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The Great Sardine Taste-off – the Spanish Saga (cans 40-49)

Who knew there were so many kinds of canned sardines?

A Chowhound poster from Spain, ‘butterfly’ kindly gifted me with nine direct-from-Spain cans of sardines when she visited her family in the states.

Butterfly wrote ‘These are all the lower end varieties. Not a can over 1 euro, I think. In Spain, there are varying levels of canned goods (they have been canning since Roman times and the results are often really great, especially with tuna, peppers, artichokes, asparagus, etc.). Some canned sardines go for 5 euros a can or more. I can’t speak to the difference, since I haven’t delved into it that deeply”

They are Spanish equivalent of Bumble Bee, Brunswick and Beach Cliff, in other words, but most made it to the top of the list.

A can of Bumble Bee was added to this group for comparison. However, one of those lower-end Spanish varieties, Albo, sells for $5 a can in the states.

Since price was unknown, they are the only sardines judged only on flavor.

In past rankings, some good sardines moved lower on the list because they were over-priced or some other climbed a rung or two higher on the fish ladder because they were such a good value for the price.

Most were close in taste and quality, the upper edge sometimes going to better appearance.

Spanish and Portuguese sardines have been at the top of my list, and most out-classed the sardines available in the states.

Butterfly also sent some cans of mejillones (lovely vinegary mussels that are delicious with crunchy potato chips), chipirones (tender baby squid with tentacles cleverly stuffed in the body) and boquerones.

My can of boquerones, an anchovy, looked and tasted like a excellent sardine, so I included them in the short list, but not in the overall rankings. Here’s a discussion about the difference between sardines and boquerones.

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

Thanks so much, butterfly. These were delicious and fun to try.

Here are the next 10 canned sardines, in order of preference:

Rankings

1. Rianxeira Boquerones en aceite de oliva - Spain
2. Albo Sardinas en aceite de oliva virgin extra – Spain
3. Cabo de Penas Sardinillas en aceite de oliva - Spain
4. El Corte Ingles Sardinas en aceite de oliva - Spain
5. Palacio de`Oriente Sardinas en aceite de oliva - Spain
6. Garavilla Sardinillas en aceite de oliva – Spain
7. 5 Estrellas Grandes Hoteles Sardinillas en aceite de oliva - Spain
8. Sardinas de la Costa en aceite de oliva - Spain
9. Cuca Sardinas en aceite de oliva – Spain
10. Bumble Bee Sardines in Oil – Poland
11. Paco Lafuente en aceite de oliva – Spain

Full ranking and link to previous post at end.

THE DETAILS

Size – my casual grading:
Extra large – Mexican sardines in 15 oz oval cans
Large = length of can
Small = 1⁄2 length of can or smaller
Medium = anything in between

First the two cans that were not Spanish sardines.

THE BUMBLE BEE OR SQUARE SARDINES

Brand: Bumble Bee Sardines in Oil – Poland - $.99
Calories per can: 130
Ingredients: SARDINES - LIGHTLY SMOKED, SOYBEAN OIL, SALT, ARTIFICIAL SMOKE FLAVOR
Taste A fishy odor wafted out when the can lid was pulled off. The oil was pale and watery. The five large sardines had big patches of skin and tails missing. Removing them, each sardine had corners ... so wrong ... rectangular rather than fish-shaped with four creases ... shudder. The artificial smoke flavor dominated and tasted ... artificial ... but a rectangular sardine has already passed out of the realm of ‘natural’ There was a hint of a bacon aftertaste. There was a slippery, oily mouth feel to the sardines. The meat was soft and salty. Oddly enough, they tasted a little like smoked whitefish.

BOQUERONES

Brand: Rianxeira Boquerones en aceite de oliva - Spain
Calories per can: 210 Kcal
Ingredients: Anchovies, olive oil, salt
Manufacturer: Jealsa Rianxeira, S.A..
http://www.rianxeira.com
Taste: Seven medium size fish with tales a little nicked, but they held their shape well. They are my favorite ‘sardine’ with classic sardine flavor like the Norway sardines. The taste is milder and more pleasant than a regular sardine. Lovely, light oil that made these elegant.

THE NINE SPANISH SARDINES

Brand: 5 Estrellas Grandes Hoteles Sardinillas en aceite de oliva - Spain
Calories per can: 210 Kcal
Ingredients: sardines, olive oil, salt
Manufacturer: Thenaisie Provote, S.A.
http://www.th-p.com/en/principal.htm
Taste: Wow, these really were packed like sardines with a dozen small sardines in three layers in a standard sardine can. Very nicked and a few fell apart, but more due to packing than the sardine itself. Salty tuna taste not spiny. Tails attached but hard to tell. The saltiness was like Albo, but IMO Albo had a slightly better sardine. The olive oil was mid grade, not invisible, but not outstanding. The sardine itself may be tastier, but I liked the oil the Garavilla sardines were packed in so these got rated below that. Lettuce and parsley didn’t cut the saltiness.

