Interesting Facts about Anchovies (2024)

Anchovies, the little fish that many love to sprinkle on their pizzas or mix into their salads, carry a depth of history, biology, and culinary importance that’s far more expansive than their size might suggest.]]cí ok

These small, saltwater fish, often found packed in oil or salt in supermarket aisles, have a significant impact on our ecosystem and cuisine. Let’s dive deep and explore some fun and interesting facts about Anchovies.

40 Interesting Facts about Anchovies

  1. Anchovies belong to the Engraulidae family.
  2. There are over 140 species of anchovies.
  3. They primarily inhabit the warm coastal waters.
  4. Anchovies can grow up to 6-9 inches in length.
  5. Their lifespan is typically short, often less than 4 years.
  6. Anchovies move in large schools, which can often be seen from the surface.
  7. They play a crucial role in the marine food chain, serving as prey for larger fish.
  8. Anchovies eat plankton, the microscopic plants, and animals of the sea.
  9. They have a unique blue-green color on the back and a silver underside.
  10. Anchovies are nocturnal feeders, which means they feed primarily at night.
  1. Their Latin name, Engraulis, is derived from the Greek word ‘engraulis’ meaning ‘spear’.
  2. Despite their small size, anchovies play a significant role in marine ecosystems by cycling nutrients.
  3. In some cultures, anchovies are considered an aphrodisiac.
  4. Anchovies are high in calcium since their bones are often consumed along with the flesh.
  5. During Roman times, fermented anchovy sauce, known as garum, was widely popular.
  6. An adult anchovy can consume large quantities of plankton each day, up to 25% of its body weight.
  7. The thin, hair-like structures inside their mouths help them filter plankton from the water.
  8. The city of Cantabria in Spain is considered the anchovy capital of the world.
  9. Wild anchovies are more flavorful than their farmed counterparts.
  10. Anchovies swim with their mouths open to continuously filter plankton.
  11. In some parts of the world, anchovies are dried in the sun and used as a flavoring agent in dishes.
  12. Anchovy populations can vary widely from year to year, depending on various environmental factors.
  13. These fish play a vital role in controlling the overpopulation of plankton.
  14. Anchovies can be found at various depths, ranging from near the surface to 400 meters deep.
  15. Their eyes are well-adapted for night vision, aiding their nocturnal feeding habits.
  16. During the day, anchovy schools can sometimes be seen shimmering near the water’s surface.
  17. While they have many predators, anchovies have been observed using evasion techniques like diving deep and scattering.
  18. A substantial drop in anchovy populations can adversely affect the entire marine food web.
  19. Ancient civilizations used anchovies as currency in trade.
  20. In Italy, fresh anchovies are celebrated in various dishes, from pasta to pizza.
  21. Some people believe that the unique taste of Worcestershire sauce comes from a secret ingredient: anchovies!
  22. The strong flavor of anchovies is due to their diet and the accumulation of amino acids in their bodies.
  23. Anchovies, being small, reproduce rapidly, ensuring their survival as a species.
  24. Despite their saltiness, anchovies require freshwater during certain life stages.
  25. Their unique swim bladder allows them to maintain buoyancy effortlessly.
  26. In parts of Southeast Asia, anchovies are ground into a paste and used as a base for many dishes.
  27. The migration patterns of anchovies are closely linked to water temperature and food availability.
  28. Some cultures celebrate anchovy festivals, where the fish is celebrated in cuisine and art.
  29. Anchovies are rich in Vitamin B12.
  30. Their distinctive taste can be toned down by soaking them in milk or water for some hours.

Brief Overview of Anchovies


Anchovies are believed to have originated from the Mediterranean and the Black Sea. This region, rich in history and maritime trade, also played a pivotal role in the anchovy’s culinary journey, introducing it to various cultures and cuisines.

Popular Breeds

While there are over 140 species, the European anchovy, Engraulis encrasicolus, is the most widely recognized. This particular breed is prevalent in Mediterranean dishes and is known for its distinct flavor.

Physical Features

Slender and streamlined, anchovies are designed for rapid swimming. They possess large eyes and a slightly protruding snout, which aids in their plankton-feeding activities. Their coloration, a mix of blue-green and silver, helps them blend into their watery surroundings, acting as camouflage against predators.


Preferring warm coastal waters, anchovies are found across the world, from the Mediterranean to the Pacific coasts. They thrive in areas with upwelling, where cold, nutrient-rich water rises from the depths, ensuring a steady supply of plankton.


Primarily, plankton feeders, anchovies have a special filtering apparatus in their gills, which helps them sift through the water, consuming the tiny plants and animals that make up their diet.


Anchovies spawn multiple times in a season. A single female can release up to 25,000 eggs, which float near the surface until they hatch into larvae.

Economic Importance

Anchovies drive a significant portion of the fishing industry. They’re not just prized for direct human consumption, but they’re also processed into fishmeal, which feeds farmed fish and livestock.

Human Interaction

Beyond being a culinary delight, anchovies also influence local economies, especially in regions like the Mediterranean. Their migratory patterns and population can affect local fisheries and the livelihood of those dependent on them.

FAQs about Anchovies and Answers

Anchovies are more than just a topping on your pizza. Let’s address some common queries about these fascinating fish.

Why are anchovies so salty?

Most anchovies that people consume are cured in salt. This preservation method enhances their flavor and increases their shelf life.

Can I eat anchovies directly from the can?

Yes, canned anchovies are ready to eat. They can be consumed straight from the can or used as an ingredient in various dishes.

Are anchovies and sardines the same?

While they might look similar, anchovies and sardines are different fish. Anchovies are smaller and have a more intense flavor compared to sardines.

How are anchovies caught?

Anchovies are often caught using a method called purse seining, where a large net encircles a school of fish, capturing them en masse.

Can anchovies be consumed fresh?

Absolutely! Fresh anchovies are a delicacy in many parts of the world, especially in Mediterranean cuisines.

How do I store leftover anchovies?

If you have leftover anchovies, they should be stored in the refrigerator in their oil to keep them fresh.

What are the health benefits of anchovies?

Anchovies are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which are beneficial for heart health. They also provide essential vitamins and minerals.

Can I use anchovy paste instead of fillets?

Anchovy paste can be used as a substitute for fillets, especially in recipes that require a distinct anchovy flavor.

Why do anchovies have such a strong flavor?

The intense flavor of anchovies comes from their high content of amino acids, which gives them their umami taste.

Are there sustainable ways to fish anchovies?

Yes, many fisheries now employ sustainable methods to ensure that anchovy populations remain stable.



Anchovies, the little marvels of the ocean, serve as a testament to the wonders of the marine world. Whether you enjoy them on your pizza, in your Caesar salad, or simply love learning about aquatic life, it’s clear that anchovies hold a special place in our ecosystems and our plates.

As we continue to discover more about these fish, let’s remember to appreciate and protect the vibrant world they represent.

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