17 Canned Sardine Brands Ranked Worst To Best

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Tinned fish is having a full-on Renaissance in our American foodscape, and there are few items that deserve it as much as this one. Often misunderstood because of their distinct smell and flavor, preserved sardines are a particularly nutritious source of protein and healthy fats, packed with vitamins and minerals (per Epicurious). And, for the most part, they are also healthy for your wallet too. Many European nations such as Spain and Portugal have a long tradition with this fish (via Serious Eats). Although sardines have ridden the waves of America's shifting tastes, they're perfectly primed to surf into a spot on your pantry shelf. Which means you need to know the difference between the bad and the best canned sardine brands out there. Trust us, they are oceans apart.

There's a lot to look for in a can of sardines. With the resurgence of interest in this product, every seafood company out there is slapping a pretty label on its products to try and make a sale. An attractive can is part of the process, but it doesn't necessarily mean your brightly marketed fish will be better than the package with a simpler design. How can you know what is a good tin to buy without being able to pop the top and see your product? Follow this list for the ultimate guidance. 

17. Ocean Prince

Even with a range of offerings expansive enough to compete with the big three of shelf-stable seafood companies (Chicken of the Sea, Bumble Bee, and Starkist), Ocean Prince Sardines might be the worst variety on the market. The sardines are often grainy, scaly, and have bones that eaters have to pick around. As Sardine.Reviews tells it, sardines own a long-standing lousy rep for having a stinky scent, but the tiny bits and pieces of spine and scales in Ocean Prince Sardines make it even harder to enjoy.

For fish reviewer Mouth Full of Sardines, the worst part about Ocean Prince sardines isn't the skeleton but the fact that many of the brand's canned varieties are bone dry. Whether canned with water, green chilis, or mustard sauce, the fish is often dry and rubbery. Even if the sardines were moister, you'd still have to descale and debone them –- chores you could avoid by purchasing a better brand of canned sardines.

16. MW Polar Brisling Sardines

MW Polar proudly reports that its sardines come from Portugal, where Saveur indicates they are considered the country's national icon. If that's the case, someone should get on the phone to Portuguese fisheries and let them know: MW Polar is ruining their good name. While it's believed that some of the best tasting sardines come from Portugal, MW Polar's are not among the tasty selection.

The best aspect about this brand is that if you're concerned about BPA content, you can get them in a glass jar. Otherwise, there is little upside to eating them over another, better can. As Mouth Full of Sardines reports, whether eating the basic sardines in oil or those in mustard sauce, the taste of the fish is sour. If it weren't for the fact that you can get them in glass rather than tin, there'd be no need to even think about eating sardines from MW Polar.

15. Bumble Bee

Bumble Bee has many different types of canned sardines, but unfortunately, none of them are that great. Take the boneless and skinless variety as an example: Although the unpleasant parts of the tiny fish are missing –- no soft scales or small spine here -– a lot of flavor is too. In Bumble Bee's defense, the company does try to bring more taste to the table by offering sardines in extra-virgin olive oil. As reviewer Mouth Full of Sardines writes, it also makes a reasonably palatable jalapeño-packed can.

Still, even with the amount of variety, Bumble Bee Sardines taste like a mass-caught, mass-produced tin of "meh." In most of their reviews of Bumble Bee, Mouth Full of Sardines notes that there isn't a robust flavor to any of the fish. One good point about Bumble Bee sardines is that the company is dedicated to ocean and seafood sustainability, per BusinessWire. So, while these sardines may not be the best on the list, there are still some good reasons to buy them.

14. Chicken of the Sea

Chicken of the Sea is a step up from Bumble Bee; however, that step is not very high. Despite being wild-caught, canned sardines from Chicken of the Sea have some of the same disappointments as other big brands. Mainly, they're fairly lackluster in terms of any distinct taste. Maybe that's why Chicken of the Sea has so many supplemental flavors on its sardine menu. When it comes to canned food, seasoning and sauce can hide a lot.

We found the lightly smoked variety to be one of the most disappointing tins on the market, no thanks to the unbearable pungency of fake smoke flavoring. Liquid smoke makes what is already an oily fatty fish taste overpoweringly woody. Then there are the sardines in mustard sauce, which Mouth Full of Sardines reviews as a potent combo with just too much zing. 

