​ Why Are Anchovies So Salty?

​ Why Are Anchovies So Salty?

Published by Solomon on 9th Nov 2023

Anchovies, those tiny fish with a mighty flavor, have long been celebrated in the world of cuisine. But for all their culinary charm, there's one inescapable characteristic - their saltiness. These little sea-dwellers are known for packing an intense brininess that can both elevate and overwhelm a dish. Ever wondered why anchovies are so salty? In this article, we'll explore the secrets of their unique taste, delving into the biology, preservation methods, and culinary magic that makes anchovies a pantry staple for umami enthusiasts and a culinary conundrum for the uninitiated.

What Are Anchovies?

Anchovies are small, oily fish that belong to the Engraulidae family. They are known for their strong and distinctive flavor, which is often described as salty, fishy, and umami-rich. These fish are typically found in temperate and tropical waters, and they are commonly used in various culinary traditions around the world.

Are Anchovies Naturally Salty?

Anchovies have a naturally strong and distinctive flavor, but they are not initially salty when they are first caught. The saltiness that is often associated with anchovies primarily comes from the preservation and processing methods used to extend their shelf life and enhance their flavor.

Why Are Anchovies So Salty?

The most common method of preserving anchovies is by curing them in salt. This salting process involves layering freshly caught anchovies with salt, which draws out moisture from the fish and acts as a preservative. Over time, the salt infuses into the fish, resulting in the characteristic saltiness of cured anchovies.

What Do Anchovies Taste Like?

One clear thing anchovies are known for is their saltiness. Anchovies also have a rich umami flavor, which is a savory and meaty intense flavor that contributes to their depth of taste. Umami is often described as a pleasant and full-bodied flavor sensation.

How Much Salt Is In Anchovies?

Salted anchovies can contain a significant amount of salt. It's not uncommon for salted anchovies to have salt levels that exceed 10% of their weight.

Health Benefits of Anchovies

Anchovies offer several potential health benefits when consumed as part of a balanced diet. These small, oily fish are rich in essential nutrients and can be a valuable addition to your meals. Here are some of the health benefits of anchovies:

Rich in Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Anchovies are an excellent source of omega-3 fatty acids, particularly eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). These fatty acids are associated with various health benefits, including heart health, reduced inflammation, and improved brain function.

Protein: Anchovies are a good source of high-quality protein, which is essential for building and repairing tissues, maintaining muscle mass, and supporting overall body function.

Vitamins and Minerals: Anchovies provide essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamin D, calcium, phosphorus, and selenium, which play roles in bone health, immune function, and antioxidant protection.

Low in Mercury: Anchovies are among the fish with lower mercury levels, making them a safer seafood choice for individuals who are concerned about mercury exposure.

Heart Health: The omega-3 fatty acids in anchovies may help reduce the risk of heart disease by lowering blood pressure, improving cholesterol levels, and reducing inflammation in blood vessels.

Brain Health: The DHA in anchovies is important for brain health and cognitive function, and it may play a role in reducing the risk of neurodegenerative diseases.

Inflammation Reduction: The omega-3 fatty acids in anchovies have anti-inflammatory properties and may help alleviate symptoms in conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis.

Eye Health: The omega-3 fatty acids in anchovies are beneficial for maintaining eye health and reducing the risk of age-related macular degeneration.

Weight Management: The high protein content in anchovies can help with appetite control and may aid in weight management by promoting a feeling of fullness.

Skin and Hair Health: The omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients in anchovies can contribute to healthy skin and hair by promoting moisture retention and reducing inflammation.

Bone Health: Anchovies provide calcium and phosphorus, which are essential for bone health and may help prevent osteoporosis.

How to Make Anchovies Less Salty (or Reduce the Salt)

So can you reduce the saltiness of anchovies? The answer is yes, if you find that anchovies are too salty for your taste or your recipe, there are several methods you can use to make them less salty. Here are some approaches to reduce the saltiness of anchovies:

Rinse or Soak

One of the simplest ways to reduce the saltiness of anchovies is to rinse or soak them in water. Place the anchovies in a strainer or a bowl and run cold water over them, or soak them in a bowl of cold water for 15-30 minutes. Gently agitate the water or change it a few times to help remove excess salt. Pat the anchovies dry before using them in your recipe.

