What is an Anchovy?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The anchovy is an ocean going fish species found in a large range of environments. It has been a popular source of food for humans since Roman times, when the fish was used in a wide variety of dishes including a fermented fish sauce called garum. The anchovy is a dark, oily fish which some consumers greatly enjoy on salads and pizzas, while other consumers conditioned to more pale fishes disdain the humble anchovy.

Anchovies are sometimes used in Caesar salad dressings.
Anchovies are sometimes used in Caesar salad dressings.

The anchovy is related to herring, and is a small silvery fish with a greenish tint. The anchovy rarely exceeds five inches (12 centimeters) in length. Anchovies travel in large schools of fish, making them easy to harvest for human and animal predators alike. The anchovy generally eats plankton, and in turn provides fodder for a wide range of marine species, some of which follow schools of anchovies to ensure a consistent source of nutrition. A school of anchovy can be an amazing sight when it travels close to the surface, with the sunlight flashing from thousands of fish.

Anchovies are small, oily fish.
Anchovies are small, oily fish.

Because the anchovy has been heavily fished for centuries, some stocks of the fish are at risk. With the advent of commercial trawler fishing, scientists began to realize that anchovies faced an environmental crisis, and recommended that controls be put in place on anchovy fishing before it was too late. As a result, many nations have begun to regulate anchovy fishing more closely, well aware of the result of overfishing of a kingpin species which nourishes numerous larger predatory fish.

Anchovy fishing is now regulated to prevent overfishing.
Anchovy fishing is now regulated to prevent overfishing.

Anchovy is most often consumed preserved, and the fish are frequently brined or packed in oil so that they can be used year round. Anchovies are sometimes found packed in salt, in which case they should be soaked and rinsed before consumption. The fish are preserved with bones intact, because they are small and soft enough to be eaten along with the fish and the size of anchovies is such that fillets are not realistically possible. Anchovies are also delicious fresh, and often appear grilled, wrapped around food items, or mingled into pasta sauces.

The anchovy is somewhat unfairly maligned by consumers, because the fish is actually rich in healthy omega-3 acid and the dark flesh doesn't carry as much mercury as many white fleshed species. Anchovy provides a distinctive and complex flavor which can be an outstanding addition to many Mediterranean dishes, where the fish has been popularly integrated for centuries. Brave consumers may also eat the preserved fish straight for the health benefits, although the flavor of anchovies is better when tempered with other foods.

Due to the mercury levels of anchovies, pregnant women are typically advised to limit consumption of the fish.
Due to the mercury levels of anchovies, pregnant women are typically advised to limit consumption of the fish.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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Discussion Comments

anon176435

What are the methods for efficient Anchovy fishing?

anon42040

if anchovy is not fermented well and ground to used as anchovy sauce what will be the effect?

somerset

Anchovies do have scales, but they are so small that they are practically non existent. The anchovy skin is edible. Anchovies are used in some dressings such as Green Goddess dressing, and sauces such as Worcestershire sauce.

anon8161

Do anchovies have scales?

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