Fortunately, the review site finds that other specialty flavors have a better profile. The Mediterranean-style sardines are almost a full meal in a can with bell peppers, olives, and a Provençal herb seasoning that gives the sardines some balanced accents. Another style comes with the peppery bite of Louisiana hot sauce, noted for being flavorful if not a total disguise for the actual taste of the sardines.

13. Starkist

Starkist is a reliable brand when it comes to quality canned protein. It's been hovering at the top of the shelf-stable seafood market since it was founded in 1917, per Slate, though it's primarily known for selling canned tuna and salmon. However, as Refinery 29 writes, the American appetite for sardines is on the rise. Determined not to be left out, Starkist began its Gourmet Selects Sardine line in 2013, per Food Processing.

The Gourmet Selects Sardines benefit from Starkist's sizeable industrial might: We've found each filet of fish to be clean of bones, so there aren't any tricky bits to pick from your teeth. Additionally, each sardine is scaled and skinned correctly, so you're getting a full bite of fish meat, and meat alone. These canned sardines are firm but not rubbery, and delicious yet not fishy. Their consistent preparation makes them a joy to cook with or eat as a snack. And while they are not the purest sardine flavor, we can recommend that they're good to have in the pantry for days when you're craving seafood but don't want to pop open the special tin you've been saving.

12. Brunswick Wild Caught Sardines

Brunswick began as a small Canadian fishing company before being acquired as a subsidiary of the seafood conglomerate Bumble Bee. It's conceivable that the fishing and canning work the original Brunswick brothers were doing in 1893 had high-quality results (after all, they attracted a big-time buyer). But unfortunately, that level of excellence has been lost to the ages. Despite a big product line that boasts everything from sardines in water to sardines in sauces, Brunswick is missing that all-important element: fish that tastes good.

When it comes down to it, Brunswick's troubles are related to the texture of the fish, which often lacks consistency. Upon popping the top on Brunswick's sardines in spring water, Mouth Full of Sardines found that the company gives you more water than fish, resulting in soggy disappointing filets. Even with such a long-standing legacy, Brunswick doesn't have the artisanal flair of many smaller sardine brands that are showing them up these days. Having the backing of a multinational seafood company may come with benefits, but quality sardines doesn't seem to be one of them.

11. Safe Catch

Slate describes canned tuna as an American staple, important and respected until the mid-1900s. But eaters began moving away from the tinned seafood after the danger of high levels of mercury became clear. Safe Catch entered the seafood market to address those concerns by selling tuna with the lowest levels of mercury of any brand on the shelves. But we're here to talk about sardines and indeed, Safe Catch claims to pay the same attention to mercury counts within its smaller fish. 

According to Safe Catch, the canned sardines you'll be eating from its label are guaranteed to have 25% less mercury than the FDA allows. So, if you are concerned about mercury levels in your seafood, Safe Catch's promise is in the name and in the can. The skinless boneless variety comes in water or olive oil and has a meaty texture that is firm (but not chewy), along with a clean taste which we found highly enjoyable. Overall, the flavor is mild, so if you're looking for more intensity then keep shopping.

10. Santo Amaro European Wild Sardines

Tinned seafood has been making a comeback in the American kitchen, but the trend isn't isolated to this continent. As Refinery 29 writes, many hungry eaters discover the beauty of canned sardines, mollusks, and other fish after visiting countries like Portugal and Spain. These two places –- among other European nations -– have a rich history of preserving abundant coastal seafood in a tradition locally referred to as conservas. Santo Amaro is one of many sardine companies working on canning this culture.

Santo Amaro sources sardines from the wild waters of the Atlantic Ocean. They are hand packed by artisans in Portugal, and with all the flavor that is bursting from these cans, you may find yourself wondering how they got the lid on at all. One of the best varieties we can recommend trying are the Sardines with Piri Piri Peppers, which is a hot red pepper (aka Birdseye chili) common in Portuguese, South American, and a number of African cuisines (via Thrillist). Coming from the European Atlantic, Santo Amaro's sardines have a clean flavor that accents this spicy sauce instead of hiding it. Good luck finding a more unique can of fish.