Soak the Anchovies in White Wine

You can rinse anchovies with vinegar to balance their saltiness and add a tangy flavor. Rinse the anchovies under cold running water and then place them in a bowl with white wine or white vinegar for about 15 minutes. Rinse them again with cold water before using them.

Milk Soak

Soaking anchovies in lukewarm milk can also help reduce their saltiness. Place the anchovies in a bowl and cover them with milk. Let them soak for 15-30 minutes, then drain and rinse with cold water.

Are Anchovies Saltier Than Other Fish?

Anchovies are generally considered saltier than many other fish due to the preservation and curing methods commonly used in their preparation.

How Many Anchovies Should You Eat?

The number of anchovies you should eat depends on your personal taste preferences. Some people enjoy the strong flavor of anchovies and may use them more, while others prefer a milder taste and use them sparingly.

Precautions When Eating Anchovies

Sodium Content: Anchovies are known for their saltiness, which can contribute to your daily sodium intake. If you have high blood pressure or are watching your salt intake for other health reasons, be mindful of the salt content in anchovies. Consider using them in moderation or choose low-sodium options if available.

Allergies: Some individuals may have allergies to fish, including anchovies. Allergic reactions to anchovies can vary in severity, so it's essential to be aware of any allergies you may have. If you have a known fish allergy, avoid anchovies and any products containing them.

Bones: Anchovies typically have small, edible bones that are soft and usually not a concern. However, it's a good practice to be cautious and chew carefully to avoid any unexpected bone fragments.

Strong Flavor: The intense and distinctive flavor of anchovies may not be to everyone's taste. Start with a small quantity to see how you enjoy their flavor before using them in larger amounts.

Preservation Methods: The preservation methods used for anchovies, such as salting, curing, or canning, can affect their taste and texture. Be aware of the specific preparation method used in the anchovies you're consuming and whether you need to adjust your recipe accordingly.

How To Eat Anchovies

Anchovies have a strong and distinctive flavor that can be enjoyed in a variety of ways. They are often used as a flavor enhancer in recipes, but you can also enjoy them on their own. Here are some common ways to eat anchovies:

Sauces: Anchovies are a common ingredient in sauces like Caesar salad dressing, puttanesca sauce, and bagna cauda.

Pasta: You can incorporate anchovies into pasta dishes, such as spaghetti alla puttanesca or pasta with garlic, olive oil, and anchovies.

Pizza: Anchovies can be a topping on pizzas, particularly in Mediterranean and European styles.

Salads: Chopped or mashed anchovies can add depth of flavor to salads like the classic Caesar salad.

Stews and Braises: Anchovies can be used in meat or vegetable stews and braises to enhance the overall flavor.

As a Topping or Garnish: Serve whole or chopped anchovies as a topping on crackers, toast, or baguette slices.

Use anchovies to garnish hors d'oeuvres, such as deviled eggs or canapés.

Anchovy Paste : Anchovy paste is a convenient way to incorporate the flavor of anchovies into dishes without dealing with the whole fillets. You can spread it on bread or use it as an ingredient in various recipes.

Anchovy Butter: Anchovy butter is a compound butter made by blending anchovies, butter, and other seasonings. It's used to enhance the flavor of meats and vegetables.

Mashed or Pureed: Mash or puree anchovies and mix them into mayonnaise, aioli, or other condiments to add a zesty twist.

Sushi and Sashimi: In some cuisines, such as Japanese, anchovies may be used as a sushi or sashimi topping.

In Soups: Anchovies can be used to add depth of flavor to certain soups and broths, particularly in Asian cuisines.

Where To Buy Dried Anchovies

You can buy dried anchovies at various places, depending on your location and access to different types of markets and stores. You can also purchase dried anchovies from our African Food Store.


The saltiness of anchovies is a culinary puzzle that reveals the intricate balance of nature and human craftsmanship. From the briny depths of the sea to the preservation methods that have stood the test of time, anchovies have earned their reputation for saltiness with pride. While their intense flavor may not be for everyone, these little fish continue to captivate the taste buds of those who appreciate their unique umami-rich contribution to the world of cuisine.