Things I didn’t know: Sardines

Here’s another new feature here at the Hedonist. In the course of reading and research I often find little facts that I hadn’t known about before. Figuring some of you might find them interesting, I thought I’d share them with you. Look for more of “Things I didn’t know” in the future.

Today’s TIDK is about sardines…kind of.

Y’see, there’s no such animal as a sardine. The word sardine is a generic name for a number of different small fish. The type of fish depends on the region of the world where the fish is canned. Sardines found America in supermarkets are likely sprats, round herrings or a young European pilchard if the sardines are imported. They aren’t called Sardines until they are in the can.

A lot of this has to do with how fish are named. There is no universal body overseeing what fishes are named what. A fish called Patagonian Toothfish in one part of the world may be called Chilean Sea Bass in another part. The same behavior occurs with Sardines.

UPDATE: Brett Rightfully admonishes me for not doing my homework, or at the very least, be able to clarify my points better.

Indeed, there are such things as sardines. What I should have said is that there is no one specific species which is commonly recognized as the “sardine”, canned or otherwise. As Brett pointed out, the Codex Alimentarius, produced by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the World Health Organization (WHO) to establish international food standards, defines what are canned sardines, states (pdf) that 21 varieties of fish can be called sardines, with only one allowed to be called “sardine” without the use of a qualifier (that being Sardina pilchardus).

See, I told you I didn’t know this stuff.

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