9. NURI Artisanal

For NURI Artisanal, a great-tasting sardine requires more than just good fish: The packaging process is equally (if not more) important to capturing quality in every can. That is why NURI is hand packed in an artisanal process that has been followed for more than 100 years (per Conservas Pinhais). The result is a less-industrialized operation that produces a limited batch of canned sardines full of old style flavors. Most foodies can agree that culinary trends are drifting towards fresh craft goods made with consideration and care; NURI is the perfect canned sardine for this moment.

Popping the top on a can of NURI Artisanal is an experience. NURI Sardines are not skinless, but we've discovered that the scales are soft and entirely edible. Otherwise, there isn't much bone to be worried about. This is a clean-tasting can of sardines, accented by various spices, sauces, and seasonings in ways that taste natural and delicious. We were delighted to find that sardines count to approximately four per can (a generous amount, considering the quality), and have a texture that hovers between medium and firm. Take a bite of a NURI filleted sardine, then close your eyes. For a moment, you might find yourself transported to the Atlantic Coast of Portugal.

8. BELA

BELA Sardines have a unique claim as being strictly sourced from the Cornish Sardine Fishery, a highly managed ecosystem between the British and Portuguese coasts (via Marine Stewardship Council). The result of obtaining its fish from such a sustainable area gives BELA an edge when it comes to taste. These aren't the paunchy smelling cans of past generations. Instead, they have a clean aftertaste, pair perfectly with fresh bread and olives, and are a delicious afternoon snack eaten right out of the can.

BELA sardines come in full-bodied filets that are quite attractive for a food that can be mushy or gross upon reveal. Not only do the sardines present well, but the cans are pleasing to look at too. An artistic design will definitely grab the eyes of your guests, but the flavor-packed addition to any appetizer table or main meal is guaranteed to wow their tastebuds. In particular, we recommend the lightly smoked sardines with lemon and olive oil, which bring simple ingredients together for a complex bite. It is tough to beat BELA sardines.

7. Wild Planet

There was once a time in California's history when the state looked poised to be the world capital of sardine canning. However, as Culture Trip reports, the reason the industry boomed was also the reason it fell so quickly: An abundance of sardines led to blind overfishing, and the fish population plummeted. These days, the Pacific is making a comeback as a sardine capital, and Wild Planet is a leader in that charge.

Although Mouth Full of Sardines points out that the seafood is processed in Vietnam, the Californian company sources its fish directly from the Pacific before sending it to be packaged in Asia. Focusing on a sustainable stock gives Wild Planet an advantage, as these canned sardines are plump, round filets dense with omega-3s and real taste. Admittedly, the pieces aren't skinned and can sometimes look spotty or mangled, but if appearance doesn't matter to you then feel confident in this choice.

6. JOSÉ Gourmet

If large and round sardine filets are too big of a taste for you to chew on, consider JOSÉ Gourmet. While the brand does offer fish with comparable sizes to other cans on the market, it also specializes in serving smaller sardines that have a more delicate texture. The smaller varieties are often softer per Sardine.Reviews, which makes them perfect for whipping into a spread to slather on toast.

In addition to selling smaller fish, JOSÉ Gourmet offers a full bounty of sauced-up options like sardines in tomato sauce, lemon and oil, and even smoked and packed in olive oil. Each flavored tin is unique, despite having similar characteristics. Mouth Full of Sardines lists some common traits to all JOSÉ Gourmet sardines: pleasant aromas, good texture, and sardines that taste incredible. According to the JOSÉ Gourmet website, in Hebrew, José means one who adds on. Indeed, a tin of these sardines is definitely a unique protein to add to your diet.

5. La Brújula Sardinas

Spain is certainly no stranger to sardines, and the tiny fish make up a large part of traditional cuisine, per Serious Eats. With such a big cultural focus on the small fish, it makes sense that La Brújula Sardinas taste so good. The three to four hand filleted sardines in each can are fished from the waters of Galicia, Spain. The water is high in plankton, one of the characteristics La Brújula claims makes its sardines more flavorful than the rest. Another reason they are so great is due to the processing they undergo.

