer: Bumble Bee Seafoods

Brand: Gourmet Award
Manufacturer: Gourmet Award Foods

Brand: Madrigal
Manufacturer: Unimer

Brand: Mega Sardines
Manufacturer: Mega Fishing corp.

Brand: Palacio Real Small Sardines in Olive oil (slightly smoked
)Manufacturer: Palacio Real

Brand: Yankee clipper
Manufacturer: American Natural & Specialty Brands




Lots of Sardine facts and links


Sardine Processing


More about processing and catching sardines and herring … scales are used for woman’s cosmetics …. For that extra shine?


Sardine King – Vintage labels


Link: http://www.beachcliff.info/usaenglish...

Image: http://www.bridgesdesign.net/sardinek...

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Sardines canned with oil improve considerably if you age them. Also, remember that the nutritional benefits are for sardine with bones.

    4 Replies
    1. re: Melanie Wong

      Interesting. Haven't read that.

      I think Bumble Bee said that the shelf life of sardines was about three years depending on what they were packed in ... sardines in olive oil had the longest shelf life. After that, I remember them saying the sardines are still fine to eat, but they start to lose flavor.

      At any rate, the only sardines worth aging are those Angelo Parodi sardines.

      Trying to find that info on shelf life, I came across this brand of sardine. Will have to ask the street vendors of Richmond if they sell this product (it is an actual product. They sell mackrel and sardines).

      Honest officer, I was trying to buy fish ...

      Image: http://www.pressureworks.org/images/p...

      1. re: rworange

        Here are some articles about sardines improving with age. If one had heeded my advice posted in 2001, the sardine cellar would have 5 years of maturity on them now. (g)






        Link: http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

        1. re: Melanie Wong

          From one of one of Melanie’s links “ the fish are roasted before being tinned, unlike mass-produced brands, which are usually steamed. "Once they age, the flavors meld and become more complex, almost a non-fish thing, very nutty, deep, and enthralling”

          Wow, finally read those articles while munching on a dish of canned sardines at lunch. Until now I thought seeking out the Beach Cliff sardines with hot green chili peppers was going to be the scaling sardine gourmet heights (esoteric pun intended Cliff … scaling … heights).

          Now I know to look for artisan sardines - 'Sardines "a` l'ancienne" – gutted and packed by hand in quality oil after being fried and then ‘matured’ in the can for a few months.

          Then there are the Label Rouge sardines which are held to even higher standards:

          - landed 12 hours after catch
          - at the factory within 4 hours of landing
          - processed within 24 hours of factory arrival
          - Minimum fat content - 8%.
          - fried in sunflower oil
          - fish layered on grills after frying
          - packed in EVOO
          - stored 4 months
          - sardine backs displayed in the can
          - uniform size
          - fishing date and boat name on can (I suppose there are better boats … my head spins)

          Then there are those limited edition sardines ("Millésime"), caught in the spring months when the fat content of the fish is the best.

          If only I had real money, I could put all this effort into wine rather than sardines. But as I’ve read on Chowhound, go with what you can afford.

          My little sardine survey could turn into years of research. I know to turn my sardines cans ever 3-4 months and have new ideas on how to present them.

          “ … in a new and stylish Toulouse restaurant … they came beautifully presented, the can opened (lid rolled back … wrapped carefully in a linen napkin) accompanied by wafer-thin slices of toasted rye bread, a small bottle of dark green extra virgin olive oil, finger-length slivers of green onion, half a lemon wrapped in a muslin turban , and a price tag of $25.”

          I now have ideas for eating that can o fish stylishly. Out comes the good china … and the Riedel glass …

          Which leads to the question … what wine with sardines. So far it has been the humble house brand – boxed Franzia Cabernet Sauvignon (NV). I realize what sardines are packed in must be considered … the Franzia was a good all purpose wine … but I’ll probably be going for those olive-oil packed fishies. So, seriously, what to consider?

          That first article from the Washington post was really good about more information. Those Portuguese sardines are sardinella (Sardinella aurita). They have that different tuna taste … the sardines du jour were from Portugal
          Here’s the direct link to the article in referenced in the previous post that had the best info about vintage and artisan sardines.

          Link: http://www.eurofish.dk/indexSub.php?i...

          1. re: rworange

            Others may demur, but, as I grew up drinking lemonade with my sardine sandwiches (on Wonder bread), I find the citrus quality of a New Zealand sauvignon blanc works pretty well, especially with the Portugese three-to-a-can fat boys.

            Exhaustively wonderful writeup, rw, you've stream-of-consciousnessed me right up to Andronico's for some nice sardines right now.

    2. Thanks for the term paper! ;-) Lots of great info.

      Years ago I bought a can of Portuguese sardines, and it was full of scales! Haven't bought any Mediterranean sardines since.

      RW - did you encounter any scales?

      1 Reply
      1. re: Sharuf

        No, but when I was looking for some sort of sardine info on the web, I came across someone who opened a can of sardines with heads, their beedy little eyes staring at them accusingly. I was a little afraid my sardines in the round can from The Philippines might be like that. However, so far good luck ... no scales ... no heads.

      2. Thanks so much for this list!

        My husband persists in buying "no salt added" sardines packed in water. Of these types, I like King Oscar best -- for firmness and flavor. I add salt and tabasco.

        I keep my own stash of sardines in olive oil. Whenever I put these on the table, my husband devours them.

        I always buy sardines with the skin and bones -- for the extra nutrition, texture and flavor.

        1. So where does one find Angelo Parodi sardines?

          1 Reply
          1. re: brentk

            I found them in the Italian grocery stores in my area (SF Bay). I imagine that other Italian groceries would carry them ... or sardines from Sardinia (I'm still obscessed about this).

            Since the packaging is in Italian, make sure you get the sardines as they sell alot of other products. I'm a little put out with an English speaking local Italian deli (A.G. Ferrari) that sold me a can of anchovies and told me they were sardines ... well, yes, same fish probably, but not what I was looking for.

          2. Thanks. Your post reminds me why, when I had fresh sardines for the first time, after a lifetime of eating King Oscar sardines, I was so shocked. King Oscars bear little resemblance to the real thing.

            4 Replies
            1. re: mnosyne

              The name Oscar and sardines reminds me of a scene from the movie "The Tin Drum", where Oscar's pregnant mother ate sardines cold from cans (did not get the brand, but must be during WW2). ;^).

              1. re: ahong

                I don't remember that scene. I do seem to remember another "mother eating" scene with massive amounts of eel...or am I confused?

                1. re: meatn3

                  There are both scenes; she trows up at seeing the live eels coming out of the horse's head bait and again when served as soup. She eats herself to death on the sardines.

                  1. re: Passadumkeg

                    Thanks! I saw it when it first was released - guess I need to revisit it again!
                    The eels made quite the impression on me. At that point in time I had never been aware of them as a food item, let alone tried them. I love eel now, but have only had it in various Japanese preparations. I need to try some European influenced eel dishes - perhaps for the night of my video rental!