Brand: Albo Sardinas en aceite de oliva virgin extra - Spain
Calories per can:
Ingredients: sardines, extra virgin olive oil, salt
Manufacturer: Hijos Carlos Albo, S.A.
Taste: Nine small sardines with the tails cut off. I tried Albo sardines earlier but in regular olive oil. This oil ... and the fish ... was more assertive in flavor. Strong tuna taste ... beautiful, if a sardine can look beautiful, with a silvery skin and few nicks. Where Albo gets points off is for the saltiness. I liked this better than the first Albo can as it had more character.

Brand: Cabo de Penas Sardinillas en aceite de oliva - Spain
Calories per can: 208 Kcal
Ingredients: sardines, refined olive oil, salt
Manufacturer: Connorsa CONSERVAS DEL NOROESTE, S.A
http://www.connorsa.es
Taste: Eight medium sardines with tails and almost no nicks. They not only held their shape well, they had a nice plump look for a medium-sized sardine. A slight bitterness and more of the classic sardine taste than most. Not salty. Olive oil not noticeable

From the website:
“Sardines are a member of the Clupeidae family with a bluish-green dorsal area and silvery sides and abdomen. There are two sub-species: the Walbaum pilchardus sardine that is found in the Atlantic ocean, and the Risso pilchardus sardine that is found in the Mediterranean sea, and which is the largest of the two.

The quality of the former is highly esteemed and is fished off the coasts of Galicia (canned by CONNORSA for its CABO DE PEÑAS brand, due to its abundant presence in this area).”

Brand: Cuca Sardinas en aceite de oliva - Spain
Calories per can: 210 Kcal
Ingredients: sardines, olive oil, salt
Manufacturer: Pita Hermanos, S.A.
Taste: Three large sardines in a neutral oil that were soft and broke apart easily. The texture was a little flabby and were a little too spiny, but the taste wasn’t bad ... slightly fishy... sort of mild tuna.

Brand: Garavilla Sardinillas en aceite de oliva - Spain
Calories per can:
Ingredients: sardines, olive oil, salt
Manufacturer: Conserva Garavilla, S.A.
http://www.gallareta.com/images/sardi...
http://www.gallareta.com/product_info...
Taste: Eight small sardines with tails. I guess that’s what sardinillas indicates ... small. The skin was a little nicked and two broke in half, but they basically kept their shape well. The meat was dried than most without the strong tuna taste of some sardines. It had a little of a whitefish taste to it and a little bitter sardine taste. I didn’t like these on my first bite, then got really into them. Nice neutral olive oil. Served over greens mixed with parsley, only as I was eating the greens did I remember about the oil. It was nice on the salad.

Brand: El Corte Ingles Sardinas en aceite de oliva - Spain
Calories per can: 199 Kcal
Ingredients: sardines, olive oil, salt
Manufacturer: Conservera Gallega, S.A.
Taste: Three very large silvery sardines with tails in beautiful golden oil. The skin was almost unnicked, but the sardines were so large, they fell apart trying to get them out of the can. A mild meaty sardine that wasn’t too spiny given the large size. The faintest bitterness, This was an overall pleasing sardine that wasn’t too fishy and with an oil that took a back seat to the fish.

Brand: Paco Lafuente en aceite de oliva - Spain
Calories per can:
Ingredients: sardines, olive oil, salt
Manufacturer: Conservera Gallega, S.A.
Taste: Three large sardines without tails in lovely golden oil. Few nicks and they held their shape. Lots of spine with an odd papery skin, and dry cardboard taste to them. The least favorite of the group. Olive oil was ok

Brand: Palacio de`Oriente Sardinas en aceite de oliva - Spain
Calories per can: 199 Kcal
Ingredients: sardines, olive oil, salt
Manufacturer: Conservas Antonio Alonso S.A.
http://www.palaciodeoriente.net/index...
Taste: The seven slivery fish packed in the deeply golden olive oil looked beautiful when the can was opened. The tails were cut off and the skin was a little nicked. The salty, dryish fish were what the can of French sardines wanted to be. Nice medium weight oil that added a nice texture & mouth feel mild sardine/tuna/whitefish flavor.

Very interesting website. The company seems to be very concerned about quality and environmental responsibility. From the website:

"Palacio de Oriente is not only concerned with responsible of marine resources. Furthermore we believe it necessary to join forces in not harming species and maintaining the equilibrium of the environment."

