Product Review: Tinned Fish Or No Tinned Fish? That Is The Question!

by | Dec 6, 2023


Frank Weaver headshot
Season Brand 100th Anniversary logo.
A few days ago, a couple of tins of Season Brand sardines appeared on my doorstep. They were accompanied by a note asking for feedback. There’s lots to be said about these little guys. Most everyone knows they’re loaded with health benefits—lots of omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins B2 and B12, vitamin D, protein, minerals and even trace minerals. And they are very low in contaminants such as mercury!

At the mention of sardines, however, some folks scrunch up their faces and say, “Yuck!” They claim to dislike the oily, fishy taste along with the texture and the often visible bones. I suspect that much of that rejection is a result of not properly distinguishing sardines from anchovies. But, in addition, Season Brand seems to have taken giant strides to separate themselves from other brands and to overcome the usual objections.

I sampled two styles: Sardines in water and sardines in olive oil. For the water packed version, the ingredients are fish and water; the latter contains fish, olive oil and salt. Hard to improve on that formula for health and simplicity. Both styles are skinless and boneless. Both have quite similar consistency and flavor, suggesting to me the same species is used in each of the processes. (There are 12 species that may be classed as sardines.)
Sardine packaging. One in olive oil and one in a box with water.
Two plates with sardines. One with oil and one with water.
As to taste, there is a distinctive flavor with fish like mackerel, salmon and tuna that are  classed as “oily fish.” Sardines are an oily fish and exhibit that distinctive flavor, yet the Season product has a significantly milder—less fishy—taste than many of the brands of sardines I’ve had in the past. Could be attributed to the removal of skin and bones or to the selection of species they pack, but the result surely will appeal to a broader spectrum of fish eaters.

I did not find a strong preference for either style. For me, choosing between water packed and oil packed will hinge on how I plan to use the fish. My favorite way to consume sardines is as a sandwich made from toasted dark bread, a little Dijon mustard, a layer of sardines topped with a layer of extra sharp cheddar cheese. Yum! Both of these were excellent served this way, with a slight preference to the oil packed version. Which of the versions I’d prefer in recipes would likely depend most on the interplay of olive oil with the other ingredients.

Two plates with sardines, crackers, and cheese.
We had three other tasters sample and comment on the Season Brand sardines. Two of the three preferred the water packed fish, reporting they tasted fresher and more flaky and would likely work better for spreads, salads and cold pasta salads. The third taster preferred the fish packed in oil, maintaining they were more flavorful, whereas the water version was more bland, like chicken or tuna.

Sardines are kinda like buttermilk; most people either love ‘em or hate ‘em. If you’re on the fence, I can easily see where either of these two products could change your thinking. My bottom line: When I go shopping for sardines in the future, I’ll be looking for the Season Brand.

To get started on your sardine adventure check out Sardine Salad Sandwich and Lemon Sardine Pasta in the Where The Food Comes From Cookbook. You won’t regret it.