What Are Anchovies Good For?

Astonishing Anchovies


Nowadays, large amounts of fish varieties available on the market contain toxic amounts of chemicals, which can lead to detrimental health effects. One of these chemicals is mercury. Usually, large fish contain high amounts of mercury because the percentage is directly proportional to their life span. Some examples of fish that are high in mercury are marlin and tuna. Small fish, like anchovies, contain the least amount of mercury because their bodies can't retain it.1

Aside from their low amounts of mercury, anchovies offer impressive amounts of nutrients that you can benefit from. Continue reading to learn more about this fish and why it's a good idea to add it to your diet.

What Are Anchovies?

An anchovy is a small oily fish that is abundant in the Indian, Pacific and Atlantic oceans.2 Anchovies usually travel in schools, making it easier for fishermen to catch large amounts. However, this has led high overfishing, eventually endangering the stability of the anchovy population around the world. This pushed numerous countries to establish strict fishing regulations to limit anchovy fishing.3,4

Anchovies have been part of the culinary world for centuries, having been used by the Roman civilization in making "garum," a type of fermented fish made up of anchovies, brine, fish innards and aromatic fresh herbs. This was usually used as a condiment or as an addition to different dishes and meals.5 Anchovies were also eaten raw to supposedly trigger an aphrodisiac effect.6

Nowadays, anchovies are available fresh, preserved in glass jars or tin cans, or dried. Because of their pungent fishy smell, people often refuse to even try anchovies. However, many people don't realize they're refusing healthy amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins and many more nutrients necessary for the body to function optimally.

By learning how to prepare this fish the correct way, you'll be able to appreciate its flavor and acquire a plethora of impressive health benefits.

Anchovies vs. Sardines: Which Is Better?

Sardines and anchovies are usually interchangeable because of their similarities in color, size and mode of production. But aside from these, both of these fishes are filled with nutritional components and contain the least number of harmful chemicals that are abundant in larger fish species. And even though they are alike in more ways than one, they are actually easy to distinguish from each other.

Sardines are a type of herring that takes its name from the island of Sardinia. They are usually found in Atlantic and Mediterranean waters and are abundant from June to November. They are larger than anchovies, measuring at 12 to 20 centimeters long during maturity.

Anchovies, on the other hand, are slimmer and smaller than sardines. They usually measure below 15 centimeters in size. Unlike sardines, anchovies are abundant all year round in the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, although they are not limited to these regions.

The easiest way to distinguish one from the other is through their color. Sardines have a lighter hue than anchovies. They also have round dark spots on their bodies. Anchovies have a greenish tint and may even appear blue when light is reflected on their scales. They also have larger eyes than sardines, while sardines have a lower jaw that protrudes further.7

In terms of flavor, anchovies have a more intense taste than sardines. Because of this, chefs and culinary enthusiasts only add small amounts of anchovies to dishes so as not to overpower the flavors of the other ingredients.

Nutritionally, both types of fish provide healthy fatty acids, protein, B vitamins and potassium in varying amounts. Sardines are higher in omega-3s,8 B12 and calcium, while anchovies are higher in iron, phosphorus and vitamin K.9,10 The nutritional differences between these two show that they have their own strong and weak areas, but it does not mean that one is better than the other.

Health Benefits of Anchovies

Even though anchovies are small and usually incorporated in recipes to only boost the flavor, they actually contain high amounts of minerals and nutrients. Even adding a small serving of anchovies to a dish can lift its nutritional value. Here are some of the health benefits of this small fish:

  • Minimizes the risk for cardiovascular diseases — A study in the journal Nutrients noted that anchovies have high amounts of omega-3 fatty acids, which are healthy unsaturated fats that may help reduce the risk of inflammation and cardiovascular diseases.11 They also have good amounts of calcium and magnesium, essential minerals that regulate blood pressure and circulation.12,13
  • Promotes skeletal health — Anchovies contain calcium and phosphorus, which may help increase bone density and improve bone growth.14
  • Assists in tissue and cell repair — Anchovies are abundant in protein that is needed for cell metabolism and tissue repair. This may help trigger a healing effect in the body, especially when there's damage or injury present.15

How to Clean and Prepare Anchovies

One of the most common questions that people have about anchovies is how they're prepared. Some even avoid anchovies due to their intense flavor and smell. To help you with this dilemma, here are a few pointers that can help you correctly prepare this fish.

When buying fresh anchovies, choose those that have bright eyes. Blemishes on an anchovy are normal because they bruise easily. Take note that fresh anchovies need to be cooked at once because they spoil faster than other types of fish.16 To help you with cleaning fresh anchovies, here is a guide from The Spruce:17

  • Wash the anchovies under cold water.
  • Remove the scales by scraping them backward (tail to head) with a butter knife. Do this over a bowl of ice water or under cold running water. Rinse the fish after scaling.
  • Cut away the head of the anchovies. Cut the anchovy diagonally from the front of the anchovy's bottom fin. Remove all the guts. Wash under cold water.

After cleaning and preparing your fresh anchovies, they can be marinated, preserved or added to different dishes.

