Sardines for healthy heart

Sardines are rich in healthy omega-3 fatty acids and calcium.

Find which canned sardines to choose, how to preserve their freshness, and how to prepare them. We bring you excerpts from the book “The healthiest foods in the world” by George Mateljan where you will learn all about sardines.

The following are excerpts from the book ”The healthiest foods in the world” by George Mateljan published by PLANETOPIA, Profil  and Split Healthy City Association.

Important data on sardines

• Availability: all year
• Cooling: no
• Preparation: minimal

Sardines were named after Sardinia, the Italian island where the fishermen used to find huge schools of sardines. Raw sardines are very tasty, but very perishable so they are usually eaten canned. People have been eating them for a long time, but it was only the emperor Napoleon Bonaparte who popularized them, introducing canning of sardines to feed his citizens.

In the United States sardines were extremely popular in the early 20th century, and today sardines are making a comeback since people realized how valuable source of omega-3 fatty acids they are.
With growing concern over the health of the seas, people are turning to sardines since they are at the bottom of the sea food chain, feeding solely on plankton, and therefore they do not concentrate heavy metals, such as mercury, and contaminants as some other fish do. Although they are small, they contribute greatly to the healthiest diet. Data from this chapter is mostly on canned sardines.

Why sardines must be an integral part of the healthiest diet

The old saying  ”best things come in small packages” is particularly accurate when it comes to sardines. This small fish, which can grow up to 35 cm, but  is mostly 15-20 cm long, is full of nutrients beneficial to health. Sardines are rich in omega-3 fatty acids that are good for healthy heart, bone-building calcium and vitamin D. They are the second most important source of vitamin B12.

Types of sardines

Sardines are classified as fish that live in cold seas, along with herring, mackerel and salmon. All those are rich in omega-3 fatty acids.

There are six different kinds of sardines, and they all belong to the family Clupeidae, with more than 20 different species of fish that are sold worldwide under the name of sardines. Their common characteristics are that they are all small, saltwater, rich in oil, silvery fish and that they are soft-boned.

Fresh sardines – as they are easily marred, it is difficult to find them on the fish markets. If you manage to find them, you are lucky because they are a real treat and are great both grilled or fried.

The highlight of the season

The season of fresh sardines runs during the summer months. Canned sardines can be bought at any time.
How to select sardines

Canned sardines packed in olive oil are preferable to those in soybean oil. If you are concerned about the intake of fat , you may choose sardines packed in water. Look at the expiration date on the package to ensure that they are still fresh.
Fresh sardines cannot always be bought in the marketplace but if you are purchasing fresh sardines, look for those that smell fresh, that are firm to the touch, and have bright eyes and shiny skin.

How to store sardines

Canned sardines can be stored in the cupboard, ideally one that is cool and not exposed to heat. They have a long storage life; check the package for the expiration date so you know when you should use it. Turn the can occasionally to ensure that all parts of the sardines are exposed to the oil or liquid in which they are packed; this will help keep them well-moistened. Unused portions of opened sardine cans must be refrigerated.
Fresh sardines are very perishable and normal refrigerator temperatures of 2-4C do not inhibit the enzymatic activity that causes them to spoil; it is best to store them at -2-0C.

I tried different methods in order to find the best way to store sardines, including storage in a refrigerator with ice so they would cool down. Although it maintains a low temperature of meat, ice is melting rapidly and water makes them lose much of their flavor.

Remove sardines from the store packaging, rinse them and place them in a plastic storage bag as soon as you come home from the market. Place them in a large bowl and cover with ice cubes or ice packs to reduce the temperature of the fish. Although sardines will stay fresh for a few days using this method, we recommend using the sardines as soon as possible, within a day or two. Remember to drain off the melted water and replenish the ice as necessary. Don’t forget that fish not only starts to smell but will dry out or become slimy if it is not stored correctly.

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