Appears in
Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

sardine a group of fish found all round the world, all belonging to one subfamily in the highly complex group of clupeoid fish (in which there are over 300 species altogether). As so often happens, the common name does not exactly match scientific classifications; but in this instance it is not far out. Most fish in the genera Amblygaster, Sardina, Sardinops, and Sardinella are called sardine (that is, if they are called by any English name); and the name is rarely used of any other fish.

There is sometimes confusion between sardine and pilchard. The short answer is that a sardine is a young pilchard and a pilchard a grown-up sardine. However, it is necessary to add that pilchard refers to a fully grown specimen of only one species, Sardina pilchardus, which has a range extending further north than other sardines, indeed not only to the south of England (where the pilchard fishery is important) but far beyond, even to Norway. However, as noted below, the name pilchard is also used of a Japanese species.