Brand: Sardinas de la Costa en aceite de oliva - Spain
Calories per can: 199 Kcal
Ingredients: sardines, olive oil, salt
Manufacturer: USISA – Union Salaonera Islena, S.A.
Taste: Four large sardines with tails cut off. The skin wasn’t nicked & they held their shape. Flabby outer texture with a mild tuna taste. A little spiny and the oil was a little congealed on the skin. Neutral tasting olive oil. Comprisable to the Cuca sardines, but they held their shape better and had a fresher taste.

OVERALL RANKINGS

1. Angelo Parodi Sardine Portoghesi all’olio di olivo – Portugal/Italy - $1.99
2. Roland Sardines in Olive Oil - Morocco - $2.95
3. BELA-Olhão lightly smoked sardines in olive oil. - Portugal - $1. 75
4. Matiz Gallego sardines in olive oil - Spain - $2. 99
5. Idamar Portuguese Sardines in olive oil - Portugal - $2. 25
6. Gonsalves Sardines in olive oil – Portugal - $1.99
7. Da Morgada Sardines in Pure Olive Oil - Portugal - $3. 99
8. Albo Sardinas en aceite de oliva virgin extra – Spain
9. Cabo de Penas Sardinillas en aceite de oliva - Spain
10. El Corte Ingles Sardinas en aceite de oliva - Spain
11. Palacio de`Oriente Sardinas en aceite de oliva - Spain
12. Garavilla Sardinillas en aceite de oliva – Spain
13. 5 Estrellas Grandes Hoteles Sardinillas en aceite de oliva - Spain
14. Albo Sardines in Olive oil – Spain - $4.99
15. King Oscar Sardines Mediterranean style – Norway, packed in Poland - $2.99
16. Yankee Clipper lightly smoked sardines in soybean oil – Morocco - $2.49
17. King Oscar Extra Small Sardines in fish oil 2 layers – Norway - $2.99
18. Sardinas de la Costa en aceite de oliva - Spain
19. Cuca Sardinas en aceite de oliva - Spain
20. Connetable Sardines entières à l’huile d’olive vierge extra - France - $2. 95 (on sale, usually $4.50
)21. BELA-Olhão lightly smoked sardines in cayenne pepper-flavored extra virgin olive oil. - Portugal - $1. 75
22. Crown Prince One Layer Sardines in soy bean oil no Salt - Scotland - $1. 85
23. Beach Cliff Sardines in soybean oil – USA / Canada - $.69
24. Brunswick Sardines in Spring Water No Salt Added – Canada - $1.19
25. Madrigal spiced sardines in vegetable oil – Morocco - $1.59
26. Brunswick Sardines in Olive Oil – Canada - $1.19
27. King Oscar Extra Small Brisling Sardines in purest virgin olive oil – Norway - $2.99
28. King Oscar tiny tots Sardines in olive oil two layers – Norway - $2.99
29. Bumble Bee sardines in tomato sauce - Mexico - $1. 29 (15 oz)
30. Cracovia - Poland - $2. 55
31. Palacio Real Small Sardines in Olive oil (slightly smoked) – Spain - $2.99
32. BUMBLE BEE Sardines in Water – Poland - $.89
33. King Oscar Sardines in pure spring water – Norway - $2.99
34. BELA-Olhão lightly smoked sardines in lemon-flavored extra virgin olive oil. - Portugal - $1. 75
35. Bumble Bee Sardines in Oil – Poland - $.99
36. Paco Lafuente en aceite de oliva - Spain
37. Mega Sardines in tomato sauce with chili – The Philippines - $.79
38. Brunswick Sardines in Mustard Sauce – Canada - $1.19
39. Bumble Bee Sardines in Mustard – Poland - $.89
40. Yankee Clipper lightly smoked sardines in tomato sauce – Morocco - $2.49
41. Yankee Clipper lightly smoked sardines in mustard sauce – Morocco - $2.49
42. King Oscar Sardines in tomato – Norway - $2.99
43. Brunswick Sardines in Mustard and Dill Sauce – Canada - $1.19
44. King Oscar Skinless & boneless Sardines in olive oil – Morocco - $2.99
45. Gourmet Award lightly smoked sardines in tomato sauce – Morocco - $1.89
46. Pacific Star Lightly smoked sardines in vegetable oil - Thailand - $. 99
47. Calmex sardines in tomato sauce - Mexico - $1. 19 (15 oz)
48. Brunswick Sardines in tomato & basil Sauce – Canada - $1.19
49. El Mexicano Sardinas en salsa de tomate con chile - Mexico - $1. 09 (15 oz)

The Great Sardine Taste-off - wild, organic, Kosher, Polish, etc
http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

The Great Sardine Taste-off - best canned sardines - Next 7
http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

The Great Sardine Taste-off - the Sardine Saga continues (cans 31-39
)http://www.chowhound.com/topics/show/...

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  1. Wow - Impressive - thank you!