Another way that anchovies are available is packed in salt. These are usually sold in either glass bottles or tin cans. Salted anchovies can be filleted, but extra care is needed so as not to cause the fishes to disintegrate. Follow these steps from Serious Eats on how to properly clean and fillet anchovies:18

  • Using your fingers and/or a spoon, remove as much salt as you can from the can until the anchovies are exposed. You can transfer the fish gently to a small dish using the spoon. The anchovies can be easily scratched up so be very careful.
  • If you're not using up all the anchovies in the jar, replace the salt you removed so that the remaining anchovies are still well-packed. Place the can or jar in the fridge.
  • Rinse the anchovies gently under cold running water one by one to wash off the encrusted salt. It's OK if some of the silver skin comes off, but you have to be gentle when handling the anchovies so the fillets themselves don't come apart.
  • Put the washed anchovies on paper towels to soak up excess liquid.
  • Soak the anchovies in water or milk for 15 to 30 minutes to soften them.
  • Once the anchovies are plump and flexible (but not soft and mushy), you can fillet them. Pinch an anchovy on the part where the flesh meets the tail, and then work carefully to separate the flesh from the tail and spine beneath. Lift the fillet from the bone cage carefully, bit by bit.
  • Transfer the filleted anchovies to fresh paper towels to soak up the excess liquid.

Try These Tasty Anchovy Recipes

While the flavor of anchovies can be overpowering and may even be unappetizing for some, it all boils down to how this fish is prepared. If you're itching to try some healthy and flavorful anchovy dishes, here are a few recipes you can start with:

Anchovies Healthy Recipes:
Asparagus With Anchovies and Garlic

Asparagus With Anchovies and Garlic


4 teaspoons coconut oil

2 tablespoons minced garlic

1/4 tablespoon crushed red pepper

2 bunches asparagus, tough ends trimmed, cut into 1-inch pieces

1 tablespoon water

1 anchovy fillet, minced


  1. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and crushed red pepper. Stir constantly and cook until garlic is fragrant, about 30 seconds to one minute.
  2. Add asparagus, water and anchovy. Stir constantly. Cook until asparagus is tender-crisp, about five to six minutes. Serve when ready.

(Recipe adapted from EatingWell19)

Browned Cauliflower With Anchovies and Olives

Browned Cauliflower with Anchovies and Olives


1 medium-small head cauliflower

1 large clove garlic, peeled

Pinch of Himalayan salt

6 anchovy fillets

1/4 cup coconut oil

15 black olives, pitted and roughly chopped

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, more to taste

2 teaspoons capers, roughly chopped

1 teaspoon finely grated lemon zest

Large pinch of crushed red pepper flakes



  1. Trim the leaves and stem from the cauliflower head. Working from the bottom of the head, cut off individual florets until you reach the crown where the florets are small and fused together.
  2. Cut the large florets into quarters, the medium ones into halves, and the crown into four pieces, always trying to keep the top of the florets attached to pieces of stem.
  3. Using a mortar, crush the garlic and salt with a pestle until it has a paste-like consistency. Add the anchovies and pound them to a paste as well. Scrape this mixture into a large shallow bowl. Add 1 tablespoon of oil, the olives, lemon juice, capers, lemon zest and red pepper flakes. Stir well.
  4. Heat 2 tablespoons of coconut oil in a heavy 10-inch skillet over medium heat. When the oil is hot, add half the cauliflower pieces in a single layer, flat side down. Cook the cauliflower until well browned on the bottom. This takes about two to four minutes. Transfer them to a plate.
  5. Add the remaining 1 tablespoon of oil to the pan and repeat with the remaining cauliflower but don't transfer to the plate. Return the first batch of cauliflower to the pan. Turn the heat down to low and carefully add 2/3 cup water. Cover and let steam until the stems are just tender. This takes about six to eight minutes.
  6. Transfer the cooked cauliflower to the bowl with the anchovy mixture. Add 1 tablespoon of the cooking liquid. Let it sit for a minute to warm and loosen the mixture. Turn gently to coat the cauliflower and evenly distribute the olives and capers. Serve warm at room temperature.

(Recipe adapted from Fine Cooking20)

Anchovy Nutritional Facts
Check Out Their Nutritional Facts Here

Aside from being low in calories, anchovies contain high amounts of vitamins and minerals that can help you achieve a better state of health. To help you keep track of the approximate levels of nutrients in anchovies, here is a table for their nutritional values:21

Anchovies Nutrition Facts

Serving Size: 100 grams anchovy, European, raw
  Amt. Per
Calories 131  
Total Fat 4.84 g  
Saturated Fat 1.182 g  
Trans Fat    
Cholesterol 60 mg  
Sodium 104 mg  
Total Carbohydrates 0 g  
Dietary Fiber 0 g  
Sugar 0 g  
Protein 20.35 g  
Vitamin A 15 µg Vitamin C 0 mg
Calcium 147 mg Iron 3.25 mg

In a market that's dominated by processed meats and mercury-tainted fish, anchovies provide a way out. As a nutrient and protein source, anchovies are an excellent choice for you and your family. Not only do they offer impressive benefits, they also let you veer away from food sources that may harm you in the long run.

If you're looking for fish types that are safe or low in mercury, consider switching to small fish such as anchovies and sardines. Another good option would be wild-caught Alaskan salmon, which are also low in mercury content.