The Absolute Best Canned Sardines Are Packed In Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Sometimes we get lucky enough to live through an amazing food renaissance, and we are getting that now with canned seafood. Preserved seafood like sardines, mussels, and tuna have long been part of the culinary landscape in Europe, but never quite made the same impact stateside, where it always seemed dismissed as a cheap, low-quality alternative to the fresh stuff. Luckily people have been waking up to the idea that canned fish is its own unique way to prepare and serve seafood that can be amazingly delicious, and that its convenience and affordability are a selling point, not a downside. New brands like Fishwife have been taking off alongside old stalwarts, and social media buzzes with videos of easy tinned fish date nights. However, like all trends, people new to canned fish are going to learn that not all versions are created equal, and if you are buying a can of sardines, that means going with oil-packed.

As our taste test ranking of the best canned sardines brands showed us, the one big unifying factor in the top rankings was sardines that came in oil instead of water. Our number one choice, Wild Planet Sardines in Extra Virgin Olive Oil with Lemon, has oil that was so flavorful by itself you could use it as its own ingredient. In fact all 10 of our top choices were packed in extra virgin olive oil, or an oil-based sauce.

Sardines in olive oil are more rich, meaty, and flavorful

The reason the best canned sardines come in extra virgin olive oil should be pretty clear: Olive oil adds its own delicious flavor. Sardines in water tend to be diluted and, well, watery-tasting in comparison. Sardines are a naturally oily fish and packing them in oil preserves that profile without altering it or overpowering it. The buttery, slightly peppery flavor of good extra virgin olive oil is a great compliment to meaty fish, so the oil goes beyond preserving the sardines to actually enhancing them. We know that fat is flavor, and using olive oil to pack sardines embraces the idea that these are full meals by themselves. Since fat carries flavor, the best brands like King Oscar will also usually have versions with flavors like lemon or spicy olive oil sauces with paprika and chiles, which make your sardines feel extra gourmet.

The other big upside to sardines in olive oil is the texture. One drawback to canned fish like sardines is that bad versions can be unpleasantly mushy, but this is entirely the result of too much water making them soggy, and you don't get that problem with oil. In fact, oil actually does a better job locking in moisture, keeping the sardines meaty and tender without being mushy. If you are new to canned sardines, or are just looking to upgrade your experience, the ones packed in extra virgin olive oil are always the way to go.