    Reminds me of a story of my husband's - he's Dominican, and went to business school in the US. In his marketing class, they had a group project with the challenge of marketing hard to sell items in the US - his was sardines, and he just could not figure out what the difficulty was!! Can't wait to use your list.

    1. RWOrgange, After all your research and sardine consumption, I think you're next project is obvious: Team with Robert Parker and match wines to each brand. Then self-publish the book and wait for the money to roll in. (Great work!)

      2 Replies
      1. Could you further break it down as too which is the "Best Smoked Sardine"?
        Thanks

        1. re: Leper

          While I liked BELA-Olhão, the smoke flavor doesn't come through for me.

          The Bumble Bee had a strong smoke flavor but on the artificial side. I'm a little on the fence about these. They were tasted with the great Spanish sardine group and the shape and whitefish flavor threw me. I'm still not sure if it might be a good thing. I might buy another can and re-evaluate.

          The only other smoked sardine that I remember and the one I like the best is Yankee Clipper from Safeway. Even before the Sardine taste-off, they were the brand I would buy most often.

        2. Brilliant report, RW. As much as I love sardines, boquerones are even tastier.

          1. Wow, this is dedication. You must really like canned sardines.

            Your #3 (BELA-Olhão lightly smoked sardines in olive oil) is the kind I've been buying to have around for when I need a little fish protein on toast. Trader Joe's has carried them for a couple of years.

            In one can, the translucent scales seemed harder than usual, but I was pretty sure you should not have to remove them. What's up with that? Do all canned sardines still have their scales on, or did I get a bum can?

            1. WOW is right! This makes me hungry for the yummy right off the boat fried sardines that we enjoyed in the Algarve with vinho verde! You can order the BELA-Olhão on line at http://www.mybela.com/. I will have to try the boquerones. RW, thanks for bringing back wonderful memories of both food and friends. I look forward to your next report on whatever!

              6 Replies
              1. re: ZinGal

                I think, but I may be wrong, that the can of boquerones I had was atypical. The canned versions are usually closer to anchovies rather than sardines ... that was my perception from reading about them ... however that gives me some incentive to try a few different cans of boquerones.

                I've been lucky in that except for the sardines that butterfly was nice enough to send me, I haven't had to resort to mail order except for one can of French sardines. In my area, BELA-Olhão is sold at Whole Foods.

                Hmmm ... I wonder if vinho verde would work with canned sardines?

                1. re: rworange

                  I will have to check my Whole Foods for the sardines. I looked on the BELA website and the only places in Texas are Austin and Houston at stores I did not recognize. I am in Dallas so maybe a road trip is in order.

                  I got out the pictures from the trip to Portugal since my post above and enjoyed them. A grand way to start a Sunday morning! Thanks again. Vinho verde works well for many things.. fizzy, fresh and cool!

                  Have a fabulous weekend!

                  1. re: rworange

                    About boquerones vs. anchovies... in Spain, they are two separate beasts. Boquerones are--as far as I have seen--always like the ones I sent you. Anchoas are what we would call anchovies in the US (I've had some really good salted ones from the Gulf of Vizcaya).

                    Though, here in Madrid, I don't know how many people actually eat boquerones out of the can, since you can get them free with your drink all over the place and many bars make their own versions. They go great with the light foamy beer on tap that they serve here or a rías baixas albariño.

                    I'm glad you enjoyed the shipment. It doesn't surprise me that the cheapest stuff here ranks up with the best--Spain has been canning seafood since the Romans (and learned some good tricks from the Muslims, as well).

                    1. re: butterfly

                      What ever the souce, Spain and Portugual have always beat out almost every country for me. The only exception was that can of Italian sardines. The French sardines were a major dissapointment ... but that was one can.

                      I'm currently eyeing a can of Titus sardines I bought that comes from Casablanca. I bought them at a local African store and I suspect they may be 'aged'. The problem is that there was a major problem with this brand a few years ago, so I may just let them continue to age.

                    2. re: rworange

                      I found the Bela-Olhao at my Central Market! WOW!!!! I have tried all three varieties of them - EVOO, Lemon and Cayenne. They are all so good. My boyfriend thought I was out of my mind but decided to try just a little bit. He has now seen the light! ;-)

                    3. re: ZinGal

                      You are so right! We honeymooned in the Algarve, and that lunch on the quay side in Portimao - fresh grilled sardines, five minutes off the boat, with a small green salad, unadorned boiled baby potatoes, and vinho verde - I remember it as if it was today's.

                      The problem with meals like that is that everything afterwards feels second rate. I once had grapefruit juice at a friend's in Florida where he just climbed the tree in his backyard, pulled down 4 or 5 fruits, and juiced them. It was so sweet and tangy, without a hint of bitterness. Today, even if I squeeze fruits from the market, it's not even close. Perfection spoils you!