La Brújula says that its carefully cut sardine slices are fried rather than smoked, then drenched in a Spanish sauce of wine, spices, and aromatics like tomato, onion, and red pepper. In this way, they are almost like a full meal in a can. We recommend using that extra sauce to dress up some pasta, rice, or soften a crusty piece of bread. Buying La Brújula No. 35 Sardinas is an inexpensive way to add luxury taste to your pantry.

4. El Manar

El Manar is distributed by a larger food company called Turkana, yet unlike the products from other multinational brands, the sardines have more of a boutique taste. Several types of El Manar sardines are preserved in neutral fats like sunflower or olive oil. But for this brand, the most outstanding types of tinned fish come in bold, spicy sauces. A tin packed with harissa oil jumps with piquant flavor, bringing the spices of North African shores to your tongue. Another can has zingy cayenne pepper oil if you really want your fish to bite back.

Not only are the flavors of El Manar sardines spirited, but the texture and quantity of fish per can really sweeten the deal. If you're lucky, Amazon reviewers write that your container may come with as many as eight sardines per pack (though in that case, they'll likely be on the smaller side). We've found that El Manar sardines have a slightly firm to medium texture — and despite being skin-on — present attractively too. 

3. Fishwife Seafood Co.

In terms of artistic packaging, Fishwife Tinned Seafood Co. has one of the most vibrant cans on the market. As they say, beauty is on the inside, and the sardines packed tightly within each Fishwife tin are as striking as the labels. The plump fish are wild-caught off the coast of Galicia and packed in olive oil, sea salt, and preserved lemon. Pull back the tab on these tins and you'll be greeted with a pleasant beachside aroma, accented by a hint of citrus.

Unlike many other sardine companies, Fishwife does not have a wide variety of offerings. Rather, the lemon and oil canned sardines are the company's only option. Instead, Fishwife sells a lot of other preserved seafood like rainbow trout, tuna, and salmon. As written in Vogue, the company has a fierce focus on quality over quantity; it sources fish as sustainably as possible which means only the best, most ecologically sound sardines make the cut. Female-led Fishwife may not provide a mass of variety but we've found the sardines to be full of everything else you could want in your canned fish.

2. Matiz Gallego

If the number of canned seafood brands using Spanish fish is any indication, the shores of Galicia are home to the pinnacle of sardine fisheries. Per Matiz Gallego, that means they deserve to be caught and processed in a customary way that respects their potential for flavor and helps preserve the health of the sardine population.

Filets of Matiz Gallego sardines are a meaty cut, mainly spineless and without scales (via Mouth Full of Sardines). They don't have a fishy taste but instead stand out with an exceptionally clean finish. One thing the fish review site notes is that Matiz Gallego sardines can sometimes have a lot of roe. True canned sardine lovers might say that this actually makes them more appealing, but if you're not used to roe in your fish cans then it can come as a shock. There is a variety of Matiz sardines canned with sweet Peruvian piquillo peppers and the uniqueness of that combo makes them one of the top canned sardine brands on the market.

1. King Oscar

It's no coincidence that the leader of all canned sardine brands is also named King Oscar. What makes this brand such a well-regarded leader in the tin seafood market? The wide selection is part of the draw: The company's website boasts 11 preserved, oiled, or sauced varieties of Brisling sardines from Norway, including some packed with jalapeños, Dijon mustard, or spicy black pepper. In addition, King Oscar has a Royal Select line of three packages filled with aromatic vegetables, herbs, and olives.

Yet, it isn't just the amount of sardine styles that makes King Oscar the top popular brand. This list has covered other companies that rely on a pantry full of preserving ingredients to make their fish seem more appealing. No, what makes King Oscar such a reliable pick is that the sardines are really, really good. Sardine.Reviews writes that the fish are large and dense. Plus, there are tons of them per pack (sometimes up to 22 fish per can), and quality is consistent across all flavors. Basically, King Oscar just does sardines well — and then it keeps doing it that way. Whether you're part of the sardine set or a newcomer to tinned fish, this brand is the go-to.