If you pick up a tin of sardines at the grocery store, you probably think you know what you're getting. But do you? The fact is, the word "sardine" doesn't refer to a single species of fish but rather can indicate any of an assortment of little fish with brittle bones. For identification purposes, all fish known as sardines belong to the "Clupeidae" family, which includes herring, shad, sprat, and menhaden. Within that family are dozens of types of sardines, which can be collected from pretty much any body of water on Earth, from the chilly waters of the Atlantic Ocean to the calm, clear Caribbean Sea. But as far as that tin of fish goes, what you're buying is probably a collection of sprats or bristlings or some other species that wouldn't typically be called a sardine -- but it's close enough for the FDA. Once their heads are lopped off and they are squished together in that tiny container, they get to call themselves sardines.
The scoop on sardines:
- Napoleon Bonaparte is typically credited with coming up with the notion of canning sardines.
- Sardines get their name from where they were first found in abundance: the Italian island of Sardinia.
- Sardines were once considered a delicacy, but their stature fell when they started getting packed into containers for soldiers during World War II.