Frequently encountered in Caesar salads or on top of pizzas, anchovies are small, salt-water foraging fish found in many large oceans across the world. Humans and fish alike share an affinity for this fish, as anchovies are a significant food source for most predatory fish in temperate ocean waters.
While in the water anchovies are small and fast, we mostly encounter them in the canned food aisle of the supermarket. Anchovies are salted and brined before being stored in cans or jars, preserving them for long periods of time. It is this curing process that results in the strong taste people generally associate with anchovies. However, this processed and salted taste is not the natural flavor of anchovies. Their effect upon the palate when consumed fresh is what keeps the anchovies on the plates of many people today.
Anchovies are characterized by their umami flavor. Umami, the fifth type of taste humans can sense, is sometimes described as savory, yet words cannot truly capture the intense, lingering taste of umami. While umami can be naturally encountered in many foods, such as Parmesan cheese, truffles, and seaweed, anchovies have a unique taste that lends nicely to a variety of sauces. For example, anchovies are used in Worcestershire sauce, remoulade, and other fish sauces.
Next time you look for the Worcestershire bottle in the dining hall, remember the important effect that little fish plays in the big taste of the sauce.
Fun fact: Ketchup comes from “ke-chiap,” a Chinese sauce made from anchovies and mixed with tomatoes to form the first version of ketchup.