National Sardines Day is marked on November 24 to celebrate the super deliciousness of sardines and the wholesome health benefits they provide to us. Did you know that the word ‘sardine’ was first used in the 15th century and was derived from the Mediterranean island of Sardinia? Sardines are one of the most abundant, edible fish in the world and are employed for various purposes, including bait, human consumption, fish meal, fish oil, canning, drying, and salting. They are a rich source of omega-3 fatty acids; vitamins D, B12, and B2; phosphorus; and calcium. Sardines commonly come packed in tin cans and are a major export for Morocco, Japan, and China.
History of National Sardines Day
Sardines have always been a major food source around coastal regions like the Mediterranean islands, from where it got its name. However, before they became a global delicacy and a significant means of export, sardines were “the fish of the poor.”
The Frenchman Nicolas Appert heralded the golden era of sardines with the invention of canning. This nifty innovation, which would forever transform the food industry, was introduced in 1810 by Nicolas Appert in his cookbook, “The Art of Preserving All Kinds of Animal and Vegetable Substances for Several Years.” Joseph-Pierre Colin, an Englishman, combined this innovation with Breton’s popular sardine storage technique and created canned sardines.
By 1836, Colin was producing around 30,000 cans a year. That increased over the years to 50 million cans because of the creation of about 30 other small factories. Before the end of the 19th century, Spain and Portugal overtook France in canned sardines exports owing to a drastic decrease in sardine population in France’s coastal waters. The French woes were further worsened by the 1870 Franco-Prussian War, halting their exports to North America, consequently creating an opportunity for American entrepreneurs to enter the market.
In 1875, the Eagle Preserved Fish Company was established in Eastport on the East Coast, ushering in the golden era of the American sardine industry. In Maine and California, small sardine factories spurted everywhere along the coast, increasing the volume of Atlantic herrings exported worldwide. In the 1940s, the sardine industry began winding down on the West Coast because of World War II. Twenty years later, the East Coast started experiencing reduced canned sardine sales, and by 2010, the last factory in Maine shut down.
While sardines are no longer a major export for the United States and are viewed as low-end foods, they are still a delicacy in Spain and Portugal. In fact, there is a culture of making canned sardines age as wine before eating them.
National Sardines Day timeline
Nicolas Appert publishes his cookbook, introducing his food preservation techniques
The Englishman, Joseph-Pierre Colin, adopts Appert’s method and invents canned sardines.
The Wolff & Reesing Cannery opens in Maine, during the Franco-Prussian War.
Stinson Seafood Plant in Maine closes its doors, becoming the last cannery to do so since the beginning of the industry’s decline in the 1960s.
National Sardines Day FAQs
Are sardines high in mercury?
According to the F.D.A., sardines are one of the fish with the lowest methyl mercury content. That’s because they primarily feed on plankton and are short-lived, preventing mercury build-up in their body.
Which is healthier, sardines in oil or water?
Sardines canned in water are healthier than canned in oil because of the lower cholesterol and fat, although the latter is richer in omega-3 fatty acids. A 3-ounce can of sardines in oil has 40 milligrams of cholesterol, 11 grams of total fat with 5 grams of saturated fat, compared to those canned in water with 30 milligrams of cholesterol, 5 grams of total fat with 1.8 grams of saturated fat.
Is it OK to eat sardines every day?
The advice is to eat it twice a week rather than every day, because of its cholesterol, which is a risk factor for heart diseases.
National Sardines Day Activities
Cook a sardine dish
Sardine is a versatile fish, so you can prepare it however you want or use it in various dishes. You can decide to roast or deep-fry it, eat it fresh like sushi, or grill it. Try incorporating it into your favorite dishes, including pasta, noodles, tacos, rice, pizza, and toast.
Go out for sardines
Another way to celebrate National Sardines Day is to try out that seafood or sardine restaurant near you. Various restaurants across the country serve sardines prepared as different cultural delicacies – Portuguese, Japanese, Greek, etc. Check on Yelp or Google for the closest ones to you, and visit with your friend or significant other.
Visit the Maine sardine museum
The Maine coastal areas were the very epicenter of the sardine golden era in the United States, between the 1940s and 1960s. While the last cannery closed its doors in 2010, it’s still possible to relive those golden years by visiting the Maine Coast Sardine History Museum. Plan your trip with a friend and take a tour of this historic site, from catch to can.
5 Interesting Facts About Sardines We Bet You Don’t Know
Age as fine wine
In some parts of Europe, canned sardines are allowed to mature for years before eating.
21 species, but called sardine or pilchard
There are 21 species of sardines, of which about six species are called pilchards, and over 12 species are called sardines.
They’re the second most eaten fish
After salmon, sardines are the most consumed fish by humans.
They only live up to six years
While the lifespan of sardines is up to 13 years, they only live to see six of those years.
The sardine run
Every year, between May and July, billions of sardines migrate from South Africa’s south coast to the subtropical waters of the east coast, causing a feeding frenzy.
Why We Love National Sardines Day
Different countries, different sardine culture
Each country has its own culture around how sardines are preserved and cooked. In Croatia, sardines are fried or roasted on a stick; in Greece, they are grilled or cured in salt and olive oil; and in India, they are eaten fresh, fried, or made into various curries. Sardines even have their festivals in Greece, and they are the main delicacy for the Portuguese St. Anthony’s Day.
Sardines are super healthy
Sardines are among the best edible fish with the highest nutritional content. They’re rich in omega-3 fatty acids that improve brain function, reduce the risk of cardiovascular diseases, and lower blood sugar levels. They also contain a high amount of protein, calcium, iron, phosphorus, selenium, and more
Sardine can be fun
Whether viewed as low-end food in America or not, National Sardines Day can be fun if done right. You can use the day to recreate local and foreign sardine delicacies with a friend or loved one. Better yet, visit one of the American sardine museums with a loved one, to view the rich history of the sardine industry.
National Sardines Day dates