There are various types of sardines and anchovies caught around the world—from the Engraulis encrasicolus anchovies of Europe and Africa to the Sardinops melanostictus sardines of Japan—and each has unique qualities. In general, though, sardines (6-12 inches) are larger than anchovies (4-10 inches). They also tend to be lighter silver in color, while anchovies can have darker scales tinged with blue or green.
Both fish have a mild fishy flavor and firm texture when eaten fresh. However, “as soon as you can them, they become different products,” Bart van Olphen, the co-founder of Sea Tales and author of The Tinned Fish Cookbook, tells mindbodygreen.
That’s because while sardines are lightly smoked or cooked before going in the can, anchovies are cured in salt for months. This salt curing is what gives canned anchovies their brown appearance and salty bite: When eaten fresh from the water, they’re actually more comparable to sardines.
Canned sardines have a shelf life of upward of four to five years, while cured anchovies tend to last about a year. Because of their curing process, van Olphen notes that anchovies should be stored in the refrigerator, not the pantry.
Here’s a deeper dive into each fish and how to use it.