What Are Anchovies?

Last Update: September 20, 2022

Even at Grimaldi’s Pizza, the world-famous Brooklyn pizzeria, “anchovies are tricky.”

Through a thick, decidedly Italian accent, Chris Koksi, a manager at Grimaldi’s, explains the problem with the traditional Mediterranean fish: “About 10 percent of people ask for anchovies. Maybe less. Everyone likes pepperoni, no one wants the anchovies! They have such a strong flavor, but I like them.”

While pizza enthusiasts may not be begging for extra anchovies, the flavorful little fish is the secret ingredient in many foods we all know and love. And thanks to their high levels of omega-3 fatty acids, calcium, magnesium, vitamins A, B-6, B-12, C, E, and K, and a hearty dose of protein, anchovies are a veritable health food that has become a favorite of Paleo dieters everywhere.

Where Anchovies Come From

Found mostly in the Pacific Ocean in cooler waters, anchovies have short lifespans, a quick reproduction cycle, and a very low mercury content—all of which means they’re super sustainable. Although overfishing likely won’t be a problem for these little buggers, the demand for anchovies has almost doubled since 2000, perhaps due to growing concerns about mercury in other popular canned fish.

Anchovies In The Grocery Store

Fresh anchovies rarely make it to the seafood section your local grocery store, but you might be familiar with their canned and shelf-stable counterparts. Typically, anchovies are either sold in oil or water, like other canned fish. And as with sardines, you can munch on them straight out of the can, bones and all. Two ounces of anchovies, or about ten filets, contain a mere 90 calories with a whopping 12 grams of protein, 20 percent of your daily calcium intake, and 8 percent of the recommended amount of iron. With 4.5 grams of fat per serving, they’re loaded with good omega-3 fatty acids, which decrease inflammation in the body. They also boast about 36 micrograms of selenium, a compound that’s necessary for healthy thyroid function, reproductive health, and can even prevent the development of cancer, per serving.

Adding Anchovies to Recipes

If you’re not quite ready to chow down on these tiny, briny snacks straight out of the jar, try incorporating them into recipes. According to our Food Editor Merce Muse, anchovies are a staple in older recipe books and much more popular in European and Mediterranean cuisines. They’re also a key ingredient in popular sauces like puttanesca and Caesar salad dressing. Muse loves adding them into her cooking because “the lend a great, salty-savory-umami flavor and add to the depth of flavor of the dish.”

Try them on your own in your own homemade Caesar or in this caramelized onion and anchovy tart. When you’re feeling brave, go straight from the can!

Photo credit: Alicia Cho

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Michelle Pellizzon

Certified health coach and endorphin enthusiast, Michelle is an expert in healthy living and eating. When she's not writing you can find her running trails, reading about nutrition, and eating lots of guacamole.

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