Why anchovies are awesome for you and for the planet

Jill Hannon
4 min readAug 15, 2022

Canned fish is having a moment, and it goes without saying that it includes anchovies. Whether fresh, marinated, oil-cured, or salt-cured, the anchovy is good for you and good for the planet.

Here are five reasons you should be stocking up on anchovies.

Anchovies are delicious

Let’s start with the obvious. Good anchovies taste good. Taste alone is reason enough to eat more anchovies.

Of course, with over 140 species swimming in a lot of different waters, not all are created equal. The process to cure and brine the little fish changes the flavor a great deal too. But you know you’ve found good ones when you catch yourself eating them straight from the jar.

Cantabrian anchovies, in particular, are prized by many as the best of the best. Caught in the deep waters of the Bay of Biscay in the north of Spain, these reddish brown-hued beauts are creamy and delicious with a less powerful punch than your standard grocery store fishies. Although, and please don’t hate me, living in Europe, Cantabrian anchovies are sold at my local grocery store. And I do in fact eat them straight from the jar.

Anchovies can make you a better cook

You can make dishes more delicious by tossing in a couple of these umami-rich bad boys. The anchovies themselves will melt away leaving a trail of deliciousness in their wake. The final taste isn’t fishy but of what you were already cooking, only better.

This is because anchovies bring the umami. While sour, sweet, salty, and bitter are the more well-known basic tastes, umami, or savory, is equally as important. Associated with protein, you can find umami in all sorts of tasty places, including meat, parmesan cheese, seaweed, and of course, anchovies. The umami gives anchovies a more complex and savory salt flavor than salt alone, and also a somewhat meaty taste. Use them to add depth and richness to your cooking.

If I’m not eating them straight from the jar, I use anchovies to salt pasta dishes. Likewise, I often use a fermented Italian anchovy sauce known as colatura in my cooking for the same flavorful reason. Both are also amazing with vegetables.

Anchovies are planet-friendly

When fished responsibly, little wild fish, including anchovies, are more climate-friendly than many other species. This is true for several reasons.

First, they raise themselves out in the wild. No farmer or feed is required.

Second, they live at the bottom of the food chain and can be replenished faster. You can eat the bait itself.

Third, boats require a lot of fuel to travel out to sea and to drag nets across the ocean floor. Therefore, little fish caught with nets that aren’t dragged across the bottom of the ocean and which aren’t carried far out to sea are carbon lightest. This includes fish like anchovies, sardines, mackerel, and herring. Some of the more carbon-intensive fishing practices are also harmful to marine life.

According to the author Paul Greenberg in his book, The Climate Diet, anchovies and other small wild fish are second only to carrots and other root vegetables when it comes to the ratio between nutrients delivered and carbon cost.

Canned and jarred anchovies are also more likely to be shipped by land or sea. This is far less carbon costly than flying fresh food. The packaging makes them convenient and easy to stock up on as well. I often bring food back from my travels and am amazed at how easy it is to toss a couple of cans of fish into my suitcase. It’s the same reason canned fish is good for camping. It’s designed to travel light.

Anchovies are full of the good fats

Like salmon, anchovies are oily fish rich in omega-3s, the good fatty acids known by the awkward acronyms, ALA, EPA, and DHA. While difficult to pronounce, these good fats are essential to your health and well-being. And the list of the benefits they provide is a long and miraculous one.

Omega-3s can contribute to everything from fighting depression and anxiety to improving eye and brain health. They help prevent cancer, strengthen bones and joints and reduce inflammation. They’ve been shown to improve sleep and are excellent for your skin. The list goes on and on. Clearly miracle workers.

In another book by Paul Greenberg, The Omega-3 Principle, a scientist claims that eating just two anchovies a day can provide the daily recommended amounts of EPA and DHA, the two omega-3s that provide the most health benefits. Just two anchovies? And I can get one step closer to immortality with that longwinded list of benefits? I’m in.

Anchovies are healthy

Believe it or not, the health benefits of those small and mighty little fish don’t stop with the marvelous omega-3s. They are also rich in protein and many vitamins and minerals, including selenium, calcium, niacin, potassium, vitamin A and vitamin B-12.

Anchovies and other little fish also have some of the lowest mercury content around. Mercury gets into fish when small fish are eaten by larger fish. This means that the big fish that live longer have more mercury than the little fish at the bottom of the food chain. High five, anchovy.

Although, they aren’t perfect either. Canned anchovies are high in sodium. This means as with all good things in life, you should still exercise some moderation.

Fortunately, if you can get your hands on them, you can still go hog wild on fresh anchovies as it’s the curing that makes anchovies as salty as a sailor.

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Jill Hannon

At home in Vermont and Italy, I love food, wine, and travel which is good for people and the planet.