Skip to main content
how we eat
Open this photo in gallery:

Sardines and toast are a classic pairing.Julie Van Rosendaal/The Globe and Mail

Forage fish, such as sardines, herring, mackerel and anchovies, are the most abundant fish species in the ocean. They’re also highly nutritious and have the potential to drastically reduce diet-related deaths and illness when substituted for red meat, according to a recent study that focused on data from 137 countries.

The study, conducted by a team of Japanese and Australian researchers, determined that in place of red meat, eating these tiny, oily fish, which feed on plankton and other small organisms, could save up to 750,000 lives a year and significantly reduce the prevalence of disability as a result of diet-related disease by 2050.

Often eaten whole, forage fish are abundant in calcium. They’re also high in protein, iron, vitamin B12, vitamin D and rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are believed to prevent coronary heart disease – the No. 2 cause of death in Canada.

In addition to their nutritional benefits, the study, published in BMJ Global Health, noted that forage fish have the lowest carbon footprint of any animal food source. They’re also affordable and shelf-stable, if you buy the canned variety.

Of course one of the most common ways to eat tinned sardines is straight from the can, but you can also enjoy them much the same way you would use canned salmon or tuna – in chowders, sushi rolls and lettuce wraps, or with mayo and chopped celery in sandwiches. A classic Sicilian pasta dish is made with fresh or canned sardines, toasted breadcrumbs (you can toast them in the oil your sardines come packed in), garlic, lemon and parsley. Soft canned forage fish can be mashed with a fork, mixed with mashed potato and shaped into patties, then covered in panko or other breadcrumbs and pan-fried, or smashed onto toast. With similar heart-healthy benefits and a lot more protein, perhaps sardine toast will be the new avocado toast?

Sardine Toast

Sardines and toast are a classic pairing. Use filets packed in oil, which you can drizzle overtop, and add some thinly sliced purple onion or shallot and something acidic, such as lemon or capers, perhaps some chilies and smashed olives. Or make something similar to a tuna melt, with grated extra-sharp cheddar or Parmesan (dairy or plant-based), and run it under the broiler or toast in the air fryer.

good-quality bread (or baguette, for tiny toasts), sliced

1 garlic clove, halved lengthwise

good-quality olive oil


tinned sardines (or other forage fish, such as mackerel or herring, preferably packed in oil)

1 thinly sliced purple onion or shallot

a few smashed olives (optional)

dried chili flakes (optional)

a lemon wedge

chopped parsley or cilantro

flaky salt and freshly ground pepper (if it needs it)

Toast your bread, and rub it all over with a cut clove of garlic while it’s still warm, then drizzle with olive oil. While it’s toasting, fry your capers in a drizzle of oil in a small skillet, if you like, until they sizzle and open up like little flowers. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside on a small plate. (Save the oil for drizzling over your toast.)

Lay sardines over your toast and top with purple onion, a few smashed olives and/or a pinch of chili flakes if you like. Squeeze over some lemon and drizzle with oil – the oil you fried your capers in, or the oil from the sardine can, or some nice olive oil. Scatter with parsley or cilantro and add a pinch of flaky salt and freshly ground pepper, if it needs it.

Serves as many as you like.

Follow related authors and topics

Authors and topics you follow will be added to your personal news feed in Following.

Interact with The Globe